Photo credit: Peccadillo Pictures

By Matthew Owens

Octavio (Roberto Farias, The Good Life, No) is an ageing prizefighter from a parochial town in Southern Chile who starts a relationship with mild-mannered Hugo (Hector Morales, Tony Manero) after a group camping trip encounter celebrating a big boxing victory. Octavio is soon told by doctors that he must give up boxing for good or risk death after they discover that his epilepsy is compounded by a weak artery in his brain. When Hugo loses his job the pair flee to Santiago to start a new life, away from prying eyes.

In the big smoke, Octavio finds work in a barbershop, while Hugo works in a pet supplies store. Here Hugo is coaxed out of his shell by Jenny (Manuela Martelli, Machuca), the charismatic daughter of the shop owner. Being a gentle soul, he appreciates her friendship perhaps more than his time with the more macho Octavio but before long it starts to evolve into something a little more romantic. Meanwhile Octavio is seduced once more by the promise of victory in ring.

My Last Round is a gritty and bleak affair, typical of a vein of Chilean film (see Pablo Larrain’s Tony Manero, for example), bookended as it is by two funerals and punctuated by dog-death, domestic violence and a homophobic attack. The visceral, grubby boxing scenes add to the ambience, as do the winter scenes of drizzly southern Chile. Good casting and very believable delivery from the two protagonists, well supported by the always-excellent Martelli, make this film compelling viewing.

Perhaps the biggest shortcoming though is the lack of development of relationships between characters. For example, it is not altogether clear what the relationship between Octavio and Hugo is based on, other than the obvious fact that they are both gay. Of course, this could be a reality of living in what, despite social change in recent years, still remains a largely conservative and catholic society (with perhaps more diversity in the capital Santiago). Living in provincial Osorno may have provided few opportunities for either to find ideal partners.

Nevertheless the film is awash with clever scenes and some accomplished acting. One of the these involves Jenny arriving unannounced at the flat in Santiago to find Hugo absent. Octavio is in, cooking some lunch, and she starts excitedly to confess to him the romantic feelings that exist between her and Hugo, assuming that Octavio is heterosexual and not involved with Hugo. Octavio encourages her to divulge all, working hard to repress his horror at the unfolding revelation. It is both comic and emotional at the same time, taking a dark twist at the end when Hugo returns home to first receive a dramatic ‘display’ kiss from Octavio and subsequently a punch in the face that knocks him to the floor.

Moreover, My Last Round is something of an essay on the nature of masculinity and the universal preoccupation with being and death. Both main characters struggle in different ways with their identity and with what it means to be male. Octavio preferring to inhabit a macho world, first of boxing and then in the barbershop, and Hugo taking on different roles, with mother, at work and home. Death precedes us as it has recently for Hugo, is everpresent as it is for Octavio and is one of the few future certainties for us all.

Overall and especially given that this was Julio Jorquera Arriagada’s directorial feature debut, My Last Round is a solid piece of filmmaking. We should be on the lookout for more from Jorquera.

Verdict in brief: Actually, I thought this was much better than NO, which was nominated for an Oscar.

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