Notes on Rotting in the Sun (2023) by Daniel Moldoveanu
“Like I watched your movie last night!
I watched ‘Crystal Fairy and the Magic Cactus’ last night.
Michael -Cera, Gaby -Hoffmann like I WATCHED it
and I, now, you’re here, like, no one saw that movie and I watched it again last night.”
The first thing I wondered (in admiration) about Sebastián Silva’s meta-loop comedy Rotting in the Sun was whether, like all other uber-homosexual characters having their dicks sucked in this film, cinematographer Gabriel Díaz was, during the entire production span, constantly on K while holding the camera. Binge-watch all of Silva’s previous work and you’ll feel uncomfortably close goggling his characters; the lens through which it’s all experienced in real time as both visually neurotic, hence relatable, and disorientating, like culture at large. This cinematic “closeness” strikes me as particularly contemporary, less because of the scarcity of affordable living space occasioned as a direct result atop the global aspirations of ‘passionate-about-their-job’ gentrifiers – a topic brushed upon through the film’s synopsis taking place in one of the epicentres of Mexican gentrification (google Roma in Mexico City), humanly embodied in the figure of Mateo, Silva’s landlord – and more so because in contrast to other eras of artistic production, say… the Renaissance, we seem to deal exclusively with the tireless immediacy of POV, idealising a complete lack of horizontally open perspectives.
Not being able to look away is an indispensable default of this movie’s plot (very palpable when applied to penis), not wanting to have seen what you already saw is too.
Just to be clear: everyone in this movie is starring as what they go on record calling a “caricature” or a “dramatised variation” of themselves (Sebastián, Jordan, Verónica, Chima, like I WATCHED it), but this only hides the fact that as soon as you identify as a Self you’re already a caricature with infinite variations by design. Sebastián knows this when, at one point, he calls Jordan a clown and it doesn’t even strike his adversary as an insult. Earlier in the film, earnestly monologuing the futility of existence whilst taking his dog out for a shit, our suicidal protagonist returns home to sniff himself into another K-hole; a direct result of having read Emil Cioran’s philosophy of pessimism (highly recommend!) “What does the POV of a K-hole look like?”, one might ask. For a film addicted to Ketamine, one pertinent criticism might be that it doesn’t, or shouldn’t, look like a CG animated NFT.
Other than that, Rotting in the Sun presents an acute awareness of the dialectic between art and aesthetics. Human faeces in the spirit of Neo-Dadaism, zoomed-in closeups of doomscrolling on dirty, pixelated, low-resolution smartphone screens à la Hito Steyerl; near-death experiences during sunset on the nudist beach (very 19th century Henry Scott Tuke, a sort of gay Monet); neon lights, beer and trashy outfits reminiscing Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers (2012), to name a few. This isn’t coincidental for someone as keenly related to the “art world as Silva is – and, knowing his previous art-centred plot construction (Nasty Baby’s take on performance art, Life Kills Me’s stark Surrealism), I would bet good money that a lot of his creative drive comes from frustration with the bullshit clicky antagonisms and paradigms of the art crowd, thematised and ridiculed by virtue of juxtaposing them against background impersonations of the “real” world, or, at least, of the sensible people presiding in it. Because it is important to remember that they do, in fact, exist. One such moment is when the housekeeper Verónica, coming to terms with generational clashes of cultures and ethics, scared shitless for her job and belittled by her abusive employer, stares out the kitchen window, listening to exacerbated artist Silva turning in his unmade bed: “Why do we even have to work?”, he vents, “what is this diabolical design of labour?”
*takes another bump*
Not few words were spared critically dissecting this movie, and one consensus that all reviews seem to share is that, actually, these characters’ self-stagings are self-deprecatory, that they are harsh criticisms, aiming to either critique or expose the socio-economic imbalances we all know so very well, to ridicule in disgust contemporary culture, and social media, and shallowness, and the insecurities, the need for validation at the root of it all. I beg to differ. For all its dark humour and leniency towards the subliminally perverse nature of human absurdity, nothing in this film seeks to pass judgement on anything whatsoever, and that is why it is good – that is why things are worth making and watching, because they enrich you without trying to sell you something. As Cioran himself would say: “We don’t argue the universe, we express it.”
“You’re so high on something”, Silva tells Jordan. “Yeah, obviously” he replies, “but I am real.” Jordan Firstman’s career, if you ask me, is somewhat of an abnormality. Contrary to what Zuckerberg might admit during any casual congressional hearing, social media is at its most profitable when it doesn’t spark joy. And so, in a moment of weakness, the Instagram algorithm, in spite of its inherent sympathy toward fascism, sameness, and making us all feel like a piece of shit for not vacationing in France all summer, couldn’t withstand the power of a sympathetic laugh, a friendly-looking handsome jokester impersonating the publicist of banana bread. Much like most of the content to follow: It was simple, it was funny, it was vulnerable, and it was heartfelt. Not a lot of people can get away with wearing their heart on a sleeve like Jordan’s, and it wouldn’t be uninteresting to know how many times that has backfired in retrograde. Recently sipping on iced coffee with Adam White of The Independent, he recollected: “My high school teacher always said, ‘Jordan, use your powers for good and not evil’, because he saw that I was capable of using them for evil.”
This time around, hatching up a movie about its own pitch, Jordan decided to use them for good. A stereotypical boomer might ask for this movie’s conclusion, its message, the core of it all. It has none and that’s the point. It opens, closes and unfolds in the proximity of the same fountain, neighbourhood dogs continuing to take a dump. Perhaps the most urgent inquiry it poses (spoiler alert): how many accidents could have been avoided if we only knew when to stop looking at our fucking phones?