Shame Cannot Exist Here!

Piece by Dharma Lemon

La Erección de Toribio Bardelli | directed by Adrian Saba

La Erección de Toribio Bardelli (Adrián Saba, 2023) follows a 70 year old man with one more lofty goal to achieve before he goes out with a bang: Get an erection. Toribio Bardelli (played by Gustavo Beuno) is determined, goal-oriented, and will stop at nothing to make his dream come true. This satire is more than a commentary on death. It’s a brilliant comedic coping on the subject as a whole.

As a first time viewer, the film can be jarring. The scripting seems to talk about death in an apathetic tone and can almost feel like its intention is to create shock-value. But as someone who has grieved I find comfort and freedom in the way the film talks about the end. When we talk about someone who passed away, we often feel cruel for not sounding devastated. Saba, the film’s writer and director, releases us from the shame that holds us hostage. The guilt we feel for not reacting in a manner that reflects how devastated we should be, seems absurd by the end of this full length feature.

The dialogue in the film is about such a heavy subject, but it’s written in an aloof fashion, deadpan, and doesn’t dance around the viewers feelings. This makes the characters relatable to someone who has dealt with loss, the more time progresses , the dead become easier to speak of. Become harder to remember. We feel guilt for moving on when someone else can not. When we stop crying for the subject of our affection we end up self deprecating ourselves. We imagine a reality where our reaction must correspond with our morality, and if it does not we self portrait into a heartless villain incapable of thinking of anyone but ourselves. But here in between the scenes of this masterpiece we are free to talk about the fallen without the pressures of constantly processing how we feel. Sometimes when we acknowledge we have experienced a major loss is enough for us to appreciate that we can live.

I lost my best friend Gisselle Mendoza when I was 16 years old. She was killed by a young drunk driver who crashed into her bedroom window while she slept. The world had turned black and white as a teenager who was experiencing bullying, physical disabilities, mental illness, and death. Everything felt heavy and devoid of color. Now, 9 years later my memory is plagued by erasure. I feel bad for only remembering how her eyes look. I self loathe when my memory has too many holes in it to float. Drown in doubt at my reliability. Her laugh becomes background noise. Her eyes flutter out of my mind. Her skin is painted with a permanent filtered sepia tone when I close my eyes. She becomes a still instead of a person. A shot, constantly out of focus.

When I talk about what happened I don’t feel sad, I feel disconnected. Most of us whether we would like to admit it or not, when enough time passes it becomes hard to feel anything when we talk about it. That’s why La Erección de Toribio Bardelli is a breath of fresh air. For one hour and twenty-two minutes of this film we aren’t burdened into emotionally laboring our past. Just reminding ourselves that it happened.

While La Erección de Toribio Bardelli is primarily comedic commentary on death, I found the film style to be the most moving. During the duration of the full length feature we are given amazing visuals that I struggle to compare to anything currently existing in mainstream media today.

At first, I saw shots that seemed to be inspired by famed director Terrance Malik. Unlike Malik, the camera isn’t shaky. The camera is static, only rarely moving in a slow pan or by dolly to give us a full shot of the world. The film’s cinematographer, Christian Valera brilliantly sets this film apart with colorful two-toned lighting that goes beyond reality. The lack of emotional depth possessed by the characters is made up for by shots saturated in complimentary color. These shots provide what one can only call emotional realism. Saba gives us gorgeous wide-lens shots. Saba’s shots are intentional and clearly well planned. Unlike Terrance, the camera movements aren’t distracting or sacrificing the story but rather add to it. These shots in wide lens do not give us uncomfortable close ups but instead suggest the actor is inseparable from their environment.

In the film Thin Red Line(Terrance Malik, 1998), we are asked the question “What is the source of the evil around us?” The answer we are left with by the end of the film is, If there is no god, there is no evil, there is no good, we are just very intelligent animals who roam the earth until we fade into history. This is what sets La Erección de Toribio Bardelli apart from a majority of films about death. There is no mention of religion or an afterlife in a film about dying. Remember the story in the bible? When Eve ate the apple and immediately felt embarrassment at her naked body. She quickly covers herself with leaves, anything she can find to rid herself of disgust. I assume in the thematic universe where Toribo Bardeli lives, there is an absence of the presence of god, meaning there is an absence of shame. With an absence of shame comes an opportunity to react authentically.

World renowned philosopher, Jean-Paul Satre believed living authentically was to “Embrace the reality of our freedom.” He believed that one must take full responsibility of their life, choices, and actions because our existence comes before our essence; It is our duty to grant our life purpose. Toribio Bardeli lives in a godless universe devoid of shame, embracing authenticity, in pursuit of achieving his life purpose. He is shameless in his quest for an erection. He is candid and forthright about his sexual desires even with his children. He steals, pines, and disrespects people in order to achieve his life purpose. His children are also shameless. Having brazen office romances, sleazily stealing from cab drivers, and recklessly almost ruining a marriage in order to heal childhood wounds.

That’s why the wide-lens shots mentioned above are so important. These characters are too immersed in their own world to see anything above it, anything bigger than it, anything omnipresent but still live in the highest expression of their freedom. It is unclear if Toribio and his children live in a reality where there is no good/evil or the lack of god/religion imposed by Bardeli’s parenting style is what makes them blatantly unashamed. There is a scene in the film where Bardelli’s daughter steals from a cab driver and is promptly detained. Upon detainment a man proposes to her the idea that her family is “not good” because they aren’t watching over her. She seems shocked by this idea like it never crossed her mind.

I love this film because when the children speak of dying it isn’t that they are unemotional. They just do not feel pressure to have a soap opera style reaction. They cry but don’t wail, they express but don’t beat a dead horse, they move on in a speed that is authentic to them. Watching this is freeing as someone who constantly feels like I should remember my friend more than my memory is capable of. I miss Gisselle but I’m unable to cry about it anymore. That doesn’t make me a bad person or a psychopath for moving forward past my trauma. Sometimes we feign a reaction out of bad-faith because we are concerned that there is a “right way of living”. This idea poses an immense stress on individuals who then feel the need to push more tears out or make their reactions bigger to show others their humanity. We are given a still shot at the end where the characters are laughing even in their newly orphaned state. The beauty of the human experience is nuanced. Emotions aren’t black and white, and we all need to see this unique film to remind us of just that. La Erección de Toribio Bardelli is in a category of its own. I can’t name any dark comedy that gives you Euphoria like visuals. Each shot will either make your jaw drop in laughter or awe.