Despite running at a brisk 67 minutes, Joao Pedro Rodrigues’ Will-o’-the-Wisp has a near-epic feel with its grand thematic scope. Within its short run time, Will-o’-the-Wisp is a sensory queer musical that also touches on monarchy, loss, and environmentalism. There’s even a bit of sci-fi thrown in thanks to its futuristic setting.
As the story begins, we’re in 2069. King Alfredo (Joel Branco) is lying on his deathbed, leaving the state of his royal family in jeopardy as he hasn’t produced an heir. As he lives out his last moments he reflects on his youth, including his years as a prince (Mauro Costa) who decided to become a firefighter to protect the sacred forests that he felt connected to and which were endangered by wildfires. Although Alfredo’s decision is met with disdain by his parents, he follows his aspirations anyhow and becomes thrust in a homoerotic abyss.
The well-chiseled, and occasionally fully nude firefighters, who at one point pose like they’re Greek statues, make Alfredo feel integrated. Especially when he strikes a bond with fellow fireman Afonso (Andre Cabral) that lights up after an erotically-charged CPR exercise. After their exercise and a quick, passionate kiss, both men suddenly burst into a harmonious musical number that’s as carnal as any physical sex scene.
Afonso and Alfredo’s lustful yet effervescent love makes Will-o’-the-Wisp a stark contrast to Rodirgues’ feature directorial debut O Fantasma, a similarly erotic character study centered on a voyeuristic anti-hero. Even the burnt forest where the two lovers passionately embrace during one scene appears more serene than the shadowy passages where O Fantasma’s Sergio lurks at night to hunt for prey. Their love is also a highlight thanks to the playful chemistry between the two actors while Rodrigues’ direction and writing still emerge as the film’s biggest stars.
Rodrigues’ ability to condense a myriad of genres into a small package is a grand feat. The only thing is that as you’re transported into his otherworldly tale, it makes you wish it was even longer. The film’s small length makes it hard to go even deeper into its brilliance, yet it remains an amazingly tumultuous directorial exercise.
This review is from the Toronto International Film Festival. Will-o’-the-Wisp currently does not have U.S. distribution.