Tuesday 13 October 2020

Drinking buddies: "Blue Boy"

The Blue Boy in the title of Blue Boy is the name of a bustling Berlin gay bar. Manuel Abramovich's short - streaming on MUBI UK later this week - evokes this space, and the lives of those who pass through it, through a series of static single shots of boys, some of whom appear bluer than others. They are, it becomes clear, rent boys, and Abramovich finds them sitting at the Blue Boy's bar on what must be a quiet afternoon or evening, listening (and reacting) to playback of earlier taped testimony. Some talk of typical chat-up lines, or nights with clients; some discuss the existential experience of being a stranger in a strange land (the accents range from Brazil to Eastern Europe) or of acting gay for pay; one reveals the line of questioning the police took upon accusing him of being in possession of too much money; the very first of Abramovich's subjects merely reads out the boilerplate legal disclaimer documentarists ask their subjects to sign, doubtless to reassure us the filmmakers here were acting transparently, and not out to exploit. This formal sound/vision split - we hear the boys talk, but their lips aren't moving - speaks to another, particular to this profession: what's on their faces versus what's on their minds. Abramovich's visuals put us squarely in the position of the bar-hopping consumer: he lines his boys up like drinks. Yet the soundtrack seems to liberate these sex workers, however briefly, from the daily transactional grind; it affords them the opportunity to express themselves in ways they probably couldn't when the Blue Boy is at its busiest, to ponder, laugh or simply stare the viewer down silently. This timeout can't last long, though: there are bills to be paid, needs to be met. A stray audio snippet placed over the closing credits sounds a lingering note of disquiet; it's what results when such interactions go sour, as they surely do every now and again. In the day-to-day reality of the Blue Boy, and places like the Blue Boy, there are no legal disclaimers, no reassuring declaration of rights.

Blue Boy streams on MUBI UK from Thursday.

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