Director João Pedro Rodrigues
Starring Ricardo Meneses
Scott’s Review #1,363
Reviewed May 25, 2023
The target audience for a film like O Fantasma (2000) can only be gay men or anyone macabre enough to want to see male pornographic eroticism mixed with sadomasochism.
There is more than one scene that is straight-up pornography. I’ll spare the details but most kinds of sex are on full display and do not look staged or faked.
It’s the type of film that I’m still digesting and ruminating over. I suppose that’s better than having forgotten it.
The director, a gay man named João Pedro Rodrigues, doesn’t sugarcoat the film’s subtext, which is a young man’s painful journey into self-awareness and homosexuality.
The film is set and shot in and around Lisbon, Portugal. Unfortunately, any palatial, lush, or culturally significant landmarks are not used. Instead, seedy, dark, and industrial areas are.
During the night, brooding, lonely Sergio (Ricardo Meneses) works as a trash collector. In between garbage dumps, he embarks on an increasingly dangerous journey of anonymous sexual encounters. Soon, he becomes fixated on one handsome stranger and ‘plows’ down a haunting path.
The opening scene immediately plunges the viewer into a subversive world. Two men, one clad completely in leather, the other naked, are engaging in rough anal sex. We do not who they are or how they figure into the story…….yet.
Speaking of story, O Fantasma doesn’t have much of one. Besides the brief synopsis listed above, Sergio spends a good amount of time playing with his dog, having sex with a policeman, and rebuffing his female co-worker Fátima (Beatriz Torcato) advances.
Oh yeah, Sergio also has time for more rough outdoor sex with his male boss, Virgilio (Eurico Vieira), drinking from puddles, and taking a dump in his clothes.
O Fantasma all seems rather pointless when its shell is peeled back and it’s dissected a little. I get that Sergio is a gay male who is self-hating and conflicted but I feel like I’ve seen that angle played enough times, and no, O Fantasma doesn’t turn about face and offer a happy ending.
Young men struggling with their sexuality in any way need not see this film. It will undoubtedly veer them off the next nearby cliff.
With that footprint relayed, a more mature gay man will find erotism and some titillation to experience and what’s so bad about that? But, O Fantasma is for grown-up audiences and tastes only.
To say that there are enough bare asses displayed to go around is a severe understatement. The naked front male appendages make frequent appearances both erect and flaccid. Oral and anal sex are given equal screen time and one poor bunny rabbit doesn’t stand a chance again an angry and hungry man.
I’m still cringing from that scene.
O Fantasma is a disturbing viewing but never boring. It’s not quite cerebral or artsy but boy does it mesmerize. I’ve never seen a film quite like it nor do I think I ever need to see it again.
This film would never have been made in the United States but European filmmakers get away with so much more skin and sex. That’s just a known fact.
Actor, Ricardo Meneses, doesn’t possess much acting range nor does he need to. He simply needs to glare, sulk, and stalk to make his character’s intention clear. He’s got a great body and even looks good when he sniffs a shower stall and licks Fátima’s face.
A peculiar dog reference abounds throughout the film, the sniffing, licking, and using of two real dogs among its cast. Does Sergio feel dog-like because of shame over his sexuality and/or his need for depravity and degradation?
I both liked and disliked O Fantasma (2000) but longed for a less ambiguous conclusion and a happier resolution for Sergio.
Major props to Rodrigues for crafting an innovative if not haunting production.