Queer stories in coming-of-age films have become pretty well trod territory. Since the early days of Beautiful Thing and Edge of Seventeen, countless young queer characters have stepped out of the closet and found their first loves on-screen. It now begs the question, what other takes can we see within this film genre? Luckily, SUBLIME has the answer, telling a freshly told and grounded coming-of-age story by filmmaker Mariano Biasin that is filled with naturalistic and compelling performances from its young cast.
Biasin has remarked that the idea for SUBLIME was born out of a character waking up from a confusing dream, which had the power to put his most valuable friendship in danger. This of course manifests for Manu (Martin Muller), who suddenly finds himself dreaming intimately about his childhood best friend, Felipe (Teo Inama Chiabrando). Suddenly every interaction sends Manu into a frenzy of emotions, debating whether Felipe may reciprocate in any way. This is especially tricky when they spend so much time together, whether this is band practice, song writing sessions or to Manu’s increasing hesitation, talking about other girls.
Part of what makes SUBLIME such a refreshing watch is how Manu’s inner conflict does not derive from Felipe being a boy, but instead from him being his best friend. As Biasin stated in our interviews (available now on the DVD and PeccadilloPOD), “in this film there is no struggle with sexuality or bullying. Manu is not ashamed of what he’s feeling […] but he doesn’t want to ruin the friendship.” In not dwelling on the familiar subject of coming out to yourself and others, the film finds a richer driving force for the characters as they deal with their developing feelings. Even Manu’s father treats Manu’s feelings with sincerity and humour, rather than focusing on them being for another boy.
Also pivotal to the film’s success was Biasin’s age-appropriate approach to casting. It wisely avoids casting actors older than the age they were portraying as is highly common in other coming-of-age stories. Biasin asserted that “this story is so intimate and delicate that I wanted it to be realistic and so I wanted the actors to be really close to the age of the characters.” This meant that a COVID delay in production forced casting to be restarted, as many candidates were already too old for the characters.
However, in some ways this was a blessing for Biasin and the film, as the delay meant that Muller was now the perfect age for Manu. Muller puts in an exceptionally expressive yet grounded performance, wordlessly expressing Manu’s inner torment and confusion through his face alone as his feelings for Felipe grow. He makes for a compelling scene partner to Inama Chiabrando’s Felipe, whose easy-going charm and “inner fire” (as described by Biasin) make it easy to see why Manu is falling for him. Their natural performances and sweet chemistry together make a great case for why this kind of age-appropriate casting can be important to the success of a coming-age film.
We can only hope that future stories of queer youth finding themselves can present their characters with the natural touch that SUBLIME does. For now, Biasin’s film is a leading example that deserves a place in the queer coming-of-age canon.