‘Intimacy Becomes so Public That it’s Almost Pornographic’: Manuel Abramovich on San Sebastian’s ‘Pornomelancolía’

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Selected for main competition, “Pornomelancolía” premiered at San Sebastián over the festival’s first weekend. A Latin American buzz title at the festival last year when it played in pix-in-post section WIP Latam, “Pornomelancolía” opens a window onto the behind-the-scenes life of a porn influencer, Lalo. But, Argentine director Manuel Abramovich – who won the 2019 Silver Bear at Berlin with his short film “Blue Boy” – told Variety, “Pornomelancolía is not a film about pornography, it is a film about how we face the gaze of others.”

“Pornomelancolía” was formed as part of 2018’s Ikusmira Berriak, a residency program in San Sebastian which is one of Spain’s foremost development labs. The film is lead produced by Gema Films in Argentina, with Brazil’s Desvia Filmes, Bordeaux-based Dublin Films and Mexico’s Marthfilms. Luxbox handles international sales; Filmin will handle distribution in Spain.

Variety spoke with Abramovich.

The film is about the private life of a public figure. How did you go about finding the right tone to create such an intimate story about such a public aspect of Lalo’s life. 

In my films, I am interested in reflecting on the different characters we play in order to live – and survive – in society, in families, or institutions. I am interested in inviting people to become characters, to explore those fictional spaces that we create in our own lives. These are works based on trust and collaboration that seek to find ways to stage intimacy.

‘Pornomelancolía’ is not a documentary about Lalo Santos. It is a film made with him. Together during the process, we talked about all these issues and transformed them into scenes. Combining elements more typical of documentary, along with others closer to fiction. It was a process of testing and experimentation that was only possible thanks to our complicity and the support of the team. This was our starting point and permanent return to build concrete ways to collaborate together. 

I was intrigued with how Lalo manages the relationship with his Mother, can you describe the importance of the Mother figure and why that is so important for Lalo? 

I always think of the family as the first dramatic space in our lives, the first stage. I think of the mother – mothers – as a space of containment, of love and care, as a safe space to turn to in contrast to the general melancholy state of the film, and above all in contrast to masculinity as an oppressive system that encloses us and distances us from our feelings. That is why I decided that ‘the mother’ should be an out-of-field construction, that we should never see her directly. An emotional space to which Lalo – or the viewer – could resort during the film to feel cared for and loved. In the film, moreover, I made the conscious and political decision to highlight the absence of women, which is something that struck me when I began the research for this project in the context of the gay porn world. In that sense, I decided that the few women who appear in the film would fulfil specific roles of care and authority. 

Porn is a really strange baseline for stories, even in our modern-era. Did you find it difficult to work in that world? And how did you approach the visual aspect of it? Do you feel that in our contemporary world storytellers can base their narratives around porn with more acceptance from audiences?

It is incredible that in 2022 sex is still a taboo in our lives. However, there is less and less modesty to talk about sex, and it is less complex to access these representations since sexuality has also invaded social networks and has made anyone able to be a porn producer. In the film, pornography is a context to talk about the characters we create of ourselves and how we deal with the gaze of others in these digital times. 

Why did you feel it was important to tell Lalo’s digital story? 

That first scene sums up the film for me. The feeling of being surrounded by people and at the same time feeling completely alone. “Pornomelancolía” is not Lalo’s story, but everyone’s story. It is a reflection of a feeling of this time, especially after the pandemic. We live in such a perverse system that makes us believe we are free because we can consume, communicate, show ourselves, generate avatars of ourselves. We live staging our lives through social networks, turning them into fiction for a virtual audience that through likes, makes us feel less lonely.

Inserting a digital screen into a film is something relatively new. How did you approach that and, especially, why did you choose this option to show Lalo’s digital interaction, given its importance for the audience?

The phone screen is perhaps, at this moment in the world, the most intimate space in our lives. Many times what we see in a virtual conversation, a post or a Tweet carries a work of creation “behind the scenes” that is invisible. It seemed interesting to me to create a device to access that intimacy, to show the seams of our social interactions in virtual life. I was interested in seeing the movie screen on a phone screen, as if we were inside the phone itself, facing that single screen without being able to look at anything else. To reveal through the screen the social interactions, based on superficial exchanges that most of the time impoverish our personal exchanges. 

How would you describe the tone of “Pornomelancolía”?

I would prefer not to frame the film in a single tone and invite those who see it to find their own definitions and questions. I like to think of “Pornomelancolía” as evidence of a moment in history, this time we are living in: Where the image we project of ourselves constantly becomes a show for others, a fiction. Intimacy becomes so public that it is almost pornographic. I think the title – which came from the protagonist himself – sums up this feeling very well. “Pornomelancolía” is not a film about pornography, it is a film about how we face the gaze of others. 

This interview is abbreviated for publication purposes. 

Manuel Abramovich Credit: Kuo Sanchez