Glue is no landmark, but there’s a striking candor to Alexis Dos Santos’s artful doodle about a boy and his seething hormones in Argentina’s dreary Patagonia region that recalls some of the seminal works of the New Queer Cinema movement. The writer-director’s camera is as fluid and sticky as the sexuality of his characters, coolly traveling with Lucas (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) as he rides to and from excursions with his buddy Nacho (Nahuel Viale), pulling back as the boy’s bike swings around obstructions only to become distracted by the sight of an older man sunbathing on a park bench.
Much like the improvisational charms of the film’s young cast (one uses a glass shower door to practice kissing her fantasy lover; another puts on the mask of a cat as a pretext to cuddle against his friend), Dos Santos’s aesthetic is a great enticement, sinuously slip-sliding between DV and Super 8 as if it were traveling between states of consciousness, approximating through bold movements and angles the raptures and depressions of adolescence.
Though he relishes in the emo-ish Lucas’s carnal knowledge, Dos Santos doesn’t do so in the leering fashion of Larry Clark, setting up a transfixing relationship between the camera and his characters that feels at once intimate and critical, looking at everyone closely but almost as if he were peering around corners and through two-way mirrors. There’s always a sense that Dos Santos is remembering his own youthful experiences through Lucas, who’s no dork but who also isn’t very popular (the water balloons that get thrown at him and blow out the film’s soundtrack tell no lies), though he probably should be, what with his incredible head of hair. Suggesting a fugue state, Glue doesn’t ignore the tensions of its characters so much as it keeps them simmering at the corner of the frame—an evocation of the cocooning teenager’s quest to protect him- or herself from the reality that would interfere with his or her modes of self-preservation.
Alive with truth and discovery, the narrative of Glue, such as it is, concerns Lucas and Nacho’s attempts to simultaneously woo Andrea (Inés Efron), who, in the film’s most modestly arresting moment takes off her retainer just as she lets the two boys into her house for chocolate milk and idle chatter. In these and other moments, Dos Santos taps, with a potent mixture of longing and amused embarrassment, into our infatuation with regressing into childhood.
Not everyone may relate to Lucas’s punk lyrics or the way he uses a drug experience (consciously or not) to seduce his best bud, but Dos Santos sees something very essential in the seemingly banal moments of this boy’s life, like the way he carefully peels apart the pieces of notebook paper that have been drenched by his bullies’ water balloons. A striking reminder of how simultaneously wonderful and miserable the teenage experience can be, Glue seems to come undone whenever it looks away from the hornied relationship between Lucas, Nacho, and Andrea and toward the strained relationship between Lucas and his family only to remind us that we behave a little differently around friends than we do around family.