Out Argentine writer/director Marco Berger’s Taekwondo, now out on DVD, casts a spell on viewers. Set entirely in a country estate, the film depicts little more than nine hunky guys hanging out in various stages of undress. The house belongs to Fer’s (Lucas Papa) family. He’s invited his friend Germán (Gabriel Epstein) from his taekwondo class in the city to join him and his pals at the estate during their summer vacation. The seven other guys—all friends of Fer’s from his childhood and teenage years—create a hothouse atmosphere.
Berger, working with his co-director Martín Farina, films the men’s bodies with a voyeuristic eye, emphasizing their buff chests, backs, legs, asses and casual nudity.
There is not much in the way of plot. The dramatic suspense revolves mostly around Germán, who is gay, wondering if Fer is attracted to him. Germán is confused because he and Fer are often intimately close, touching bodies in the estate’s sauna, or pool, and Fer has a tendency to expose his naked body to Germán in the bathroom or in the bedroom they share. Yet Germán wonders (to a friend on the phone) if he is just being teased. The silent glances Fer and Germán trade suggest an unspoken desire, but another guest in the house, Leo (Francisco Bertín), reveals details that Fer’s romantic interests might lie elsewhere.
Taekwondo explores the homosocial boding of Fer and Germán as they discuss books and comic books, or even end up chastely sleeping together, when another guy is passed out in Fer’s bed. The sexual tension between these guys is palpable, and as strong as the homoerotic current coursing through the house among the rest of the men.
Berger and Farina create an air of intense sensuality as their camera ogles dudes like Diego (Gaston Re) wearing tight red shorts that emphasize his impressive bulges, or Tomás (Darío Miño) sleeping in his underwear or showering. One houseguest, Fede (Juan Manuel Martino) nicknamed “Fasto,” rarely wears pants. He appears naked from the waist down when he meets Germán for the first time, and he goes skinny-dipping in the pool. In one of the film’s few sex scenes, the camera is focused squarely on his bare ass.
Berger explained in an email exchange that he likes to film his characters “in the way I would like to spy on them. I shoot the men by putting my own desires in focus.” He films them erotically, but never gratuitously. His emphasis is on creating desire for the characters and the audience by framing bodies. There are many scenes of the guys lying practically on top of one another, asleep, or sitting closely in the sauna, or by the pool. Berger also shrewdly employs silence in many of these scenes to heighten the emotions of the naked and near-naked characters, thereby making the viewer an active participant in the film.
His distinctive strategy also works to create a desire for Fer and Germán to couple up. As the two friends navigate the nature of their relationship, they tend to expose and express themselves to each other when they are alone. A scene where Germán wears a towel loosely around his waist, revealing the shaft of his penis, may be his strategy to pique Fer’s interest in his body. It does not go unnoticed, but Fer excuses himself, much to Germán’s frustration.
Despite the easygoing camaraderie of all the men, most of the guys are straight. Tomás talks about his girlfriend, who has issues of trust, but he understands them and loves her nonetheless. Diego is discussing moving in with his girlfriend, but he is not against fooling around with someone else before making that commitment. Fede is a chick magnet who seems to get laid the most among the men. Leo is teased about being gay—and maybe he is—which is why he poisons Germán’s mind about Fer.
Germán does not disclose that he is queer to any of the other guys, but he does talk privately with a friend about his sexual desires and frustrations. And while Germán is generally accepted by Fer’s friends, he acts more as a voyeur/observer than a participant in their activities. He is a canny proxy for the viewer.
Taekwondo is a leisurely-paced film that lets viewers bask in its hazy homoeroticism. For folks not seduced by the hothouse atmosphere, the film can be a bit soporific. But for anyone who succumbs to the film’s sensual rhythms, it will be a stimulating experience.
© 2017 Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer