Two guys meet in a bar, enter into a brief romance, and enjoy tender, poignant moments in the days before one of them is scheduled to depart. The general plot may sound a lot like last year’s gay cinema sensation "Weekend," but "Sleepless Knights" is a completely different animal.
For one thing, the film seems to be the result of easier cultural and economic trade across Europe. Though it’s set in rural Spain, "Sleepless Knights" enjoys a significant German contribution, being the result of a Berlin production company and including the efforts of co-writer and co-director Stefan Butzmühlen (Cristina Diz is the other half of the collaboration) and cinematographer Stefan Neuberger, along with a number of German members on the filmmaking crew.
The result is the cinematic equivalent of slow food: It takes time to appreciate this film, and patience is rewarded. Moreover, though the actors and the characters they portray are Latin, there’s no trace of the over-the-top color schemes, strung-out characters, or wild plot twists that would mark a Pedro Almodóvar or a Bigas Luna film. The pace here, and its stolid, down-to-earth, even reticent, characters set this film more toward the "Le Quattro Volte" end of the spectrum, what with minimal dialogue, even more minimal music, and long, long scenes that allow the action (such as it is) to unfold at its own naturalistic speed. "Sleepless Knights" takes the pace of country life and gives its characters time to breathe, which allows the viewer a chance to relax into the viewing experience.
The two young men at the film’s center are Carlos (Raùl Godoy) and Juan (Jaime Pedruelo). Carlos lives in Madrid, but he’s visiting the small villages of his birth, where his parents, brother, and sister still live and run the family sheep ranch. Part of the reason for his visit, we glean, is that there’s considerable social unrest in Madrid; rather than man the barricades and go head to head with the cops, Carlos has opted to retreat to the peace and quiet of the countryside. While he’s there, he takes a job at a local pub.
That’s where he meets Juan, a policeman who has been newly transferred to the village. Juan may have a macho job, but his workdays are long and rather dull; it’s his time with Carlos that peps him up, as the two hike in the hills, canoodle in caves, and take in languorous sunsets.
The young men seem to have little ambition, and little in common once their initial attraction begins to wear thin. Paralleling Carlos’ tentative presence at the family home (resented by his sister (Alícia Muñoz Núñez) and quizzed by his brother (David Ruiz Miranda) about life in the big city) is his father’s (Angel Muñoz Ruiz) steady decline. Father likes to go gallivanting around the countryside with his pals, too, only they dress up in conquistador-style armor and re-enact glorious battles from centuries long past. (In one scene, the men replay a brilliant tactic once used to frighten occupying Moors from the local castle, and attach flashlights to the backs of a herd of sheep. The effect is both comic and heart-rending.)
The movie’s mood and style is just as taciturn as the men it portrays. We don’t actually see Carlos and Juan having sex for the first time, nor do we see them breaking up. Everything is made plain through more subtle means, including their loneliness and longing for each other after their affair comes to its end. But this study of men searching for meaning in their masculinity, and some outlet for their impulses toward valor, also provides a glimmer of hope that their connection will endure and, in time, take fire once again.
What’s a little disappointing is the clumsy and overt way that glimmer is underscored, in a jarring and uncharacteristic final scene featuring a band belting out a tune that involves such tender sentiments as "You’re my soulmate, a real friend." We’ve already gotten the point by then, and the scene feels tacked on. Worse, it diminishes the power of what should have been the movie’s final moment.
Up until that point, however, "Sleepless Knights" is a model of how to tell a story without getting lost in gimmick, wordy dialogue, or much of anything extraneous: This is a no-frills love story, and it works quite well.
This article is part of our "Boston LGBT Film Festival" series. Want to read more?
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