Viewfinder: Our Review of ‘Rotting in the Sun’

Posted in What's Streaming? by - September 15, 2023
Viewfinder: Our Review of ‘Rotting in the Sun’

Sebastian Silva directs and plays a version of himself in Rotting in the Sun. Sebastian narrates, ‘my mission is to suffer,’ which he accomplishes. He finds himself in a fictional version of Oaxaca, a popular resort for gay men. He walks along the beach, missing a chance to have public sex with random men. It’s the kind of place that would cause me to start a bender but not in a good way. One of those men, by the way Jordan Firstman (Firstman, also playing a version of himself). Jordan, then takes a chance and has on screen unsimulated sex among men doing the same.

Anyway, they reconnect, as Jordan ingratiates himself into Sebastian’s life, pitching an idea for a show that Silva uses in his own pitch to HBO. Jordan also invites himself to Sebastian’s studio in Mexico City. Sebastian agrees to this stay, making his maid Veronica (Catalina Saavedra) help him move a couch for Jordan to sleep on. But an accident happens. Sebastian dies and Vero tries to cover it up. Cinephiles have seen a few too many films where a director imagines his own death, to mixed results. What makes Rotting in the Sun work, for the most part, is how Silva literally takes himself out of the equation.

The film, then, becomes a diptych featuring Vero and Jordan. Imagine, on one corner, someone with crippling anxiety, and on the other, an insufferable influencer who becomes a high functioning gay man. The film finds a balance where they have scenes together as well as scenes when they are apart. Somehow, these two polar opposites belong in the same film. And Silva’s choice of shaky cam makes sense in depicting their chaotic energies. Mysteries like this have this expectation where the other characters need to discover who the ‘bad guy’ is. But this film has other interests. Rotting in the Sun plays like a fever dream, which can go both ways.

Thankfully though, its awareness of its own silliness make it a rewarding time at the movies. Vero is incapable of trying to get rid of a dead body. This makes me wonder why people even bother killing each other. The film thwarts one of her attempts. It does this by having Jordan host an impromptu orgy at a place that isn’t even his. To get this out of the way, I am pro sex scene, grow up. Anyway, admittedly, the film has a lot of moments that remind of what my fellow critic in this site Thomas Wishloff wrote about. Every act of this film has moments when everything can be over for the characters. But this is one of those films where I like how it meanders and it knows when to pull back.

I keep to going back to how silly Rotting in the Sun is because it is. The apartment where most of the film takes place is important in setting that tone. It’s a studio where there’s a drawing of a mirror where a mirror should be, a place where Vero performs work to hide her guilt. Some of the lines here are iconic, especially the things that Jordan says. Yes, I imagine myself saying something like ‘We need to find Sebastian, periodt” if I ever have to investigate a missing persons case involving someone I love. Both Jordan and Vero see each other as stereotypes, the invading Grindo, the maid playing dumb. But they see the humanity within each other even if what’s in front of them are clouds of suspicion.

Watch Rotting in the Sun on MUBI.

This post was written by
While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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