Moving Pictures
Aug 28, 2023, 06:28AM

Tan Lines and Skid Marks

Rotting in the Sun is an unhinged and hilarious comedy about sex and death.

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Rotting in the Sun, the new downbeat gay comedy from Chilean director Sebastián Silva, is about sex and death. Or, more accurately, the feeling of life crumbling beneath a pile of dicks. New/Next’s film promo materials informed attendees of its high penis quotient; Silva has reportedly estimated there are at least 40 of them. Even a statue replica of David gets into the fun. Our 10 p.m. showing took place on Friday, the end of the fest’s first day and head-to-head with its opening night party, prompting New/Next’s mastermind Eric Allen Hatch to compliment the audience’s scraggly, porn-theater vibe. Fortunately, there were enough of us to generate ripples of audible laughter. Rotting star Jordan Firstman then appeared onscreen with a special pre-recorded greeting for the Baltimore showing. He began by fumbling with his phone, explaining that his odd stance was due to his low phone battery, meaning he needed to plug it in to a weirdly high outlet in the wall so it could charge while recording.

The comedian rose to internet fame during the pandemic for his Instagram impressions of things like “banana bread’s publicist.” (Right before Covid really hit, he penned the Laura Dern song from the Independent Spirit awards.) Looking at his account now, he has close to one million followers, and the feed is a firehose blast of grinning thirst traps and silly videos. At the screening, once Firstman figured out his phone, he turned on the charm, letting us know that, due to the extensive drug use in the movie, the audience was encouraged to take any drugs we had, and if we needed some, Baltimore’s drug dealers would be coming down the aisles to assist us. He ended by telling us to enjoy the film and his penis.

Written during Covid, Rotting involves isolation, suspicion, graphic (unsimulated) sex, technology and existential despair. Director (and co-writer and star) Sebastián Silva has a permanent disgust-face and can’t seem to think of anything but committing suicide, even on a hedonistic all-male beach vacation. He and Firstman play facsimiles of themselves, rehashing the circumstances of their first introduction, when Firstman happened to meet Silva after watching one of Silva’s films the night before. Silva, for his part, plays his character with the misery of a man who’s been stuck in it himself. After distribution troubles came for his previous film, he nurtured his successful painting career while feeling burned-out on film. In the movie, this equates to him slouching around Mexico, the shadow of his baseball cap leaving only his frown visible as he spends every other moment looking down at bizarre meme videos on his phone.

Movie-Silva and -Firstman meet on the gay beach, party together, fight and call each other ridiculous when their personalities clash. As Silva leaves, Firstman howls, “Why don’t you like me?” But Silva changes his mind, tentatively agreeing to work on a script with Firstman after previously indifferent studio reps express interest in their collaboration. When Firstman arrives at Silva’s always-under-construction apartment, Silva’s nowhere to be found, leading Firstman to invite all his friends over to party, fuck, and eventually search for him.

The third character, Vero, portrayed by Catalina Saavedra, stars in of Silva’s 2009 film The Maid. And in Rotting she plays the maid; harried, hard-working, somewhat incompetent. who stacks Silva’s wet paintings on top of each other. She’s constantly worried about screwing up and getting fired but can’t get her shit together. Firstman, using Google Translate’s frustrating text reader to communicate with her, begins to think Vero’s involved in Silva’s disappearance. Slowly, other characters start to believe their own ideas of what happened to Silva, and the chaos spills over.

Unhinged and funny, Rotting in the Sun's pieces all work together, even the hold-your-breath thriller elements. The acting is convincing, and the handheld style successfully disorients the viewer, mimicking all the head-bobbing we do when looking up and down at our phones. And phones play a huge role here. Thankfully, they’re filmed like objects, the camera super-zooming in on the screens, pixels visible, images washed out and distorted.

The film, acquired by MUBI, plays theatrically and then streams in early September.


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