Friday, July 22, 2011

NewFest ’11: My Last Round

Boxing and love can both cause severe brain damage. There is no question which is riskier. Get serious, it is obviously boxing. A fighter can be irreparably hurt in the ring. It could even be the death of one gay epileptic pugilist in Julio Jorquera’s My Last Round (trailer here), which screens during the 2011 NewFest.

Octavio Palooka is decent fighter, but he never really had his shot. A man’s man around the gym, he attracts the attention of ostensive ladies man Hugo. However, the younger kitchen worker initially panics when Octavio puts the moves on him. Eventually though, they launch into a furtive relationship. When Octavio’s latent epilepsy surfaces, the fighter is forced to retire from the ring. In a way, this clears the way for the two men to start a new life together in the big city of Santiago, where people mostly keep to themselves. Unfortunately, Jennifer, the daughter of Hugo’s new boss, is not one of those people. Yet, perhaps Octavio’s desire for one last Rocky moment will be a greater obstacle to their happily ever after.

Round desperately wants to be likened to Brokeback Mountain, but it bizarrely lifts the mournful circular ending from Milcho Manchevski’s Before the Rain, almost lock, stock, and barrel. It made perfectly tragic sense in the context of the Balkans’ endlessly repeating cycle of violence. In Round though, it is just kind of weird.

Arguably, Round works best when steeped in the grungy atmosphere of Octavio’s provincial gym. Jorquera’s focus is sharper and sensation of place is quite strong, whereas the big city scenes descend into rather plodding melodrama.

Perfectly cast as Octavio, Roberto Farías’ slow burning and deep yearning are quite compelling stuff. Conversely, Héctor Morales is just sort of okay as Hugo, presumably intended to be something of a cold fish and a cipher. However, Manuela Martelli brings out some human dimensions in the disruptive Jennifer.

Farías’ hardnosed intensity is impressive, but there is no question about the overall direction Round is heading, notwithstanding the concluding miscue. While it begs comparison to a number of A-list films, like The Fighter and The Wrestler, it just is not in their league. Pretty inescapably average overall, Round screens Sunday (7/24) at the Cinema Village as part of this year’s NewFest.