“Leo’s Room”–coming to terms with sexuality

“Leo’s Room” (“El cuarto de Leo”)

Coming to Terms with Sexuality

Amos Lassen

Leo, a young man coming to terms with his own sexuality, runs into Caro, a primary school friend he once thought he loved when they were kids. Caro is now trying to ward off her own personal demons. This casual re-encounter will affect their personal conflicts without either truly understanding each other’s problem.

The scenario may sound familiar, but there’s a lot more to “Leo’s Room”(“El cuarto de Leo”) than just another angst-filled tale of a young gay man’s process of self acceptance. In his filmmaking debut, Uruguayan writer-director Enrique Buchichio demonstrates a flair for crafting fully realized, memorable characters and complex emotional situations that operate on multiple levels. The characters often surprise you, the way real people do.

When the movie opens, the 20-something Leo (Martin Rodriguez) is having girlfriend trouble. Everything in their relationship is fine except for sex. (Leo seems to have no interest). After his girlfriend’s patience runs out, and she leaves him and Leo, hoping for a cure, goes to a psychiatrist (Arturo Goetz).

However, Leo knows exactly what’s going on but just can’t bring himself to admit it. Inside the room he rents from a pothead slacker (Rafael Soliwoda) who rarely leaves his couch, Leo surfs Internet chat rooms in which gay men troll for sex.Gradually, though, he grows bolder and eventually sets up meetings with men. The first hook-up doesn’t go well. The second with an easygoing young man named Seba (Gerardo Begerez) is a perfect physical and emotional match. Seba is even willing to put up with Leo’s furtiveness about the whole gay thing.

There’s a subplot involving Leo’s chance encounter with Caro, a former schoolmate and now a sullen, depressed young woman. Leo pursues a platonic relationship with her even while things with Seba continue to heat up, deluding himself into thinking he can have the best of both worlds.

“Leo’s Room” is filled with wonderful little touches and character beats: the surprising observations of the drug-addled couch potato who turns out to be a lot sharper than he appears; the casual way in which Leo’s mother lets him know she knows he’s gay and that it’s OK; the knowing, compassionate smile Seba gives Leo as he watches him try frantically to come up with a lie to hide his homosexuality from Caro. You’ve seen all these elements done before, but the modest, sharp Leo’s Room feels utterly fresh.

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