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 {BFI Flare} The Perfect David – Review

Courtesy of BFI Flare

A dark, claustrophobic bodybuilding drama, The Perfect David makes some valid points about toxic masculinity and gender expectations, but ironically ends up being too weak in its execution.

Directed and co-written by Felipe Gomez Aparicio, the Argentinian film relies on stark tones and oppressive camerawork to present the all-consuming passion of the titular antihero. 

David (Mauricio Di Yorio) is a teenager obsessed with training to hone what is an already, undeniably, heavily muscular, conventionally attractive body. Pushed and controlled by his hovering mother, renowned artist Juana Galucci (Umbra Colombo), David is preparing for one of the most important tasks of his life. The film doesn’t spell out what David’s challenge could be, letting the audience assume a mystery lurks beneath the surface, and it must deal with Juana and their co-dependent bond.

As the events unfold, it becomes apparent that David isn’t as interested in training, and does that out of obligation not just to his mother, but to himself. Contrasting with his burly figure, the protagonist’s face betrays his real age and, crucially, the innocence and trauma that comes with that phase in one’s life when there is some figuring out to do. David has a lot of that awaiting him, in between daily training sessions at ungodly hours, pills and steroid injections designed to impossibly inflate his body. 

Queerness and Toxic Masculinity in The Perfect David

Playing at BFI Flare, the film explores queerness through the main character, a closeted young man who overcompensates whenever his homophobic school friends question his manhood, or other men pose a threat to his supposed heterosexuality.

Casually staring at other male bodybuilders, David is more and more aware of his sexual orientation but is too afraid to disclose it to his family and friends. And only partly out of fear that they wouldn’t understand or accept him. His is an internal conflict, seeing his homosexuality as a crack in the perfect surface he has worked so hard to create. 

Unlike Samson, David’s strength doesn’t reside in his hair but is all about performative, excessive masculine pride. For the protagonist, admitting his queerness would emasculate him, showing a weakness that he can’t afford to have.

His friends manage to bring out the worst of this macho attitude in him, prompting him to seek perfunctory, heterosexual sex with school friend Micaela (Antonella Ferrari), only to retaliate when she tells a friend about him not being able to have an erection.

Like an artist, David is crafting his persona. His work mostly happens in dusty basement gyms, accompanied by an ever-smoking Juana. His mother is seemingly yet another iteration of the cliché helicopter parent of any young athlete. But there’s more at play in The Perfect David than just a mother wanting to see their child succeed, sometimes at the cost of their happiness and youth.

David and His Mother’s Bond Borders On Incestuous

The bond between David and his mother — playing out in mostly poorly lit rooms in a house that is never shown in full — toys with the ultimate taboo.

Bordering oedipal territory, their relationship involves a lot of physical touch to the point it gets uncomfortable at times. But it is also inherently tender, as they enjoy and value each other company more than they do a friend’s or a husband’s, marginal characters in this drama.

This may be why David isn’t too concerned by his mother’s exploitation of his body — incest being, in his mind and in that of his school friends, for whom Juana is the ultimate MILF, perhaps more acceptable than being queer.

The mother-son relationship is central and mostly involves Juana inspecting David’s body. Her touch is sensuous, but never explicitly sexual. As she feels up David’s sculpted pecs and measures his toned, sinewy biceps, her gestures come across as firm, decisive, but also seductive. Hers is an exploration and exploitation of a man’s body as a commodity, and, as such, it is obviously transactional. 

The Perfect David Doesn’t Fully Deliver on its Promise

She expects something from David’s perfect body, provided he’s able to keep that figure. This desire isn’t explained, suggesting that something disturbing might occur at a later stage. Or never, for that matter. The Perfect David fully leans into its ambiguous atmosphere, with one of its most visually intriguing sequences seeing David patiently sitting through a full-body lifecast session. His head completely covered in what appears to be clay-like material, the protagonist becomes a repulsive monster in his mother’s expert hands.

It’s a shame that this promising development isn’t pushed further. The Perfect David conventionally accompanies its audience to an interesting twist, but one that is rather tame nonetheless. The resolution could have had a far greater impact and hit harder, more horrifically than it actually does.

A lot is going on in The Perfect David, and yet the film only scrapes the surface of its most crucial themes. And so is the horror, excitingly hinted at but never pushed beyond what’s conventional.