Water Boys, written and directed by Roberto Cuzzillo is an exploration of the anti-gay laws in Russia. Massimo (Giuseppe Claudio Insalaco), an Italian swimmer, and Vladimir (Daniel De Rossi), a Russian translator, meet at a swimming event in Russia. Supposedly, it’s love at first sight: there are fire works going off and Massimo and Vlad, as he is commonly referred to, are lost in each other. The only thing is, you can’t tell.
Water Boys has a whole lot of nothing going on. When Insalaco and De Rossi are on screen together, there is a lot of smiling and cute little breaths but there isn’t any actual development of character or their relationship. They seem to fumble around in a sort of fake relationship that supposedly will last an eternity.
Cuzzulio’s used a lot of found and archival footage to accompany the story of Massimo and Vlad, and while I’m sure this is supposed to add to the story, it doesn’t. It just leaves you wondering if there were budget constraints or if they had tried to stretch a short film into a feature length. Half the film is dedicated to a silent film where a young woman meets a man and is kidnapped by a gang, which I think is supposed to mirror Massimo and Vlad’s relationship and their encounter with homophobia in Russia.
This isn’t even mentioning Cuzzulio’s almost elementary exploration of the anti-gay laws. There is a very frank conversation between Massimo and Vlad where Massimo urges his new lover to come out to his mother, which leaves Vlad – and you for that matter – getting fed up with Massimo’s inability to understand the severity of the situation in Russia. In one scene, after the two ‘lovers’ are beaten mercilessly, Massimo innocently Googles the issue and is shocked by what he finds. Now this is possibly the only point where the found footage is effective, with videos of homophobes terrorizing gay people, beating them and treating them like animals. It is truly a devastating thing to watch.
Water Boys has so much potential to explore such a difficult time, but it doesn’t give the situation the weight it deserves. The storyline is confusing to the point where you are questioning if there is one and the romance between Massimo and Vlad is almost non-existent. More time needed to be spent developing characters and relationships, and less time on mirroring the situation of kidnapped young woman with the devastating issues that surround the anti-gay laws in Russia.