Hollywood so often takes a one-crisis-per-customer approach to personal dramas that it is refreshing to see the ambitious little movie “Leo’s Room” give its protagonist a more lifelike series of challenges.
On the surface, this 2009 film from Uruguay is yet another coming of age story about a young man struggling to figure out if he is straight or gay.
The movie opens provocatively with a late night cafe argument involving college students over the question of whether men see “love” simply as a way of getting sex.
One barrroom philosopher says that nearly every dating interaction by men is simply part of an endless search for the next orgasm.
Leo (Martin Rodriguez) says there’s got to be more to life than that — what about all of the various forms of love that have no sexual component?
A scene later, we find out why the argument struck a nerve. We watch Leo failing to perform sexually with his girlfriend and not for the first time. He apologizes, she suggests, kindly, that he see a therapist friend of hers.
The next scene shows Leo in an Internet sex chat room, looking for a hook-up. He goes out to meet an anonymous date at a bus stop but when the guy shows up, Leo brushes him off with a lie.
The movie is on one level literally about the rented room Leo spends so much time in, wondering and worrying about the life he might find outside those four walls. Can his reality ever live up to his overheated fantasy?
The student begins therapy, but pretends in his early sessions that he is strictly heterosexual, even as a gay Internet connection becomes more than a one night stand.
Running parallel to Leo’s wrestling with his sexuality is a subplot that keeps moving into the foreground — the student meets a woman he went to grade school with and starts flirting with her at a series of casual meetings.
Leo is drawn to Caro (Cecilia Cosero) as a friend but also wonders if there might be a sexual component to the attraction. She is seriously depressed about something, but her meetings with Leo appear to be getting her out of her shell.
The relationships in “Leo’s Room” get more complex with each new scene and writer-director Enrique Buchichio was fortunate in assembling a strong cast capable of mining the many silent sequences as well as the juicy dialogue exchanges.
At the end of the movie, Buchichio has enough confidence in Martin Rodriguez to include a long close-up shot of Leo happily driving a borrowed car into a not yet defined future (it’s an ending/gift similar to the one Quentin Tarantino gave to Pam Grier when they made “Jackie Brown”).
What at first appears to be just another earnest coming out drama designed for the LGBT festival circuit breaks out of that genre into a label-less realm.
The story we think we are heading toward after the first few scenes is not the one that plays out. The movie ends on a note of what might be described as hopeful ambiguity — Leo has finally gotten out of his room and is willing to risk what might happen next.
“Leo’s Room” is part of the growing library of international films supported by The Global Film Initiative, a non-profit based in San Francisco which acquires and distributes films that it believes “‘promote cross-cultural understanding through cinema.” The GFI has a theatrical release component as well as a DVD distribution platform, but it also awards 10 to 15 grants to filmmakers around the world. For more information on GFI films and programs visit www.globalfilm.org.