Pedro Henrique’s debut feature centers on a barely-legal burnout named Miguel. He tumbles through a sequence of nights and days that are loosened from linear time by his habit of partying past sunrise. For company he has a constantly shifting array of friends and friends-of-friends and people-who-hooked-up-with-friends-last-night. (Early on they’re taking poppers at 9am.) He lives with his mom, who we only see conked out on the sofa, perhaps drunk. He has a restaurant job but keeps forgetting about shifts and turning up late to beg his co-chef for coke.
I saw this movie in a film festival program described basically as an ultra-low-budget cult classic in the making, the type of movie you watch with your friends on shrooms, and I had fun with it in that capacity. But what stuck with me was something different.
(It’s impossible to discuss what I want to discuss here without giving away a lot of FRÁGIL’s important movements, and I hope people will see it for themselves and proceed carefully. I have described the plot in fairly complete detail because I’m not sure when that will be possible. Also, I saw it only once and I think I might have screwed up some key details. I’m hoping it will get distributed in some manner that I can rewatch and fix those details later. If not, somebody can let me know.)
An organizing principle of the movie is Miguel’s chase to gain entry to a mythical nightclub. The name of the club is always censored by a reality-rending sound sample that turns it generic and universal: [CLUB]. The [Club] stands in for, you know, salvation, the party so great it will finally fix you. The search is fun to watch but repetitive and going nowhere, which obviously is the point.
In the course of things he winds up jilting his friend Belard, who seems to have a crush on him that might or might not be reciprocated. Hanging with Belard is a waste of time compared to the fun he’s going to have when he finally makes it to the [Club]. While he and his friends are all dropping acid together, he catches Belard and a third friend Redgi in a compromising position (or just miming a compromising position?), which devastates him, for both personal and Freudian reasons, though the acid probably doesn’t help. In confusion, he wanders out of the party.
A female friend catches him dejected on a set of steps.(I honestly can’t tell in hindsight if this is literally his mother, and he just calls her by her first name, but I don’t think so.) She tries to comfort him; he insists he’s fine, he doesn’t need anybody to have fun, he’s going to go party, he’s not crying, and so on. Miguel’s been framed as a baby throughout: Belard rolls him in a stroller, he drags a big coat on the ground behind him like a blankie. Now he gets to set his head in Mommy’s lap, as she strokes his hair and seems to be about to make it better.
Then, the director’s voice suddenly intrudes without fanfare: “Can you stroke slower?”
This turn to documentary, which continues for several sequences, leaves you totally off-balance. At least, if like me, you are prone to fits of self-pity that you fantasize could be solved by the sympathy of an older woman, and were therefore genuinely touched by Miguel’s misery just prior to the split. In emotional suspension, I was thinking: hold on, was I supposed to find that maudlin? Am I being scolded here for giving over to the illusion of identification with this imaginary person, who, the film reminds me, is just an actor on a set? And if that’s the case–the split provokes us to think–what’s the point of me sitting here watching this imaginary guy do imaginary things for no reason?
Now on second remembering I think too how this move at first echoes Miguel’s resistance to admitting his desire for connection. The movie insists on clinging to ironic distance: I’m not crying, you are! After all, if you’re being sincere you can be accused of turning saccharine, melodramatic. In trying to connect with the audience you can fail to connect, and it hurts less not to try.
But Henrique is wiser than that. He asks us to return once again to the diegetic world, to trust him and re-forget about how all movies are fake for a little while longer. (The fact that it’s actually very easy to do this has to be a testament to something powerful about fiction.) Miguel smokes a cigarette alone on a staircase. Mommy’s nowhere to be seen; the fantasy of relief is ended and he has to face the whole shittiness of it all for himself. So, as you do, he goes dancing. The camera slowly zooms into his figure alone in the crowd. (As you are alone in a crowd, in the dark under flashing lights, when you go to watch a movie.) An ambiguity of tense focus is on his face, maybe glimpses of an unstable rapture, or maybe not, when he closes his eyes in the music.
And Belard appears in the crowd next to him all of a sudden. Listen, have you ever tried to find a single person in a crowd like that? He could have been searching for half an hour. He announces his presence with his annoying-loving habit of clapping his hands over Miguel’s ears from behind, which muffles the music. Intricate rituals et cetera.
(So, this one time, I was out, and having a really bad night. At the predrink somebody I had a crush on had rejected me. We were all going to the venue together, and as soon as we got there I excused myself from the group–I feigned that I was just so popular I had to meet up with other friends. Actually I cried in the bathroom. I kept expecting the dancing and the loud music and the company of the other friends, who really were there, to make me feel better. It never did; when I went home at 2am I started crying again and sent my crush a drunk text. I wish I could say this happened in my early 20s.
But I do remember how, after I washed my face in the bathroom, I decided I would go mosh to get out some emotion. I stumbled in the pit, and another woman, about my height and age, latched hands with me and pulled me up to stand. Suddenly we were embracing with our faces tucked into each others’ necks. We got slammed around together with our arms clasped around each other for about the length of the song. Because we were locked together, we were about the same weight as the guys and couldn’t be knocked over. Then I decided I was too tipsy to mosh and I thanked her and slipped off into the crowd.)
The beat doesn’t change; Miguel and Belard don’t even really look at each other that long. They just dance side by side, as you do with a friend you love dearly but have no habit of touching. Miguel regains a joking spirit, swings his head side to side, seems to smile. This party, and this movie, and this life, like all the others, is totally pointless. But at least there’s somebody you know there.