Written & Directed by Chucho E. Quintero
20 mins, México, 2017
In my perfect world, we’d get a new short from Chucho E. Quintero every couple weeks, as long as they’re as fresh and funny as Panquecito: an affectionate, gay-hookup sexcapade that ends in a proud selfie, of sorts.Me!
I wrote that blurb for Chucho. I don’t know whether he’s published it anywhere or not.
It doesn’t begin to explain what I find not only entertaining but also valuable about Panquecito, his latest short now available for free on Vimeo. Watch also at the end of this post.
In both aspects it’s more successful than 95% of the gay short films you’ll find there or on YouTube, and as good as any of the good ones you’d watch on the Boys on Film omnibuses — which is to say better than most of them.
Rhythms of speech
Quintero has told me that he’s a big fan of Chronicle and Attack the Block, two of my favorite features, as well. Comparing them to Quintero’s own Six Pack and Panquecito it’s not hard to pinpoint at least one thing that he likes about them. The characters in all four speak in community-specific speech patterns, vocabularies, and rhythms. Some of these elements are micro-specific, in the cases of Chronicle and Six Pack.
That is, these two specific communities of friends talk to and relate to one another idiosyncratically and perhaps with diction and styles that might be opaque to those outside the group if they existed IRL, unless of course you take the time to point a camera and create a narrative around them. Then the interpersonal, intracultural dynamics become more clear and a lot more interesting. Then the vernacular enlivens stories you want to watch and lives you want to follow.
I consider Quintero a good film writer for those effects alone. If you consider part of a writer’s job to observe and record; and then somehow translate, transcribe, dramatize, and play back those moments of intimate communication between characters (in Quintero’s case, the characters are always friends), reconstituting them for the purpose of a narrative film but also to in some sense preserve their time, their context, and their values — and within all that, their value to us — then Quintero is one of our most important gay chroniclers right now. To be brash about it, I’m not sure we have another one.
Panquecito for me represents so far the quintessence of what he is up to in this regard. It feels like a quickly posted but detailed and lively update from a specific Mexican gay male milieu which many in his audience will have no direct knowledge of but which is conveyed with such affection and joy that we might want to join in.
But he takes this chronicling mission farther by connecting the speech patterns and movements of his characters with the soundtrack and onscreen 8-bit graphics using formal tactics that deepen an understanding and appreciation of the sexy conversations — negotiations really — we’re hearing and watching.
He uses these rhythms and beats to make the jokes even funnier. More than just a bonus, these rhymed, syncopated, harmonized details establish tone, character, a sense of place, all at the same time, and executed in a deceptively tossed-off way that, rather being distracting, feels precisely tuned to the lived-in aesthetics and found mise-en-scène.
This is the closest Quintero’s come to formalism in any of his films (there are similar formal experiments in the digressive segments within Velociraptor). Even the way his characters talk to each other in Panquecito sounds more constructed and directed than the more naturalistic, sometimes improvisational scenes in Velociraptor.
Deconstructed music provides the soundtrack for Panquecito, combining human humming, wordless vocalizing, clapping, finger snaps, breathing, etc., timed to the visuals.
For instance, after a brief close-up of a chat screen that introduces two important characters about to hook up, the title character is shown in his orange underwear in front of a mirror. In the foreground, frame-left, he’s shot from mid-torso. In the mirror, not in focus, it’s an almost full-body shot.
He turns toward the camera so that he and we can look at his belly. He pats and drums his fingers around his navel. The syncopated soundtrack coincides with these movements so precisely that for the first few microseconds we might think the sounds are diegetic — produced by Muffin’s actual fingers.
I asked Chucho to explain his unique explorations in sound for Panquecito, emphases mine:
First of all, I like contrasts. I learned that very recently, I like having opposite forces working against each other (in music, in camerawork, sound, acting, etc), so instead of going for the expected, I’d try to find more strange or unconventional pairings. For example, in Velociraptor, since the film is centered around a geek who likes comic books and it’s about the Apocalypse and all these sci-fi elements, it was sort of expected to have an 8-bit soundtrack like the one we had. But for Panquecito (another film about a geek who likes Roger Corman and comic books), I knew I didn’t want that anymore, even though I used some video game graphic elements, using video game music was out of the question. So we went with something that was almost a cappella, even kind of tribal, instead of going with something geeky.
What I talked with Isaí Flores Navarrete was that I wanted to sort of build sounds on top of sounds, so he started with a full theme with a bunch of different sounds for the ending, and then he’d deconstruct it until it was just clapping or a single note or sound for the beginning, that way, as the movie progresses, the music gets more complex.
And here he explains more about the uses these sounds are put to in the film:
I also wanted to experiment with making music and sound be a part of the main character’s thoughts and emotions, like, the music wouldn’t be just decorative but it’d actually speak FOR the character, so it’d be tense or in a hurry or very horny and chaotic, depending on the scene.
Chucho the Formalist
Similarly, Quintero continues to experiment with modernist, reflexive modes of storytelling by violating linear time and diegetic space. Early on, as Panquecito is getting ready for the guy he invited over in the chat, two of his previous near-tricks enter the doorway next to him, giving their excuses why they can’t fuck him. 8-bit visuals frame the guys’ faces as they demur.
The film provides this background information within the scene itself, marking it off as non-diegetic via the layered 8-bit graphics and sounds, as well as lighting. Velociraptor clearly demarcated the borders between the linear narrative moving forward and the stylistically divergent digressions that show previous time and different places and spaces.
[Writing this I’m reminded how the camera movements, the pans and dollies, in the films of Julián Hernández, also move us outside of linear time and space and then back again, or how the camera tracks a character who is also moving in and out of linear time and space which Hernández constitutes as emotional, erotic spaces, as well. I’ve haven’t written about these formal aspects of many of Julián Hernández’s films yet, but they are particularly striking in El cielo dividido and Rabioso sol, rabioso cielo]
As usual, Quintero’s narrative tactics communicate in layers.
- There’s the surprise of new characters entering the scene; we realize it’s a kind of flashback or trepidatious reminiscence through the use of the 8-bit graphics
- The graphics themselves are reflexive and funny (an inverted storm cloud around a trick’s head and torso).
- The tricks’ lines are funny but also shallow. They commit our sympathetic identification with Panquecito by showing his past failures alongside his self-conscious preparation for the next date.
- The soundtrack’s rhythms intensify Panquecito’s nervousness and anticipation. But Quintero has revealed something else about Panquecito: sure, he struck out before but he’s still out there, trying to make a connection, working hard to get laid.
All of the above contribute to the intensity and joy of the film’s final, explicit money shot.
A hilarious but also kind of cruel competition between Panquecito and his roommate lies at the center of the film. The roommate knows Panquecito’s trade and at first manages to steal him away. Eventually though, Panquecito manages to get back in there and the action, albeit elliptical — the visuals are vague; that special soundtrack is not — becomes a three-way.
The tone here is playful but not mocking. Each character stakes his claim on the sex and although we’re probably rooting for Panquecito, there’s a refreshing evenness and lack of judgement expressed through the humor and especially through the ecstatic imagery.
Finally, I can think of no recent film with an equivalently bold, sexually explicit (and self-reflexive) image delivered with such pride and satisfaction. The grin on Panquecito’s semen-splattered mug belongs there, has been earned, and belongs to this character — the triumphant resolution of his story — and to us and our stories.
That is, if we’re open to the film as we should be, that grin will be answered by our own — a recovery or remembrance of our own self-worth.
For me that frame also represents a challenge to gay cinema: Are your films this pro-sex, this pro-gay, this unashamed?
If not, why not?