Directed by: Silvia Brunelli
Distributed by: Wolfe Releasing
Written by Anna Harrison
Catholic guilt is one hell of a drug, no more so than in Silvia Brunelli’s feature debut, “Blessed Boys.” Living in Naples, Mario (Vincenzo Antonucci) and Linu (Francesco Pellegrino) cannot escape the religious iconography that inundates their everyday lives, and it only intensifies once Linu’s sister, Annaluce (Sofia Guastaferro), touches a dead pigeon after mass one morning and the pigeon suddenly gets up and flies away. If not for the flourishes magical realism, the easiest comparison to “Blessed Boys” would be “Call Me by Your Name”: two young men coming of age in Italy with a queer bent, shot sumptuously and anchored by strong lead performances; however, the more apt connection is to the messy passions of “Y tu mamá también.”
Unfortunately, the film spends much of its run time bifurcated (and, at some points, even trifurcated), and the section that evokes the same emotions of a film like “Y tu mamá también” must share the screen with less interesting subplots regarding Annaluce’s supposed miracle working and the unplanned pregnancy of Linu’s girlfriend, Assia (Alessandra Mantice).
The attempts to tie these threads together with Mario and Linu’s story are not entirely successful, and the result is a film that is only half as captivating as it could be, but the relationship between Mario and Linu proves so compelling that the flaws of the other parts can be more easily forgiven. Mario and Linu are close friends, both in the metaphorical and literal sense—the two are practically joined at the hip, bestowing kisses on each other (Europeans!), and sleeping over at each other’s houses in naught but underwear. This doesn’t seem to be much of an issue until the two go to a club and Mario spies Linu with an older woman (Sara Ricci), which awakens a not entirely sudden deep-seated jealousy within Mario.
What follows is mostly a series of one-sided longing glances as Mario tries to get closer to Linu, who’s got his own set off problems now that his erratic mother (Pina de Gennaro) has begun to pimp out Annaluce as a miracle worker. Annaluce is slipping further and further away as she stares, day after day, at the Virgin Mary statue her mother places in front of her; her fixation on this statue mirrors Mario’s own worship of Linu as their relationship grows more and more tangled. Where “Blessed Boys” really stands out, however, is the sex scenes—not something often said about a movie and a topic that every so often causes the prudes on Twitter to come out, but here the sex scenes are meticulously constructed and vital to the characters. A threesome between Linu, Mario, and the older woman from the club becomes a powerful showcase for composer Eugenio Vicedomini and cinematographer Sammy Paravan, not only showcasing the movie’s technical prowess but conveying multitudes about Mario’s feelings for Linu from Antonucci’s strong performance and the hyperspecificity of the blocking. It’s a marvel of a scene, erotic without being exploitative and incredibly moving without any dialogue.
Unfortunately, nothing else in the movie can compare to the moments like these between Mario and Linu, and some things—most especially the plot of Assia, through no fault of Mantice—seem to go nowhere. There’s nothing particularly egregious about these other goings-on, but they pale so much in comparison to Mario and Linu (and Antonucci and Pellegrino do so exquisitely well with their material) that they simply cannot capture the imagination as effectively. Had the rest of the movie reached the highs of its better half, this would be a different story; “Blessed Boys” would be a much stronger film had it only focused on its two magnetic leading men, but as it is, only half reaches its full potential.