Alex Anwandter’s drama Nunca vas a estar solo (You’ll Never Be Alone) is about a hate crime. That’s not immediately apparent though the grey and foggy establishing shots of a dreary-looking Santiago de Chile clue you into the somber mood of the film you’re about to watch. The image that stays with you from the opening scenes, though, is a shot of two young boys. They’re gleefully running through the streets of the city and eventually find an alleyway where they can give into their lust. The story eventually hinges on the attack on the more effeminate of the two guys, but Anwandter’s debut feature makes sure to give us not only a “victim of a hate crime” but a fully fleshed out character that isn’t defined by his attack.
Given its setting and plot, press outlets in Chile and abroad have been quick to point out that Nunca vas a estar solo is the story of Daniel Zamudio. A 24-year-old gay Chilean man who died after being brutally beaten by a group of neo-Nazis back in 2012. Similar to how social outcry and legislation were prompted in the U.S. in 1998 following the death of Matthew Shepard, Zamudio has since become a symbol against homophobic violence.
But as he made clear when Anwandter talked to Remezcla about the film last year, Nunca vas a estar solo is not the story of Daniel Zamudio, though it is in inspired by it: “All of this has a very strong design and purpose: it is the way I get to say, through the movie, ‘it wasn’t only Daniel and it won’t be only him’ unless we manage to de-emphasize the focus on the one horrifically-spectacular episode and turn to analyzing the context that allows this violence to exist; in other words, let’s turn our attention to the society that embraces these violent attitudes and behaviors, not the kid that suffers them.”
Rather than making a biopic about Zamudio, Anwandter hoped to abstract the specific event into an issue audiences could reflect on. And in fictionalizing this most horrific of stories, he’s made a film that problematizes Chilean society’s failure when it comes to creating a safe space for young boys like Zamudio. This may be why the electropop singer-songwriter avoids neo-Nazism altogether, making the young boy’s assailants not extremists but neighbors and acquaintances who just couldn’t handle Pablo (a captivating Andrew Bargsted) and his effeminate ways. What they hoped to do in beating him brutally was to show him how to better be a man.
Even as the film eventually shifts its attention from Pablo to his father who sees his life slowly unravel in between exorbitant health insurance bills, gut-wrenching guilt, and unforeseen business problems, Nunca vas a estar solo finds the time to explore yet another victim of this toxic masculinist society. Where Pablo was a dancer who enjoyed heading out to the gay bars wearing makeup and who got a thrill over doing drag in his bedroom, his neighbor and childhood Felix (Jaime Leiva) is content with following along with the violent-prone and faggot-bashing guys he hangs out with. Yet as audiences we also know that Pablo and Felix spend many a time not only blowing each other in alleyways but fucking in the privacy of Pablo’s bedroom.
This steamy affair makes Pablo as giddy as a schoolgirl whenever he talks about it with his girl friend, but it remains a shameful secret for Felix. Towards the end of the film we see Pablo’s father Sergio (played by Gloria’s Sergio Hernandez) confront Felix. He’s convinced he knows more about the attack than he’s letting on. Already Pablo’s attackers have gone free since there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them and if only Felix would share what he knows (he was, of course, there when it happened), then they could at least get some justice for the young boy who remains in a coma. In a different, sunnier kind of movie, the confrontation would lead to some catharsis for both father and erstwhile boyfriend. But both men tiptoe around what they each know about what used to happen behind closed doors.
“I’m not stupid! I know what you and Pablo…” Sergio begins to say before Felix cuts him off and spouts what may be the most revealing speech in the entire film: “What? What? What do you want, that I start crying and say what? That your son’s a faggot and someone was going to beat him up any day now? It doesn’t matter who did it, asshole! It doesn’t matter.” That moment, and those lines in particular strike a chord both for what they reveal about Felix’s own issues and the warped way he understands the world which so violently hurt Pablo. They sum up what Nunca va a estar solo wants to say about the rampant homophobia surrounding these cases and how they’re talked about. But it also further stresses why, in an intolerant society that still struggles to make boys like Pablo feel safe, the film’s title (“you’ll never be alone”) is both a broken promise and a violent threat.