Shot in DV, and using two-panel split-screen almost throughout to tell five interconnected stories, young Bolivian-born helmer Rodrigo Bellot’s debut feature, “Sexual Dependency,” has more flash than finesse. Unfolding in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and a New York state university, plot encompasses people struggling to come to terms with their sexuality. Pic’s unusual composition — in widescreen format within a non-widescreen aspect ratio, apart from the final crawl — Latin American setting and partly gay content make it a triple threat for specialty fests. But despite its come-hither title, more vanilla auds are unlikely to get very hooked on “Dependency.” Each “chapter” of the film climaxes, literally, in a sex act, none of them erotic, but each serving a particular narrative purpose, while a fictional brand of underwear acts as a connecting leitmotif.
First seg, “My Baby Is a Woman Now,” starts in Santa Cruz with Jessica (Alexandra Aponte), a pretty 15-year-old from a poor background who loses her virginity to older boy Fabian (Rodrigo Mendez Roca) at a party. Fabian features prominently in the second chapter, “You Goddam Whore,” where he plays neglectful host to his shy cousin Sebastian (Roberto Urbina), visiting from Uruguay and taken out on a wild night on the town by Fabian and friends that ends with a visit to a brothel.
The lads cross paths that night with Choco (Jorge Antonio Saavedra), a macho, middle-class freshman bound for college in the U.S., who dates Love (Liv Fruyano), a young model. Going into a jealous rage at a party after his girl hugs another guy, Choco picks up a Brazilian tourist at a nightclub to reassert his masculinity in seg “The Bluest Eyes,” whose title is an obvious nod to Toni Morrison’s novel of similar name.
The remaining two chapters set at the U.S. college where Choco eventually enrolls are more trite than the lively, richly textured Bolivian episodes. “Mirrors,” a pseudo-poetic monologue by a young African-American woman, Adinah (Ronica V. Reddick), is an outright pastiche of black women writers.
The sexual fulcrum of that story is cleverly connected to a harrowing rape scene in the final section, “Angels and Billboards,” in which a young football player (Matthew Guida) hovers on the threshold of coming out of the closet, frightened by the rampant homophobia of his teammates. Perfs here have a harrowing believability, even if the dialogue is a tad cliched.
With its overlapping narratives, pic is reminiscent at its best of Mexican hit “Amores Perros,” and shares with it an interest in class, urban Latin American culture, and telenovela-style melodramatics, with impressive perfs from non-professionals. However, “Sexual Dependency” is a much less sophisticated movie, despite its gaudy technique. Continual use of two-panel split screen is less distracting than one would expect, but doesn’t add much to the movie beyond an extra layer of visual interest. It’s certainly not handled with the same bravura as in Mike Figgis’ four-panel “Timecode.”
Adriana Pacheco’s thoughtful editing sustains momentum admirably, while the post-production team does playful things with the two panels, often providing a mirror effect across a central axis. Lensing is nimble.