In Daniel Sánchez López’s Boy Meets Boy, two gay men at a crossroads spend a summer day in Berlin together.
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The premise of Daniel Sánchez López’s Boy Meets Boy is nothing new. Two strangers wander a city, chatting, laughing, and making out, whiling away the hours until one of them has to fly out of the country. It’s notably similar to Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, because both films chart the budding connection between two gay men, plus Haigh’s film is set in Nottingham, from which Harry (Matthew James Morrison) in Boy Meets Boy also hails. The twenty-four-hour time limit and exploration of an iconic European city (in this case, Berlin) is reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. I couldn’t help but laugh when, early on, Johannes (Alexandros Koutsoulis) asks Harry if he prefers sunrises or sunsets.
There’s been no shortage of cheap, mumblecore knock-offs of films like Weekend and Before Sunrise — filmmakers seem to think they can just shoot two people chatting in a vaguely naturalistic style and become the next Linklater. Boy Meets Boy is made of stronger stuff. It stands out from the crowd for the genuine chemistry between its leads, as well as the specificity of both its characters and the questions they’re asking themselves. Harry and Johannes may be in suspiciously similar circumstances to Rusell and Glen in Weekend, but they’re also younger, and of a younger generation. They’re grappling with career uncertainty, Grindr hookup culture, and the reality of being a young gay man in a culture and place that’s more accepting of queerness than ever. Unlike Russell and Glen, they don’t have to worry about being physically affectionate in public, but they’re still grappling with societal expectations and internalised homophobia that runs deep.
Harry and Johannes meet in a club, high on drugs and exhilarated by the flashing lights and pulsating music. When they spot each other, they saunter over and start to make out. We expect this to be a precursor to a hookup, especially since our introduction to Harry saw him waking up the night after a one-night stand. Surely, we presume, Harry went to the club seeking another one? Instead, Sánchez López cuts straight to daylight, outside the club, where the two boys sit on a bench, taking a quick breather before they go their separate ways. When Harry exclaims, exasperated, that he forgot to print his boarding pass for his flight back to the UK that evening, Johannes offers to help him find a printer. That leads to a tour around the city. This will be a different kind of brief encounter for Harry, who later reveals he’s never been in a relationship, and prefers the non-committal nature of hookups.
They hit it off immediately. They’re attracted to each other, and they’ve enough in common to enjoy each other’s company— but different enough that they challenge each other. Morrison and Koutsoulis have wonderful chemistry, and their banter (which comes across as at least semi-improvised) is natural and engaging. Their conversation ranges from cracking jokes about how every person has a cheese that matches their personality, talking sincerely about their in-flux careers, and passionately debating topics like religion and monogamy. We sense — by their enraptured gaze, and how they teasingly imagine a future together — that they’re intellectually and emotionally engaged by each other in a way that they haven’t been by others in a while.
Sánchez López films most scenes in a single, unbroken take, mostly capturing the boys from a moderate distance in two-shots, so we can observe their warm, flirty body language and the excited looks that pass between them. Their faces gleam under the summer sun, loose clothes blow in the breeze, and the backdrop and sounds of Berlin surround them; long takes allow us to bask in these beautiful moments that Harry and Johannes will never relive again. Still, quick cuts between scenes remind us that their time together is limited. An early, extended scene is interrupted by a blink-and-you-miss it shot of Harry’s boarding pass being printed; the editing’s sharp change of pace is a bracing reminder of how quickly these moments pass by.
Ultimately, Harry and Johannes’s idyllic summer day isn’t the start of a great romance, but a wake-up call for two men, both at a crossroads in their lives, that they deserve more in life than they’re letting themselves have. Harry confesses that he never sleeps with the same guy twice, because for him, the pleasure of sex is always followed by shame and self-loathing. Johannes eventually admits that he has a boyfriend, who insists on an open relationship, like many of their queer friends. But Johannes is unhappy, because he secretly holds more traditional romantic ideals.
Though Harry and Johannes don’t end up together, their encounter opens Harry up to the idea that a connection outside of sex might be possible for him, and reminds Johannes that he doesn’t have to stay with his boyfriend. Even when they do have sex, toward the end of the film, Sánchez López intercuts the before (foreplay) and after (Harry sneaking out on the sleeping Johannes), leaving out the act itself, and therefore de-emphasising its importance. We never find out if they act on their epiphanies within the span of the film, but Sánchez López leaves us with dual final shots in which we sense that something has shifted for the two men.
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