“Slave!” is the first word uttered in writer/director Gerard Marcó de Mas’ feature debut Red Latex (Látex rojo). The speaker is Mistress Gise (Fedra Duarte), summoning her servant/apprentice/lover Julia (Valeria Rowiniski) to suck her toes and go through her schedule – but the dominatrix’s word is also programmatic, introducing us to the film’s key theme. Here we shall bear witness to more than one kind of servitude – and while Red Latex uses the language of BDSM to explore this topic, that language comes dressed in ambiguity, metaphor and irony.
Armed with a red suitcase, protagonist Eric Román Vanksy (Eric Polotnianka) may be on his way to a remote home on the outer margins of town that Gise shares with her devoted staff Julia and Quiel (Néstor Napolitano), and may be hoping to submit himself to her power wholly and full-time— but long before he had discovered Gise’s website and began exchanging e-mails with her to plan a contractual future together, he was already a slave. For he had been working without pay for the start-up company of his friend Alex (Vladimir Alexei Chorny Elizalde) and, caught in a poverty trap, was having to live in the cramped apartment of his wife’s family. His father-in-law Francisco (Miguel Masip) and his own unseen father Román (voiced by Sergio Belisario) regularly bullied him, his heavily pregnant wife Cande (Eugenia Mercante) henpecked him, and everyone would tell him how he should think and what he should do. Only his mother-in-law Lucía (Alejandra Aristegui), quiet and careful, shows him love, and only Cande’s pot-smoking, black-sheep brother Víctor (Adrián Cabral) sympathises with Eric’s choice. That choice is to turn his back on everything in his life – job, marriage, family, the world beyond Gise’s rural compound – and to swap the slavery that he has grudgingly had to accept as his lot in life for a different sort of slavery that he enters willingly, even wholeheartedly.
This is the film’s central paradox: that servitude, when voluntary, is a kind of liberation. Like the troubled male protagonists of Matsumoto Hitoshi’s R100 (2013) and J.-P. Valkeapää’s Dogs Don’t Wear Pants (2019), Eric finds in BDSM a theatre of rôle-play and fantasy – its costumes being formal wear and latex, its props being chains, whips, hot wax and strap-ons – all of which allow him to perform and externalise his own inner pain. Yet in Red Latex, it is gradually revealed that Eric is not alone in his quest – an existential quest – for freedom, and there may even be another character furtively vying to be the film’s protagonist. After all, in the topsy-turvy world of sadomasochism, the narrative will end up being dominated by its biggest victim, and Eric – whose young age is repeatedly emphasised – is really just a beginner in this game of suffering. The result is a peculiar film, exposing the cruel power dynamics of everyday life, while conversely turning its kinky escapism into a deadly serious masquerade.
© Anton Bitel