Marco Berger’s Hawaii is essentially 100 minutes of mental foreplay. A game between two men filled less with heated physical battles of strength and stamina, but rather secret glances, escalating desire, and heated eroticism. The kind of temperature rising sport that comes from sneaking a look at the object of affection when they least expect it. The thrill that comes from feeling like one has gotten away with a trickily maneuvered flirt. The boiling yet unspoken passion that can rise from the mere touch of flesh on flesh. The almost unbearable sexual tension that can emerge when we least expect it.
More impatient viewers may find the seemingly endless psychosexual flirtation of Berger’s protagonists, well-off Argentine writer Eugenio and homeless drifter Martin, too much. The yearning for release therefore extending beyond just the characters on screen, but to the audience where breathless heckles may make way for frustration. Others will find its gentle, melodic take on rekindled friendship to be sumptuously handled and deeply involving in spite of its long stretches of silence, meditative scenes of potentially one-sided lust, and unspoken love.
While it may lack a visual style to rival some of the greatest depictions of homosexual desire – think Claire Denis’ Beau Trevail – the handsome photography does more than enough to suggest Martin and Eugenio’s escalating desire. It helps that the rather sublime actors, Manuel Vignau and Mateo Chiarino, are beautifully handsome, the former with his scruffy beard and round-rimmed glasses, the latter with his buzzed hair and sweat-stained body. The music score that occasionally enters the sound design is unnecessary and works best when playing exclusively with diegetic soundscapes.
As Berger’s story of reformed childhood friendships kicks into its second gear as Eugenio offers a spare bed at his uncle’s expansive home, the hormones fly thick and fast albeit rarely exhibited in more than a partial dart of the eye to the shifting image of naked flesh behind a shower screen door, or the tug of a pair of a shorts that could be purely instinctual or part of a greater plan of seduction. That both Eugenio and Martin seem ambiguously on and off with their interest and even their preference only elevates this. Martin finds photos of Eugenio with a woman and steals one to take to his homeless retreat off the main road, and as if knowing of his old friend’s feelings struts about in body-clinging shorts fresh out of the nearby swimming hole. But even when Martin’s feelings become equally obvious, perhaps he too is unsure and in a potential moment of back-tracking weakness caresses the cross that hangs across his frequently bare chest and at another moment claims it was “a gift from a girl I care about.”
Hawaii is a film of relative little action, yes. However, what could have like sufficed as nothing more than a short film has been expanded into a feature – Berger’s third after Plan B and the Teddy-winning Absent – with delicate ease. It’s a film that gets more drama out of the spark that comes from finally taking a step towards revealing your feelings than it does out of the eventual act of sex. It’s typical then that the title is only revealed to be of any tangential relevance late in the picture, which is perhaps the point: there’s more to the act of love – or even lust – than the immediate act of consummation, and sometimes not everything along the way may even matter. As a single man, I had what’s come to be known as “the feels” and I suspect many others will experience the same. A sort of blissful melancholy, as it were. For others, Hawaii will likely act as a 100 minutes of groin-stirring cinematic foreplay. Or, you know, both. In either case, the film is a wonderful creation that radiates and which allows audiences to experience its heart-pounding rhythms with every bit as much intensity as its characters. B+ / A-
Hawaii is on DVD and VOD from 18 February.