Often treated in film as an adjunct to LGBT experience, bisexuality gets measured, sensitive consideration in the Chilean coming-out drama “In the Grayscale.” A gentle boy-meets-boy romance that builds into a balanced ideological debate between its two lovers — one a gay man for whom homosexuality is a black-or-white concept, the other choosing to remain, as the title implies, undefined — Claudio Marcone’s freshman feature breaks few formal or narrative boundaries, but makes its personal and political points with quiet clarity. A crackling erotic charge, meanwhile, counters the pic’s otherwise reserved approach, giving “Grayscale” a bright future on the gay fest circuit following its Miami Film Festival premiere.
From its whispery tone — often belying the pointed things being said — to the soft, sunlit textures of Andres Jordan’s lensing, Marcone’s film appears to take its cue from Andrew Haigh’s “Weekend,” another film that found delicate dramatic friction in the contrasting temperaments of two men in love. Opposition is largely internal in Beppe Norrero’s lean, understated screenplay, as heterosexually married protagonist Bruno (Francisco Celhay) discovers that bending his sexual and social identity is easier — to a point — than he might hitherto have imagined. The Chile depicted by Marcone and Jordan is certainly a more hopeful place than, say, the despairing, abuse-scarred country inhabited by their compatriot Pablo Larrain; none-too-subtle symbols of impending union and rebuilding abound in their portrait of modern-day Santiago, as human lives remain under construction.
At 35, Bruno outwardly appears more settled than he feels: A successful freelance architect, he is married to his girlfriend of 11 years, Soledad (Daniela Ramirez), and a dedicated father to their smart, inquisitive son, Daniel (Matias Torres). It emerges, however, that the marriage has been on fragile ground from the start, with both spouses having stepped back from it at different points. The pic’s wordless opening tracks Bruno’s lonely domestic routine in the studio he occupies following a recent separation. While Soledad chides him for referring to marriage in transitional terms, that’s not strictly true: As with his under-explored sexuality, he appears content to hover indefinitely between defining statuses.
That resistance to resolution is tested when a high-end professional commission — to design a new city monument for the capital — brings him into contact with gregarious history teacher Fer (Emilio Edwards), a comfortably out gay man with who swiftly senses the curiosity behind Bruno’s impassive facade. Though their rapport is immediate, Marcone patiently teases out the expression (or rather the self-admission) of the architect’s desire; thanks to Felipe Galvez’s spare, thoughtful editing, every cut to Bruno alone in his bedroom following a platonic date with Fer feels like a rebuff to the audience’s own wishes. When they do finally kiss, interestingly, Marcone keeps the moment offscreen, only tipping viewers off to this development in retrospect. Following this calculated omission, the relationship’s immediate past is kept as uncertain as its future, mirroring the protag’s own present-tense mindset.
That, understandably, is a source of frustration to the more demonstrative Fer, who insists that Bruno is withholding his true identity — even after Soledad, Daniel and Bruno’s open-minded grandfather (Sergio Hernandez) learn of his indiscretions, with not-wholly-expected consequences. Bruno, however, is less convinced that this period of sexual experimentation has a finite conclusion, even as his feelings for Fer deepen; neither the script nor Marcone’s compassionate but composed direction offer judgment or instruction either way. The two terrific leads play the push-pull-retreat dynamic of this tender but tenuous relationship with intelligence and an intuitive sense of physical connection. Celhay, meanwhile, beautifully plays Bruno’s emotional diffidence against his more confidently strapping exterior.
More than a picturesque, mood-serving backdrop — flatteringly served by Jordan — Santiago itself emerges as a key player in this relationship study, as even the lovers’ differing responses to their surroundings (and their post-colonial national identity) portend emotional impasses in their affair. Bruno’s creative blockage over his commission, meanwhile, speaks volumes about his opposition to defining gestures and expressions. As he slowly arrives at a solution, Marcone slightly overworks the symbolic properties of bridges and rivers, but the larger social subtext is nonetheless affecting.