Teenager Ariel (Wall Javier) lives in a rural part of Buenos Aires with his farmer father and sister. For years he’s been sexually abused by local priest Omar (Germán Tarantino), mistaking the abuse for a consensual romantic relationship. Growing frustrated with Omar’s treatment towards him, Ariel decides to seduce farm hand Julio (Juan Salmieri) and explore his burgeoning sexuality. Following the rejection, Omar bonds with an older priest who also abuses boys while trying to keep control of Ariel.
Men of Hard Skin offers an uncomfortable premise from the opening moments. Sexual abuse by priests is a topic that frequently comes up but never seems to be properly tackled. With this film José Celestino Campusano wants to give you a glimpse into this immoral and illegal world but he’s not keen on giving you much in the way of answers. While we never see Ariel and Omar together intimately, the film is still uncomfortable to watch when the two characters are on screen.
Once Ariel rejects Omar, we’re taken even deeper into the seedy world that both characters inhabit. Ariel is forceful with his desires, putting Julio in the crosshairs and not caring that he has a wife and family. Not that Julio is an unwilling participant or particularly sympathetic character, treating Ariel as a way to get his rocks off and dismissing his wife who clearly knows more about her husband that he thinks she does. Omar on the other hand arranges parties with young boys that he pays to take advantage of and continues to abuse boys whose parents trust them with the seemingly good priest.
The film focuses mainly on the conflict between Ariel and Omar but there’s also a little exploration of Ariel’s father Pablo (Claudio Medina), who is completely unaware of what his son gets up to when he takes his eye off him. It’s unclear whether or not he suspects what Ariel might be doing but once he inevitably witnesses it with his own eyes, his solution is to march his son to a prostitute to straighten him out, literally. Of course that doesn’t work so Pablo is forced to face up to his son’s sexuality.
There’s so much material here for Campusano to explore but the film is oddly detached from the events it depicts. Ariel moves from one abusive encounter to the next but there’s no sympathy or emotional connection to what happens to him. Essentially this is a deeply troubled young boy who has been preyed upon by a man in a position of power and taught that inappropriate sexual contact is normal. Sadly the effect that history has on him seems to be minimal and isn’t really explored in any great depth. The same happens with Omar and Pablo’s storylines too.
Men of Hard Skin is a bit of a frustrating watch. It never goes as deep as you want it to, which makes the situations it depicts seem unnervingly normalised. As an exploration of sexual awakening, the film succeeds as Ariel has frequent and explicit encounters with a number of men. As an exploration of the affects that sexual abuse has on someone, the film falls short and its lack of commentary or judgement on the topic is a little bit alarming.
Cast: Wall Javier, Germán Tarantino, Claudio Medina, Juan Salmieri Director: José Celestino Campusano Writer: José Celestino Campusano Certificate: 18 Duration: 96 mins Released by: TLA Releasing Release date: 14th October 2019 Buy Men of Hard Skin