What is it about remote fishing villages that are so romantic? The gorgeous vistas of the windswept ocean… the hardscrabble men with their windswept hair… the way everyone wears enviable cable-knit sweaters… the extra likelihood of being caught in the rain together…?
The remote fishing village in The Strong Ones (Los Fuertes) is in Chile, so we can add the beauty of the Spanish language to the list of reasons why this simple story of boy-meets-boy is so swoon-worthy. Lucas (Samuel González) is an artist who is in town from Santiago for a few weeks to visit his sister Catalina (Marcela Salinas) before he moves away to Canada. He hasn’t spoken to their parents in a while because they don’t like the fact that he’s gay, but his sister is supportive.
Lucas plans to spend the time sketching the ruins of the old forts that cover the village, learning about local history from the war re-enactments that all the tourists love to check out. One day, Antonio (Antonio Altamirano) shows up at Lucas’s sister’s house to help deliver firewood. Lucas finds himself instantly attracted to the handsome other man, stealing glances as Antonio helps him move the wood. Antonio is a boatswain on a local fishing boat and one of the war re-enactors. The next time their paths cross, their chemistry and mutual attraction is electric.
Antonio and Lucas know they’re both at different points in their lives. Lucas is leaving and Antonio is fine staying right where he is. Antonio has to work for everything he has, while Lucas’s family has money — even if he’s not talking to them right now. Still, they can’t keep their hands off each other, eager to spend every minute they do have together exploring each other’s bodies.
There’s not much in the way of plot in The Strong Ones. It all feels a bit familiar, a bit “of a type,” part of a subgenre that includes God’s Own Country and Weekend, although the short film The Strong Ones is based on predated the former. Call Me By Your Name is probably the most mainstream incarnation of this type of story — two men who probably aren’t going to end up together grasp for whatever pleasure they can before the inevitability of life pulls them apart. The point of the film is much more about watching the interaction between these two handsome men, letting them luxuriate in each other’s company, in each other’s sensuality, for as long as possible, against the backdrop of some incredible scenic photography. (There’s Brokeback Mountain DNA here, too).
And, you know what? That’s totally fine. I’ve seen thousands of cookie-cutter heterosexual romances, too, so the dozen plus-films I can think of that are sort of like The Strong Ones are not nearly enough. These types of films may be the cottagecore of the queer indie film scene, but I don’t mind. Give me layers layered on layers and pair them with earth-toned knit hats. Give me more rugged men in chunky sweaters huddled together for warmth. Give me more hungry kisses stolen in the bushes. Give me more softly-lit sex scenes where the breathing is heavy and no one needs to do any preparation, more naked cups of tea, more bathroom-stall makeout sessions because your friends and family are nearby and you just can’t handle the anticipation anymore. Give me Chilean movies like this and British ones like this and American ones and ones set in Italy (even if a bunch of straight people made that one).
The Strong Ones is about the inevitability of loss, to be sure, and it would be nice to see gay men be able to work it out for once, but it’s also about finding intimacy and love where we can, about making space in our lives for genuine affection and sensuality no matter what factors try to tell us we don’t deserve it. And whether a given film is particularly innovative or not, sometimes that’s just a nice way to spend an afternoon.
By Eric Langberg
The Strong Ones (Los Fuertes) is available now for a limited time at OutfestLA2020.com as part of this year’s Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival.