Director(s): Sebastián Silva
Film description: Writer-director Sebastián Silva’s Sundance hit ROTTING IN THE SUN is a darkly funny and refreshingly audacious meta-comedy that skewers the business of filmmaking and our self-obsessed culture. While unwinding at a Mexican gay beach town, depressed director Sebastián Silva meets gregarious Instagram influencer Jordan Firstman (both playing versions of themselves), and Sebastián reluctantly agrees to collaborate on an upcoming project. But when Jordan arrives back in Mexico City, Sebastián is nowhere to be found, and Jordan embarks on a wildly unpredictable, quasi-detective journey.
Programmers notes: If you’ve opened Instagram, you’ve surely encountered Jordan Firstman, whose impressions and storified “secrets” on the app propelled him to fame in the early days of COVID. What you might not know is that Firstman was already building a great body of work as writer, actor, and director before he surged into the influencer role. His 2016 dark comedy Call Your Father remains one of my favorite shorts I programmed at Maryland Film Festival, and this new pairing with veteran filmmaker Sebastian Silva feels like a continuation of that strain of Firstman’s work, even as the narrative builds from his IG fame.
The setup is brilliant: both Silva and Firstman play amplified versions of themselves. Silva, doing every drug in reach while crashing at a friend’s place in Mexico City during a career impasse, goes on a trip to a gay resort beach, harboring ideas of suicide. Firstman, having just watched a Silva film the night before, recognizes the director, introduces himself, and convinces himself they’re falling in love—even as Silva can’t wait to shake him to get back to thoughts of death. But when Silva shows up in one of Firstman’s IG stories, studio execs suddenly take a renewed interest in Silva as a filmmaker.
This is just the beginning. And if there’s a man-on-man or man-on-men sex act that hasn’t been depicted on screen by this point in the story, just wait. Rotting in the Sun is another great entry in Silva’s first-rate body of work (offering easter eggs along the way to those who’ve seen prior films). It’s also a perfect vehicle to explore Firstman’s sense of humor, which has the unique ability to toggle between surface-level hedonism and disarmingly incisive observation in a blink (or a swipe).