Director: Gustavo Duc
Writer: Gustavo Duc
Cast: Michel Ailin Huerta, Gonzalo Pedalino, Claudia Paris
The cast and crew’s details are bordering on indecipherable at the end of Acoso [Harassment]– their thin, slate grey letters threatening to blend seamlessly with the black screen behind them. It’s almost as though their very names are trying to distance themselves from this production; and I don’t think I can blame them.
It is fair to say that this is not Gustavo Duc’s finest hour, as a writer or director. Anyone hoping to revisit the emotional heights of El Viajero, or the subtle beauty of Eternally in mi will in the best case be left disappointed by Acoso. At worst, they will be left wondering whether this is even the same artist.
The action, such as it is, begins when a woman lets herself into the towering house of her theatre teacher, Maria. After searching the seemingly deserted premises, she finds her tutor, stripped from the waist down and bound to a table. As she unties Maria, they both hear the perpetrator singing and speaking to himself in the next room.
The rest of the film turns into a lengthy cat-and-mouse chase, throughout which Duc never comes close to justifying his handling of the topics that Maria’s state brings to mind. When things come to an abrupt end – our heroine eventually subduing the attacker by battering him with a sheet of lead that sounds suspiciously like a sheet of cardboard – we are left wondering what on Earth the point of all this was.
That is probably the most damning indictment it is possible to offer for this particular project. I am not arguing that films cannot ever address themes of sexual violence, or depict their physical and psychological aftermath. To help us cope with living in a society where people do unspeakable things to each other, art needs to be able to do that – both encouraging us to face the existence of those acts, and consider what we could do to prevent them.
But what can be said for Acoso to that end? What questions did it ask of the darkness in the world around us, or the way we see and interact with it? What representation did it give to the survivors of trauma? What story did it bring those themes into, to try and tell? None of these questions has an obvious answer – leaving the film’s foregrounding of sexual violence feeling like a ‘dramatic device’, exploitative and gratuitous, cheaply deploying one of the most horrific experiences a human can go through to quickly build an atmosphere, in lieu of writing an actual story with actual characters.
Some people will argue this film deserved one of our Unrated scores. I doubt Gustavo Duc will thank me for sparing it that, at least, but those ratings are reserved for films which have broken laws, or actively wish harm on others. This is a film which has badly misjudged what it was doing, but still makes it clear that what is going on is bad. Beyond that, however, there is nothing about its Scooby Doo-style chase sequence – or its lamentably boiler-plate Kevin MacLeod creative commons score – which suggests this was a remotely appropriate venue to discuss the themes it touches upon.