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Italian teen dreams of eloping to a distant land with a slightly older man, in this twisted queer coming-of-age drama - from the 76th edition of the Locarno Film Festival


Nineteen-year-old Yuri (Andrea Fuorto) lives in a small rural community with his extended family. He is quiet and shy, with the social skills of a toddler and some visible learning difficulties. He works as a till assistant and the local butcher’s, but struggles to count the change. He is surrounded by women (mother, grandmother and countless aunts), and entirely desexualised like by his family. This is particularly evident in a scene in the bath tub, when one of his elders treats him like a baby. The camera proceeds to show his full masculine, adult body and sizeable genitalia, highlighting the contrast between the childish treatment that manly physicality.

Yuri becomes fascinated by the cocky Agostino (Augusto Mario Russi), around 10 years his senior, with formidable piercing eyes, flame-red dyed hair and the perfectly chiseled face. He lives in a camper van and barely scrapes a living by conducting children’s birthday parties. The highly seductive and manipulative male invites Yuri to join him on his mobile home, promising him that they will eventually escape to Patagonia (where “natural beauty is unaffected” and “everyone only cares about being happy”). Instead, they move to a precarious trailer campsite surrounded by scraps and inhabited by young people constantly throwing drug-fuelled parties.

The homoerotic tones soon begin to flourish. Is there an attraction between the vulnerable and insecure teen and his older friend, or is this an abusive relationship with very peculiar parameters? There is very little doubt that Yuri is gay. On the other hand, Patagonia keeps audiences guessing whether Agostino is a closeted homosexual, an opportunistic straight man or a careless bisexual.

This is a queer coming-of-age drama, if not your traditional one. Yuri’s transition to adulthood is neither beautiful nor pleasant, and his sexuality in never romanticised. Instead, the most intimate moment is entirely anti-erotic, exposing the machinations of psychological domination. Yuri is relegated to a menial household tasks, including looking after a baby that’s presumably Agostino’s son (something he vehemently denies). He becomes some Agostino’s maid, or lapdog. He occasionally gets a juicy treat (a tokenistic gesture of affection). An abuse pattern familiar to straight and queer couples alike.

Agostino constantly preaches “freedom”, but keeps Yuri emotionally tethered. This contradiction is embodied by a dog who only goes for a walk if he’s on a leash. The question is whether Yuri is satisfied with the arrangement, or indeed seeks something more wholesome. Does he just want to be Agostino’s dog? Fans of LGBT cinema will recognise the conflict between preaching and offering freedom, as well as the domestic abuse patterns from Rainer Werner Fassbinder films such as The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) and Martha (1974).

Fuorto is the biggest highlight of the movie, with a stunning performance oozing palpable desire, latent insecurity and profound naivety. He may well receive the Leopard for Best Actor. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising if 28-year-old director Simone Bozzelly (who also co-write the movie script, alongside Tommaso Favagrossa) received one of the event’s top prizes for his sophomore feature. This is despite a few plot holes and a couple of awkward, overambitious final scenes. Otherwise, a profound and delightful drama.

Patagonia is in the Official Competition (Concorso Internazionale) of the 76th Locarno Film Festival.

By Victor Fraga - 07-08-2023

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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