Saturday, October 16, 2010

On-Demand: MACHO, from Rafael Palacio Illingworth, views an off-kilter relationship

The poster copy for MACHO, the new and first-full-length movie from Mexican-born Rafael Palacio Illingworth, makes the statement, "He loves her. She likes him."  That's a short, smart tag line, all right, but it barely does justice to the short, smart movie itself.  Yes, he loves her (though what, exactly is this love he professes?). And yes, she likes him.  Though she might have come to love him, too, and maybe did, for awhile, during this fraught, foolish, alternately fulfilling/unfulfilling "relationship" film in which he travels from sexy, stylish and studly to needy, obsessed, clingy, creepy and sad.

Small-budget, independent movies about "relationships" are a dime-a-dozen (by this point in time they may have devalued to a nickle-a-ton), yet Señor Illingworth (shown at left) has managed to bring enough immediacy, realism and self-effacing humor (if not downright embarrassment) to the proceedings that Macho takes its place as an original in a grossly overpopulated field. Oh, yes: Have I mentioned that Illingworth acts as writer, director and male star of his film? But before you call this a "vanity" production, be ready to define your use of "vain."  Vanity this embarrassing would border on stupid, and I don't believe for a minute that this filmmaker is anything close to that description.

Though set in the USA, the principal characters are Canadian (the lily white and quite lovely, fetching Jolene Andersen, above) and Mexican (dark, different, "other," as essayed by Illingworth, below). Both are immigrants, she from the north, he from the south, and the fact that he proves needier and by far more insecure lends irony and sadness to the movie's title, which is certainly part of its theme: How can (or should) a Mexican man be properly macho in a land where he reaches nowhere near the top of the totem pole.

Speaking of poles, the director is almost shockingly forthright in showing his star's sexual equipment and then -- in a far more daring scene -- having his co-star make fun of its size and surroundings during a weirdly creepy "truth" game that the twosome apparently play. Not since Richard Gere gifted us (more than once, as I recall) with full-frontal and thus made it clear that not every male (nor every male movie star) comes complete with a big dick, have we seen such exposure, and on several levels. Illingworth is the rare male director willing to unveil not just his female star's full, nude anatomy (which he does, and it's something), but his own, as well. Compare this film to the current critics' darling, Carlos, during the first section of which, Hispanic star Édgar Ramírez stands naked before a mirror, admiring then fondling his own rather spectacular package. Must one be a terrorist to be truly macho below the belt? Food for thought.

Meanwhile, Illingworth takes us deeper and deeper into dysfunc-tion via his penchant for shooting short, sharp scenes and mini-moments (one is shown above) during which we see issue after issue come to the fore (class, race, social standing, economic status) with which our "hero" tries to deal, while making love as often as possible and in as many different positions. On one level Macho remains funny, sexy and appealing; on another, anything but. At the conclusion, you won't be surprised how things have played out, but I think you may find yourself both taken with and taken aback by this small (75-minute) movie with a lot on its mind.

Whether intentionally or not (I prefer to think the former), Illingworth has given us a picture of male insecurity, Hispanic version (but really, there's plenty of stuff shown here that all us guys can call our own), that should send some men running for the hills while their women sit quietly, smiling and shaking their heads in recognition. Sure, she only "liked" us. But if we'd handled things differently, what might have happened?

The only way to view Macho -- right now, at least -- is via IFC On-Demand. Check its availability in your area by clicking here.

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