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The latest film from Noel Alejandro is Serodiscordantes.

Serodiscordantes explores the relationship of Evaristo (Cachorro Lozano) and Miguel (Alejandría Quince), focusing in on the moment that Miguel reveals his HIV status to Evaristo.

It’s an experience that a lot of gay men will identify with, it’s a conversation that many of us have had to navigate. But it’s not a subject matter that you normally see tackled in an erotic film.

To describe Alejandro’s films as gay porn is under-selling them a bit, but they are undeniably arousing. Alejandro captures sex on camera in an authentic and real way that really connects emotionally with the view.

Once again, Alejandro has delivered a killer combination of great acting, great storytelling, and great sex. You’re going to want to watch Serodiscordantes.

Ahead of the release of Serodiscordantes, I caught up with Alejandro for a behind-the-scenes look at the film.

What was your inspiration for this story?

Alejandría contacted me at the beginning of 2018 to tell me their story. He and Cachorro are partners in real life, as well as co-stars in this film. Alejandria and Cachorro had been through an uncertain year together of silence and secrets regarding Alejandria’s HIV status.

From the very beginning, this felt like a good story to tell, an emotional story to tell. The esoteric elements of the story – such as the pendulum consultation and the Ouija board – emerged during the development of the story.

I see it like two children playing a game for fun, and then a truth is revealed – resulting in a loss of innocence, forcing them to grow up instantly.

The Ouija is the tool that they use to let their internal voices speak. It shows the incredible strength of the subconscious – which screams inside us to get out – but we keep it inside us like a demon.

Have you ever used a Ouija board?

In Spain, we have a strong tradition with esoterics and afterlife stories. I was around 20 years old when I had my first afterlife experience – it was with my cousin.

We used a coin as the marker, and the coin started to move without me or my cousin moving it. It gave us coherent answers to the questions we asked. All of a sudden, all of the stories that I’d heard about this kind of thing finally made sense.

That experience helped me to understand how human perception and subconscious works.

What was your casting process for this film?

My casting process is often just when the right person contacts me at the right moment.

When Alejandria told me his story, he and Cachorro also offered to appear in the film.

What was your location for the shoot?

It is an altbau – an old building with a high ceiling – next to a busy avenue in Berlin. It wasn’t difficult to find – the owner seemed to like my work.

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We mixed natural and daylight for this filming – we filmed in two days.

Does a film like this help to tackle the stigma that still impacts people living with HIV?

It shows a real situation that people with HIV have to face daily – to come out of the closet, again.

Portraying these kinds of situations is a way of highlighting the topic, and tackling ignorance and shame.

What do you hope that people feel when they watch Serodiscordantes?

I’m really not sure. Everybody will see the film and understand the story with different readings, depending on their personal life experiences. I simply hope that people like it so that they can keep connected to my films.

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Arts & Culture

Daddy issues in a volatile world

Robin Campillo reflects on Eastern Boys.

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Eastern Boys by Robin Campillo (image courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures)
Eastern Boys by Robin Campillo (image courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures)

With his latest film BPM a critical and commercial success, I caught up with filmmaker Robin Campillo to look back at his earlier film Eastern Boys, which has recently been re-released.

It’s an intense and seductive film, with authentic and unpredictable characters.

Set in Paris, Eastern Boys gives us the story of Daniel solicits Marek - one of the young Eastern European boys that hangs around the Gare du Nord. Daniel gives Marek his home address, but when the doorbell rings and it isn’t Marek standing there, Daniel realises he’s fallen into a trap.

What was your inspiration for Eastern Boys?

I went for dinner at the home of a friend of a friend. This guy had recently returned to Paris from Russia. He was about 55-years-old, living with his son. While we were there, the son left to go out to a party and said goodbye to his father. The dynamic between the two of them confused me a little, and my friend told me afterwards that the man and the boy had been lovers in Russia, but that now he had adopted him as his son.
I found this surprising and interesting. I wanted to try and understand how it was possible to go from a sexual relationship to a father and son relationship. I wanted to write a story that explored that.

At the same time, I also wanted to write about immigration, and how people from Eastern Europe were coming to France and being seen as threatening.

The relationship between Daniel and Marek is a complicated one. How did you reconcile the evolution of their relationship?

The heart of every relationship is a bit unknown. After you’ve been with the same person for a period of time, your relationship changes, it evolves, it goes to another level. For example, some people in a relationship don’t have sex anymore. It’s not something that we ever really talk about.

The story in this film is an extreme example of the mutation of a relationship.

What was the casting process for Eastern Boys? Olivier Rabourdin was obviously already an established actor, but the rest of the cast seemed to be relatively unknown?

I spent nine months on casting the film. I really wanted to cast Russian guys, so I was looking at Russian films and searching for Russian actors. But, it was very difficult - particularly because I don’t know the language and can’t read their alphabet.

Eventually, I found Daniil Vorobyov. He’d been working in low-quality films, but he was such a great actor. At first I thought he might play the role of Marek, but he wasn’t quite young enough for that. During the casting process, he read for the role of the Boss and it was perfect - he brought so much to that character that we evolved the character and gave him more depth.

I eventually found Kirill Emelyanov for the role of Marek. He comes from a family of actors, he’s been acting since he was five. He was so clever and so authentic that it was as if he wasn’t acting.

Daniil and Kirill came to Paris six months before filming started, and it was great to be able to spend time with them and see how they really embodied these roles.

Eastern Boys explored some of the facets of the immigration and migration experience in France. The tensions of that experience have heightened since that time - would Eastern Boys be a different story if you told it today?

I wouldn’t change the story - the situation is the same, but getting worse.

French society is becoming more and more closed. We’re so afraid of everything, the risk of others. We pretend that people coming to this country don’t belong, but that’s not the reality. The law is being used as a weapon.

In the film there are two moments where the law is used as a dirty weapon. First, when Daniel’s home is invaded, the boss uses the threat of paedophilia to prevent Daniel from calling the police. And at the end of the film, Daniel uses the immigration rules to get the boss and his gang arrested as undocumented immigrants, so that he can save his lover.

We spend so much energy trying to protect ourselves and our country, but we don’t realise that immigration is becoming more and more important - we have to address that. I want to continue to explore the issue, and how our history is shaping what’s happening today.

Were you pleased with how Eastern Boys was received? Did the audience understand the story that you were telling?

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I did a lot of Q&A sessions at screenings of the film. What people seemed to respond to was that it put the audience in a situation where the moral standpoints weren’t obvious. The subject of the film, the behaviour of the characters, the age of the teenagers - it’s complex.

The experience of migrants is also complex. Often we feel obliged to talk about migrants in a positive way, but sometimes the countries they’ve come from and the experiences that they’ve had, that does something to them. There’s almost a metamorphosis in these characters.

BPM has been incredibly well-received. Could you have made BPM without having the success of Eastern Boys behind you?

Eastern Boys was a subject that was very important to me, but I was so afraid of everything - the character of Daniel was a bit like me.

What that film taught me was to not be afraid of anything, to jump into the unknown.

Working with my cinematographer - Jeanne Lapoirie, who I also worked with on BPM - we learnt how to work quickly, to get a scene set up and to start shooting, to capture the energy of those early moments and not worry too much about all of the detail.

It’s made me more free as a director, to let the film breathe.

Eastern Boys is distributed by Peccadillo Pictures

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