Nuno, a college student, visits his sister’s farm in Vouzela. He soon falls for Alberto, a moody farmhand. Nuno is a cheerful protagonist in an angsty film. He remains blissfully unaware of the limits that class and gender place on his loved ones. Where the Sun Beats is a slow tease. There’s lots of pining and little pay off. It builds to a frustratingly ambiguous ending. But it plants the seeds for a genre, the rural queer romance, that continue to blossom.
Let’s break it down in this spoiler filled recap.
Act One: Summer Vacation
Scene One: A House in Vouzela
CITY BOY: Hey sis. How’s being married to an old man?
COUNTRY SISTER: Tedious. And money’s tight. We can’t fund your trip abroad.
CITY BOY: Guess I’ll spend my summer with you. See what country life is all about.
COUNTRY SISTER: Spoiler alert. It’s boring and I hate it.
Scene Two: The Farm
CITY BOY: Show me around?
(They explore the farm. City Boy trips and scrapes his arm. Farmhand tears his shirt to provide a bandage.)
CITY BOY: Unnecessary. But hot.
LOCAL KID: Jeepers mister! Don’t get the Farmhand in trouble. He’s like a brother to me!
Scene Three: Lake
(City Boy strips nude. Then squeezes into tiny swimming trunks.)
COUNTRY SISTER: Why the gratuitous nudity?
CITY BOY: It’s a gay movie. We don’t need an excuse.
Act Two: Secrets
Scene Four: The Fields
COUNTRY SISTER: Deliver this letter to my handsome stepson.
FARMHAND: No. I disapprove of your semi-incestuous affair. (Burns the letter.)
COUNTRY SISTER: Damn you. Keep quiet or I’ll tell everyone you slept with my brother.
FARMHAND: Did I? Did that happen off screen? Or are you just picking up on our flirty vibe?
Scene Five: Awkward Dinner Party
OLD FARMER: Good to see you son.
HANDSOME STEPSON: Hey dad. Hey stepmom. Meet my new girlfriend.
NEW GIRLFRIEND: I can cook!
COUNTRY SISTER: That’s great. I’m so happy for you both. (She’s not.)
Scene Six: A Disco
CITY BOY: Let’s go dancing!
FARMHAND: (Drunk) Everyone knows me here. They’re all laughing at me! (Picks a fight. Gets beat up.)
LOCAL KID: Jeepers mister! Everybody’s gossiping about your relationship!
CITY BOY: This film hasn’t given us a chance to have a relationship. Let’s leave this hick town! Meet me at the bridge.
Act Three: Goodbyes
Scene Seven: The Bridge
COUNTRY SISTER: I’m sorry I threatened your boyfriend.
CITY BOY: I’m sorry you’re stuck in a loveless marriage. Gotta go.
(Farmhand waits at the bridge. City Boy runs to the bridge. But when he gets there, the Farmhand is gone. The Local Kid is sitting on the ground.)
LOCAL KID: Hi.
CITY BOY: Hi?
(City Boy and Local Kid walk together a while.)
CITY BOY: So…. What happened to my love interest?
LOCAL KID: Jeepers mister. I don’t know. The ending is deliberately ambiguous.
The premise—a young man with a destabilizing erotic influence on everyone with whom he comes into contact disturbs the fragile equilibrium of a closed-off household—recalls that of Teorema, but Pinto’s film has a searching, luxuriant, digressive streak in which Pasolini, at least during the late Sixties, would never have let himself indulge.Max Nelson, Film Comment, 2014
Did Alberto, the farmhand, leave town without Nuno? Did the local kid talk him out of going? Did he jump off the bridge in a fit of despair? I’ve rewatched the ending several times. I can’t make heads or tails of it. Alberto and Nuno’s entire relationship is ambiguous. That’s partly due to Alberto’s taciturn nature. And partly to the choppy English subtitles.
Nuno’s sister, Laura, has a clearer story. She married an old man and grew bored of him. She started a fling with his age-appropriate son. But the son moved on. Now she’ll have to, as well. Actress Laura Morante provides the films’ most compelling performance.
Where the Sun Beats was writer/director Joaquim Pinto’s second feature. He’d go on to a lengthy career in Portuguese cinema. His most personal film, 2013’s What Now? Remind Me, chronicled his ongoing struggles with HIV and HCV. I was interested to learn that he and his husband run a farm. They embraced the rural lifestyle that his characters chafed against.