In Their Room - Berlin
The films of Travis Mathews’ "In Their Room" series turn a lens on gay men in a different manner. Not about scenes or politics, these films zero in on the private spaces of their subjects- the rituals, repose, conversations, and sexual interactions that unfold in the bedrooms of ordinary (though, of course, sexy and alternative- this is BUTT magazine-aligned, not Abercrombie material) urban homos.
Consistent with the inaugural San Francisco episode, "In Their Room, Berlin" possesses a sensibility that could be described as gentle voyeurism. It’s as if the audience is an invited but discreet guest because we are all gay men who have concerns and intimacies to share. Although there is a heightened intimacy, as we are watching markedly private moments and exchanges, it’s a conviction for openness and amicable truthfulness that is felt, not a prurient desire to spy on or to be cheaply titillated. To be sure, there is titillation in these films. After all, they have played at porn and erotica festivals. It’s just that the sexuality is languorous or framed within other concerns or utterances in a way that is distinctive from the propulsive orgasm pursuit of traditional porn. If porn is asocial, this is fully social erotica for libidos that are patient and discerning.
At the beginning, we are introduced to a handful of guys. Torsten and Micha, for instance, are a playful couple who caress, jest, and discuss mundane matters. Jorg is a handsome, slightly older guy who casually discloses his preferences and experiences related to age while he showers and grooms himself, the camera capturing his routine in observant silence first before his words are brought in to fill in his character. Florian reflects on the pleasures of falling asleep beside a man for whom affection is felt and the rarity of it working out that way. Quiet shots of building exteriors, Berlin streets, and passing trains punctuate the interior narratives.
Then the ensemble gives way to a focus on Toby, the sleekly attractive, bespectacled guy seen waking in his cozy white mattress on the floor, a feminist theory book on top of a stack nearby. He chats relaxedly with expressive friend Michi about the profundity of an anonymous public sex encounter and Michi’s departing lover. He webcams with an American guy who raves about his "exotic" accent, then he arranges a hookup with the resplendently rebel-appearing Luc, who we see jerking off and waiting for the train before he meets Toby.
Mathews does well to transition from a series of glimpses to seeing one hookup through. A form of organic porn, we watch as two young guys attracted to each other navigate their desire. Beyond uncut cocks and tongue-full kissing, we get the preliminary familiarizing chat over drinks and smokes, ice-breaking laughter, opinions, and tension. When Toby asks if Luc was straight in his village, he replies, "I was straight in art school" with comic emphasis, then they initiate kissing; and the close shots of tender kissing are a large part of the films efficacy of eroticism, as are the camera’s penchant for lingering on shirtless or unclothed bodies as subjects perform simple rituals. But more than anything, the film is hot because of the sense of authenticity that arises out of including the uneasiness and sweetness of sex- for instance, Luc’s cringing away from being fingered and their coming back around to amity after a minor (one-sided) tiff when Luc’s comment about Toby’s former blondness offends.
Reveling in the mundane runs the risk of rendering a film desultory, but when composed thoughtfully, as in this case, it can become an insidiously poignant (and, in this case, sexy) way of documenting modern life. From the recurrence of the gayromeo (online cruising) chime to the honing in on moments of solitude, it’s all part of the Mathews’ eye for the simple splendor of gay being.
In Their Room - Berlin is one of two feature films NakedSword produced in collaboration with Travis Mathews, the other being the highly anticipated "I Want Your Love," which is currently in post-production and on track for a release in winter, 2012.
Screening at the Boston LGBT Film Festival
This article is part of our "Boston LGBT Film Festival" series. Want to read more?
Here's the full list»