Hard Paint is a melancholic, hard-edged romance about an introverted webcam performer that is strongest when it sticks to its original premise and feels generic whenever it strays from it. While Pedro (Shico Menegat) waits to go on trial for assault, his sister moves out of their apartment and leaves him alone to masturbate live on the internet for money. His USP is that he covers himself in neon paint and dances in the light of a UV bulb. When encountering another performer who has copied his paint gimmick, Leo (Bruno Fernandes), Pedro teams up with the competition. They leave neon handprints on each other's bodies and dance together and more, and they are a great success. What seems like a lucrative business partnership turns into a genuine connection, but with Leo as an exuberant art student applying for degrees abroad and Pedro as the long-faced, lugubrious potential convict, the odds are against them lasting.
The film of writer-directors Marcio Reolon and Filipe Matzembacher excels when it explores the difference between Pedro and Leo's relationship on camera and in real life. The webcam records them as choreographed and accomplished, somewhat cold and of course pixellated. In contrast, when we see them having sex off-camera, it is detailed, clumsily performed, and natural. The distinction between homosexual love that is performative and private is fascinating and reveals how these ostensibly different individuals can have such an intimate bond together. The pornographic material in the film feels subversive in the vein of Larry Clark's recent portrayals of young sex, yet since it is pornographic by definition rather than through gaze, this is justified and not gratuitous. Melodramatic sequences feel earned, following on from a tradition of heightened realism in romantic narratives and grounding the modern story that may feel alienating to certain viewers with classical form. A great scene involves Pedro and Leo showering next to each other, washing the neon paint off their bodies after a performance. The real intimate act of showering together is negated by the false intimate act that preceded it.
All this being well and good, Hard Paint is almost as long as Citizen Kane. 117 minutes is an inexcusable length for a film that has excellent moments but is undeniably modest in scope. Outside of Pedro and Leo's relationship and webcam performances, there is a lot of excess narrative fat — Pedro's supportive sister and disappointed grandmother, and even his court case, all form the story but never really feel like they contribute to his character. Shico Menegat's sombre and belligerent performance already accounts for these details about Pedro without us needing to know extra information to contextualise them. Elements intended to develop the world outside of Pedro's webcam performances instead regress the story and reiterate what we could already infer in a more hollow and clichéd way. The script at times feels like a first draft that someone rushed to finish before the deadline of a screenwriting class and is apologetic for their classmates having to read, but grateful nonetheless. Unfortunately, in a nearly two hour film this gratitude is not returned. Moreover, slow-motion dance sequences seem to riff off of Xavier Dolan and by extension Wong Kar-wai, but without the sensuality that the former borrows from the latter, and therefore in a flat and derivative way. Hard Paint is a film that could benefit with a hefty edit and for the filmmakers to follow their interests in performance when doing so.