Growing up gay

Nico and Dani

Dani (Fernando Ramallo) and Nico (Jordi Vilches): A couple of kooks, hung up on romancing.

Dani (Fernando Ramallo) and Nico (Jordi Vilches): A couple of kooks, hung up on romancing.

Rated 3.0

The original title of Nico and Dani, both the play by Jordi Sanchez on which it was based and the film in its Spanish release, is Krampack. I’d never heard the term before—who knows, maybe Sanchez made it up—but from the context of the film it’s clear what it means: mutual masturbation, with a little fellatio now and then.

Nico (Jordi Vilches) and Dani (Fernando Ramallo) are teenage school pals. When Dani’s parents take off for a vacation in Egypt, Nico comes to spend the summer. The idea seems to be that they’ll spend the summer fishing, hunting, lounging around on the beach, and—at least as far as Dani is concerned—krampacking at night.

But things take a different turn from what Dani had in mind. The boys meet Elena (Marieta Orozco) and Berta (Esther Nubiola), two vivacious and appealing girls just their age and willing—no, eager—to explore the percolating hormones of adolescence. But Dani wants Nico to himself; the only sexual experimentation he’s interested in is the kind the two boys have already begun. Nico, on the other hand, becomes smitten with Elena, and it begins to dawn on Dani that he and his pal may not be growing up in the same direction.

Director Cesc Gay, who adapted Sanchez’s play in collaboration with Tomás Aragay, makes Nico and Dani something a bit more than the standard growing-up-gay film that’s become such a cliché in the last few years. The film, refreshingly, seems more interested in exploring the real feelings of budding sexuality than in making slam-dunk points about freedom and tolerance. Oddly enough, in this Spanish culture where the concept of machismo originated, Dani encounters no homophobia. That will come in time, perhaps, but for the moment the adults around him—his housekeeper (Myriam Mézières), his tutor (Ana Gracia), and a local writer (Chisco Amado)—take a tolerant view of what they see forming in him. But then, the women are nurturing types (their professions match their inclinations) and the writer, we learn, is gay as well—and more than a little interested in Dani himself.

The adults see it, but Nico, Elena, and Berta don’t. For Nico, the nocturnal gropings under the covers are just kids’ stuff, a temporary measure until some willing girls come along. When the four of them get together for dinner at Dani’s house, it’s clear what at least three of them have in mind. Elena and Nico pair off, with Dani and Berta in the other room. Dani goes through the motions with Berta, but is visibly grateful when she passes out from the valium and wine they’ve all been drinking.

Meanwhile, Elena and Nico seem to be doing just fine by themselves. First, Dani tries to interest them in a three-way (suggesting, disingenuously, that Elena will enjoy being in the middle), but the idea doesn’t fly. Dani finds himself being edged out of Nico’s affections, and he reacts with petulance and guile, looking for ways to nip Nico’s heterosexual progress in the bud. There’s even one startling, ominous scene when we suddenly realize he’s contemplating murder—but in the impetuous, thoughtless way kids sometimes do, without thinking of consequences, of right and wrong. It’s an uneasy, distressing moment (and it’s clear from the setting that it’s not in Sanchez’s original play), and the way Gay resolves it is both a relief and a rebuke, as if Gay were saying, “C’mon, that only happens in movies.”

Gay gets natural, unself-conscious performances from his actors. Ramallo and Vilches are a mix of opposites. Ramallo’s Dani is fair-haired and handsome, while Vilches as Nico is wide-eyed and a bit goofy; they look like Archie and Jughead. As the girls, Orozco and Nubiola are at once coy and knowing; we sense that this summer is catching them just on the cusp of worldliness. Among the adults, Ana Gracia especially shines with an Earth Mother wisdom, seeing what’s happening between Nico and Dani with a clarity they themselves may not have for decades.

Nico and Dani is a minor pleasure, a story of complex feelings told simply and without pretension.