A respectable looking man in a suit and tie is tentatively looking through social media on a computer. By mistake he starts a skype call. On the other end there is a younger man, bare chested with a beard, who introduces himself as Sebas, Gabriel’s ex. The older man goes apoplectic, effectively accusing Sebas of corrupting his son.
It turns out that Jorge, Gabriel’s father, was looking through his son’s facebook account and had found all sorts of messages from Sebas worrying that Gabriel had gone missing. Jorge’s anger is reciprocated by Sebas who screams that Jorge has stifled his son’s sexuality, thus ensuring that he would never be able to fall in love. Then Jorge let’s slip that Gabriel had died two weeks before.
After the initial altercation, Jorge arrives on Sebas’s doorstep in New York. They continue to row, but Jorge seems more humble, more interested in finding the truth about what happened to Gabriel. When Sebas accused him of not really knowing his son, it had hit a nerve. Sebas is unmoved, still seeing him as the Christian fundamentalist who fucked up Gabriel’s life, but when Jorge collapses, Sebas’s flatmate lets him into the house.
This may sound complicated on the page, but it’s staged with the elegance to make perfect sense to anyone who is halfway paying attention. Jorge is not the intolerant bigot that Sebas intially takes him for (though it’s implied that his wife, Gabriel’s mother, is a piece of work) and Sebas is not the debauched predator who Jorge had expected to meet. Preconceptions are dropped and the two men tour New York’s gay scene trying to understand the early death of someone they both loved.
We jump to Sebas and Gabriel’s first meeting – in a clothes store where Gabriel needs a shirt for an interview and Sebas is serving him. Bonding on their shared experience as exiled Bolivians, Sebas invites Gabriel to a party. Gabriel says that he’s not gay, but has nothing better to do with his evening. By the end of the night, the two are desperate to fuck.
The story of Sebas and Gabriel’s developing relationship is intertwined with one of Jorge being introduced to his son’s circle, as he tries to better understand his late son. Unlike Gabriel, who probably committed suicide, these are mainly happy gays, at ease with their sexuality in a way that hasn’t really happened in most films about gay people since the height of the AIDS crisis.
You could argue that the film has maybe too little conflict. After the first few minutes, Jorge quickly comes to terms with a lifestyle that is quite alien to him. He even finds people who will discuss the contents of the New Testament and whether Paul was really closeted. And yet this sentimental tendency to avoid any real friction is undermined as we are repeatedly reminded that we are watching a story.
This is a bit difficult to explain without plot spoilers, but let’s just say that we move smoothly between the present day, to a play written by Sebas about Gabriel, to a journalist interviewing Sebas about the play, to what may be flashbacks or may just be pure fiction. It doesn’t really matter, but let’s just say that we have enough unreliable narrators to not be certain of anything we see.
This is, then, in part a fantasy – a story of what a more healthy life would look like, where parents respect their children’s life choices and sexuality, and there are a lot fewer secrets which corrode our self-belief. But it’s all carried off with a spryness that means we never feel that this is nothing more than a glib liberal wish for the world to be a little nicer.
Apparently this is based on a play, and while occasionally some staginess comes through – for example, Gabriel is played by 3 different actors – it looks quite different than it could on the stage. What’s more, although everyone ends up being a little too nice (apart from the offstage mother), everyone is flawed and there’s no simple good versus bad. The film is, to quote Picasso, bristling with razor blades.
Before we go, riddle me this. In IMDB, the film is listed with the French title Tu me manques, which was also the title of the original Spanish-language play that opened in Bolivia. In the film, we learn why – the French title (which literally means “I have lost a part of you”) is much less prosaic than just “I miss you”. So, why is it playing in Germany with this English title, even though there is a German phrase (“du fehlst mir”) which is much closer to the French than either English or Spanish?