The scrappy queer Mexican film, “These Peculiar Days,” now out on DVD and available on VOD, chronicles the sexual rondelet among horny high school graduates over four summer days. At first, viewers may need a scorecard to keep track of who is who (and who is with whom). Queer writer and director Chucho E. Quintero introduces eight friends — well, most of them are friends — as they head off to a cabin for a weekend that Roco (Christopher Aguilasocho) refers to as, “a spiritual, emotional, sensorial retreat.”
Initially, tensions are high. Román (Gerardo Del Razo) hopes to get back together with his ex-girlfriend Isabel (Sofia Sylwin), but he also has sexual feelings for Óscar (Carlos Hendrick Huber), who is attending the getaway. Their love triangle is further complicated by the fact that Isabel is canoodling with Renata (Carolina Gómez). Another concern on the trip concerns their classmate Juan Pablo (Isai Flores Navarrete), who has gone missing. His absence darkens the atmosphere of the gathering.
To lighten the mood, Imanol (Axel Arenas) brings some drugs, which Roco — who makes everyone put their cell phones in a drawer — is most eager to consume.
Rounding out the crew are Valentina (Ana Lourdes Zamarrón) and the virginal Hugo (Max Thomsen). These latter two characters are mostly superfluous; they could easily have been cut out of the story without consequence. Both spend large stretches of time off-screen. When Hugo reappears late in the film, viewers may have forgotten he was in it.
“These Peculiar Days” toggles back and forth in time to establish the characters’ relationships and backstories. Quintero edits these snippets, filmed with a fuzzy lens to indicate “the past,” a bit frenetically. The flashbacks can be hard to follow until the characters are better known. When the film slows down and focuses on the present, it becomes quite absorbing. Roco is bemoaning having to please his father and study economics in college. Isabel and Román try to avoid each other, and when they are together, they snipe. Óscar tries to determine if things between him and Román are “OK,” but the silences in their conversation are freighted with meaning. These characters show who they are and start to grow on viewers who fall into the film’s easygoing rhythms.
Quintero addresses issues of stasis and change — as indicated by a Frank Ocean quote that opens “These Peculiar Days.” He is best when playing up the ambiguities. One highlight has Román masturbating and fantasizing about Isabel and Óscar separately and together to illustrate his conflicting desires. The filmmaker also allows for some introspective moments, as when Imanol talks about the unexpected loss of his brother and how that impacted him.
The characters’ bonding extends to when they take drugs. Isabel helps the disoriented Román come down in a shower, and Quintero films this sequence artfully through glass steaming up. This episode shows these lovers reconnecting, but Román also cuddles up later with Óscar, and the two have sex. Román tries to keep anyone else from finding out about his gay hookup. The film reveals several characters keeping secrets about relationships, which adds a layer of intrigue to the romantic drama.
The sex scenes, which get more extensive and explicit as “These Peculiar Days” goes on, do more than just present the characters’ sexual fluidity. The intimacy helps each of them feel more connected and less lonely. These teens are not just on the cusp of going their separate ways but also grappling with concerns over their missing friend, Juan Pablo. One of the more erotic scenes has Roco and Renata coupling up to feel better. Imanol soon joins them. While Roco is at first nervous about a same-sex encounter — he pushes Imanol away when he tries to kiss him — Imanol does find a way to express his affection for Roco.
Quintero asks his actors to participate in some pretty racy scenes (all of the sex is simulated). The actors, who look older than the teenagers they play, all give very unselfconscious performances. Gerardo Del Razo creates a rapport with both Sofia Sylwin and Carlos Hendrick Huber, and their love scenes reflect a tenderness that belies their characters.
The supporting cast can, at times, feel slightly underused, but Christopher Aguilasocho ably conveys Roco’s anxiety about his future, and Axel Arenas gives arguably the film’s best performance as the fun-loving Imanol.
“These Peculiar Days” is a modest but engaging film. It certainly provides a diverting way to spend a cold winter night. The film might start out rough but stick with it. By the end, viewers may wish to spend more than 100 minutes with these particular characters.