When we first started our weekly look at Netflix’s selection of Latin American streaming content, our goal was to present you with interesting, entertaining programs that you may not have been aware of. Along the way, we’ve stumbled upon some highly addictive binge-worthy shows, a couple of intriguing adaptations of real-life stories, and an utter trainwreck (sorry, Juanita).
But we’d never stumbled onto anything quite like Diego Kaplan’s 2017 erotic drama Desearás… al hombre de tu hermana. In fact, I can safely say I’d ever seen anything quite like it in my entire life.
The film, which we will henceforth refer to by its considerably more succinct English title Desire, is hard to pin down to a specific genre. Even calling it an “erotic drama” doesn’t feel entirely accurate — not because of the “erotic” part of the description (rest assured, there is a lot of that), but because it is hard to discern the extent to which this gloriously ridiculous film takes itself seriously. Often, it feels like it’s aiming for a self-aware comedic tone, while other times it feels as serious as a heart attack. This constant tonal vacillation keeps you on your toes as a viewer, as you’re never quite sure when the next sharp turn into insanity is coming.
First, let’s start with the basics. Desire is an adaptation of Erika Halvorsen’s novel Desearás. It tells the story of two sisters: Ofelia (played by the famous model turned PedidosYa spokeswoman Ana Carolina “Pampita” Ardohain) and Lucía (portrayed by Mónica Antonópulos). The sisters have a strained relationship due a mutual resentment rooted in part by how differently they experience sex: Lucía is unable to enjoy it, while Ofelia does so unabashedly. After years of estrangement, Ofelia shows up unannounced to Lucía’s wedding, kicking off a series of strange events that will change their relationship forever.
Perhaps the best way to describe the film’s tone is: imagine what would happen if Tommy Wiseau set out to make an erotic melodrama set in 1970s Argentine high society. Tommy Wiseau is, of course, famous for directing The Room, widely regarded as the worst film of all time. And while Desire is nowhere near that bad, both films do share an utterly vexing approach to character, motivation, and plot. Both feel like they were written by an alien with a barely cursory knowledge of how human beings behave. And both feature several moments that will cause you to loudly exclaim “wait, what the f*ck was that?”.
The most jarring aspect of Desire is its constantly shifting tone, which is punctuated by the cast’s performances. Some of these actors seem like they belong to entirely different movies. Guilherme Winter, who plays Ofelia’s good-natured Brazilian boyfriend, and Andrea Frigerio, as her oblivious alcoholic mother, are both fantastic. Pampita herself seems wooden, strained, and uncomfortable; there are several moments of real dramatic weight that she is unable to sell to the audience. Juan Sorini does a serviceable job as Lucía’s new husband, although his grapefruit-eating scene is one of several surreal highlights in this relentlessly strange film.
Even though the screenplay was written by the novel’s author, director Diego Kaplan’s embrace of a more kitschy, outwardly comedic approach means the book’s more serious tone is only ever felt in passing, contributing to the disorienting effect. There are rumblings from sources within the film’s production that this shift was more or less a last-minute decision by Kaplan, which explains so much in hindsight.
One thing you can say about Desire is that it certainly looks beautiful: the cinematography is incredible throughout, with gorgeous shots that are rich, vivid, and colorful, taking full advantage of its sumptuous setting. Perhaps this is the aspect where the Tommy Wiseau comparison falls short; Wiseau could never direct something that looked this consistently aesthetic.
So, all things considered, is Desire what one would traditionally call a bad film? Well, it’s… hard to say, really. On one hand: yes, it is a ridiculous mess, featuring some wooden performances, a somewhat dull story, and a tone that constantly fluctuates between heady melodrama and over-the-top comedic campiness. Yes, its thematic exploration is surface-level and obvious, offering no real insight into either the themes it purports to examine or the characters it employs for said purpose. Yes, there are a number of bizarre non sequiturs. It is not smart. It is not subtle. It is not sexy. All of that is true.
But on the other hand… well, truth be told, it’s a good time. In the tried-and-true tradition of “so bad they’re good” films such as The Room and Miami Connection, I couldn’t stop laughing in utter bewilderment at the sheer absurdity of it all. And even when I wasn’t laughing, my face was stuck in a kind of permanent bemused grin, as I tried to rationalize what would lead a team of trained professionals to make a movie like this. Plus: at just over 90 minutes, it is an easy, breezy watch. For these reasons, I recommend checking out Desire. Make an evening of it. Invite friends over. Have some grapefruit. Revel in the outlandish absurdity of it. Life’s too short to only watch tense, gripping, high-quality dramas.
Desire is currently streaming on Netflix. English subtitles are available.