Outfest LA 2023 Film Review: Rotting In The Sun ★★★★

Some of my favorite filmmakers say or show things nobody else will dare expose to the world, whether it’s the dark underbelly or something as commonplace yet rarely seen as graphic nudity and sex. They let their characters have flaws, outsized egos, mood swings, and make mistakes, all parts of the human experience which cookie cutter films tend to ignore. Sebastián Silva loves swimming in these waters, literally, in his latest film, Rotting In The Sun, a scabrous, surprising mix of genres and themes which aims his and co-writer Pedro Peirano’s sharp poison darts at everything from Hollywood, social media influencers, privilege, classism, and even the foibles of the Google Translate app. There’s nothing more delicious than a collective gay gasp coming from a packed movie theater. Welcome back, Sebastián, I’ve missed the bile spewing forth from your volcanic mind.

Sebastián Silva in Rotting In The Sun. Courtesy of Outfest.

A semi-autobiographical story with everyone playing a version of themselves, we meet Sebastián at a low point as he contemplates suicide in his messy Mexico City apartment. His housekeeper, Vero (Catalina Saavedra, the star of his 2009 film The Maid) notices his spiraling behavior and frequent drug use and feels helpless. She doesn’t want to intervene lest she lose her job. She’s just the invisible help after all, right?

To get away from it all, Sebastián escapes to a gay nude beach where the term “sexually charged” would seem like a tame description. He almost drowns in the water trying to rescue another swimmer, Jordan Firstman, a real life actor/writer/influencer, in one of the more original “meet cutes” in cinema history. When was the last time you watched a scene transition from suicidal ideation to a story pitch session in less than 10 seconds flat and then just as quickly to a party invitation and a random hookup? From such less than humble beginnings, a creative partnership from hell gets birthed. Buckle up. This is merely a first act target for Silva and company.

Jordan Firstman in Rotting In The Sun. Courtesy of Outfest.

To say any more about the story would do the film and the filmmakers an injustice. The film has much more on its mind than simply parodying the inner workings of Hollywood, although the HBO pitch session scene rings hilariously true. Its grim, grungy, cinéma vérité aesthetic may try the patience of filmgoers used to a more slick experience, but those up to the challenge may feel rewarded by this complicated, layered, truly messed up story.

While Silva certainly grabs your attention as he falls deeper and deeper into his ketamine-fueled depressive state, Firstman and Saavedra walk away with this film. As the Agent Of Chaos, Firstman performs fearlessly, poking the bear at every opportunity, seemingly all id 24/7 with his super-ego switched to off, at least that’s what we’re led to believe. Firstman’s such a smart actor, that he knows how to pepper his performance with more than just the clown show we see at first glance.

Saavedra sneaks up on you as this quiet presence who turns into an almost human ticking clock. She’s explosive and you can’t take your eyes off her. When she and Firstman share the same frame, the film’s warring themes come together in such an unexpected way leading to one messy, hilariously, yet heart-wrenching final scene.

Catalina Saavedra and Jordan Firstman in Rotting In The Sun. Courtesy of Outfest.

Make no mistake, Silva has something to say about the world today. Look at the title of the film for a not so subtle clue. It’s not as simple as taking a few cheap shot digs at TikTok stars. No, Silva is coming for all of us, one poorly translated Google line at a time.

By Glenn Gaylord, Senior Film Critic

Rotting In The Sun screened at the 41st Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival on Friday, July 14th. The film will open theatrically in the United States on September 8th and stream on MUBI globally from September 15th, 2023.

The 41st Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ+ Film Festival runs in person until Sunday, July 23rd 2023 and some selections continue virtually until July 30th. For the full lineup and to purchase tickets head to the Outfest LA 2023 website.  

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