The two main characters of Omar Zúñiga’s stunning drama The Strong Ones (Los Fuertes) are Lucas and Antonio. Lucas (Samuel Gonzales) is a young, handsome architectural student who has left his native Santiago, Chile for the foggy yet picturesque small town of Niebla. He is planning on spending time with his sister Catalina (Marcela Salinas) before heading to Montreal for postgraduate studies. Antonio (Antonio Altamirano) is a young, handsome boatswain for a local sardine fishing boat. He’s also a part-time actor of sorts, performing in historical reenactments of the 1820 capture of the fortress of Valdivia. (Of note, the capture was a pivotal moment of the Chilean War of Independence from Spain.) The ruggedly masculine Antonio likewise “captures” the eye of the serious yet sensitive Lucas while loading firewood off his truck. (Never underestimate the sexual power of tight, worn-out dungarees.) The attraction turns out to be mutual, and soon the two young, handsome men from different backgrounds become an unexpected couple. The pair progress from small talk, to passionate kissing, to full-on lovemaking with the carnal combustion of an exploding volcano. But the question soon becomes, “Now what?” Will Lucas stay in the tiny coastal town with his new love Antonio, or will he proceed with his plans for higher education 5894 miles away?
If you have figured out so far that there’s just a simple love story between two men at the heart of Zúñiga’s multiple award-winning film, you’d be right. That said, very rarely has a simple love story between two men been conceived and filmed with such dedication to atmospheric splendor, such an aura of feverish romanticism, and so much achingly lovely symbolism (starting with the movie’s title itself). True, Zúñiga had the natural beauty of southern Chile at his service, complete with the organic music of waves crashing and seagulls calling… but the way the director utilizes that natural beauty is no less than flawless. Even with such simple scenes as a camera pan through a grassy field or a bird’s-eye view of the two men riding bicycles through a sleepy country highway, every moment seems meticulously thought out, framed, and shot with love. Just as the audience can almost feel the cool moist Chilean air when the boyfriends are hunting for sea urchins, the detail to atmosphere extends into the interior scenes as well. We can almost smell the fumes of cerveza permeating the secondhand air of the crowded local bar, and feel the testosterone-fueled heat when Lucas and Antonio steal some “besos” in the car while bathed in red light.
Now, about that “testosterone-fueled heat”…! Impressive physical attributes aside (There are only so many times I can say “young, handsome”…), the chemistry between Gonzales and Altamirano is no less than phenomenal. The result is some of the most realistic and most uninhibitedly homoerotic sex scenes in recent cinematic history.
The story touches upon Lucas’ relationship with this family, which may be the reason he is seeking new opportunity so far away from his hometown. Similarly, we learn about Antonio’s desire to keep his own familial traditions alive in a world that’s constantly challenging traditions. Both men lose themselves, even if only temporarily, in their unlikely romance with each other. Similarly, the audience will lose themselves in this passionate love story, as well as the parallel beauty and vibrancy of the movie’s setting. The Strong Ones is a cinematic journey well worth taking.
The Strong Ones (Los Fuertes) is in Spanish with English subtitles. Visit Breaking Glass Pictures for viewing options here.