Manuel Abramovich's Blue Boy, which is receiving an exclusive global online premiere on MUBI, is showing in MUBI's Brief Encounters series.
Sometimes I feel like the world is a great theatre play, that we play our characters for the gaze of others. This is why I chose to work with reality and illuminate those moments in which everything becomes artificial like a fiction film.
Ideas for my films can appear at any moment in my daily life: it’s like a sort of radar or alarm which goes off when I feel that certain level of “theatricality” in everyday life becoming particularly evident. When that alarm goes off, I always make a first approach to those people in which the most important thing is to gain their trust. I try to spend as much time as possible with the protagonists. I get to know them, I observe them, I ask them questions. I also tell them things about myself, so that they get to know me and feel comfortable.
A key to this first stage is to put aside any prejudices and be open to discovering their universe, regardless of whether I share their values or ways of seeing the world. I cannot help falling in love, in an abstract and poetic way, with my film’s protagonists for the duration of each film shoot: I observe them, I listen to them, I note their gestures, their looks, become fascinated by their physical movements, and try to understand how they relate to their environment. In this sense, all people are special to me and can become the center of my attention.
The idea for Blue Boy came to me, as it often does, without looking. Several years ago, a friend took me for a drink at the Blue Boy bar in the gay neighborhood of Berlin. This is a well-known meeting point between clients and young Eastern Europeans who do occasional sex work. As soon as I entered, the alarm went off: despite it being a dense environment with many contradictions, there was something very theatrical about it.
The clients, mostly German men in their sixties, were sitting at the bar. The Romanian boys walked around the bar talking to each of them, trying to seduce them and generate an exchange. Many repeated the same conversations with different clients, or changed character from night to night. In the bar the spectacle became very evident, everything was on show: the protagonists, the audience, the encounter, the negotiation. However, the sexual encounter always remained hidden, reserved for the intimacy of another moment.
The research for this project lasted two years and went through different stages and journeys. At first I spent a lot of nights trying to talk to everyone at the bar, both the young people and the clients. Very soon I noticed something curious: nobody understood what group I belonged to, or what my role was in this particular system.
So I started thinking about the idea of switching roles, be it client, sex worker, spectator, protagonist, or filmmaker. Just like the young people who establish an exchange with their clients, offering their bodies in exchange for money. I wanted to invite the participants to swap roles for a while, to spend a few minutes in the role of the other. There was something about the research process that inevitably put me in the shoes of a client.
That’s how Blue Boy finally took shape: to make a series of portraits of sex workers using the same principles of sex work. To highlight the performativity of this type of exchange and create an experiment in which the roles of everyone involved—protagonists, spectators, myself—could be interchangeable. What would it be like for these young people to distance themselves from the character they perform every night? What would their reaction be to hearing their own stories?