Nico and Dani (Krámpack)
Screenplay : Cesc Gay and Tomás Aragay (based on the play Krámpack by Jordi Sánchez)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 2001
Stars : Fernando Ramallo (Dani), Jordi Vilches (Nico), Marieta Orozco (Elena), Esther Nubiola (Berta), Chisco Amado (Julian), Ana Gracia (Sonia), Myriam Mézières (Marianne)
Nico and Dani (Krámpack) tells the story of the sexual coming-of-age of two 17-year-old boys. This is, of course, a topic that has been worked over in so many different variations in both film and literature that one would think there is nothing of interest left to say about it. Yet, that moment when adolescents stand on the verge of adulthood is a point of such universal wonderment that, when done sympathetically and respectfully, it continues to yield the potential for moving character studies. The treatment of this life moment in Nico and Dani is both gently poignant and quite frank, and it is also further complicated by the introduction of burgeoning homosexuality.
The story takes place over a period of 10 summer days in a Mediterranean coastal town. Dani's (Fernando Ramallo) parents own a summer home on the coast, and they have conveniently gone to Egypt while Dani's best friend from school in Madrid, Nico (Jordi Vilches), comes to visit. The bond of friendship between Dani and Nico is strong, to the point that they are comfortable engaging together in krámpack, which is their slang term for masturbating together.
For Nico, this activity has a kind of utilitarian value, and its homosexual implications are overridden by his simple desire for sexual release. For Dani, however, it begins to mean much, much more, as he develops an affection for Nico that transcends friendship. Dani continually escalates the intimacy of engaging in krámpack each night, and while Nico goes along with it, it is readily obvious that he is not as comfortable with the increasingly erotic activity with his best friend.
During this time, Nico and Dani becomes involved with two local teenage girls, Elena (Marieta Orozco) and her cousin, Berta (Esther Nubiola). The four of them go to the beach together, hang out at bars, and have dinner together. Both Nico and Dani are intent on losing their virginity that summer, but as the days pass and Dani's true sexual orientation becomes more obvious, he becomes less and less interested physically in Berta. Nico, meanwhile, becomes infatuated with Elena, which only fires Dani's jealousy. Dani wants to be with Nico, but he knows that Nico doesn't have the same feelings he does.
Nico and Dani is certainly candid in its treatment of male teenage sexuality, to the point that some viewers might feel a bit uncomfortable. There is nothing pornographic about the scenes between Dani and Nico--in fact, they are filmed with the kind of skillful restraint that makes you think you're seeing more than you are. According to Variety, at least one scene of intimacy between Dani and Nico caused a few gasps in the audience at the Cannes Film Festival, but that is not particularly surprising. Teenage homosexuality is a topic that has generally been avoided by mainstream filmmakers; although there are dozens upon dozens of films dealing with teen boys losing their virginity, few of them have been brave enough to deal with same-sex relationships and the complexities of someone dealing with the realization that he is gay.
Unfortunately, this is one of the weaknesses of Nico and Dani. Although Fernando Ramallo is a fine young actor who is excellent in his role as Dani, the screenplay by director Cesc Gay and Tomás Aragay, which was adapted from a successful play by Jordi Sánchez, endows him with too much confidence. For a confused teenager who is not only wracked with painful feelings of jealousy, but is also dealing his emergent sexual orientation, Dani is simply too sure of himself. This is especially true when he begins to make confident advances on a local man in town who is a least a decade his senior.
There is also a deeply troubling scene in which Dani rapes Berta while she is passed out from drinking valium-laced Sangria, a vicious, predatory act that is brushed over much too easily. The scene is obviously intended to depict Dani's last attempt at heterosexual intimacy before fully accepting his homosexuality, but why this had to take the alarming form of a date rape, the moral implications of which are completely abandoned, is not entirely clear.
Overall, Nico and Dani is a moving film that, for the most part, is both gentle and honest in dealing with its difficult subject matter. Despite the film's overall progressive stance (everything is viewed in nonjudgmental fashion, from the homosexual experimentation to drug use), its lasting lesson is actually quite old-fashioned: in simplest terms, physical intimacy cannot (and should not) be divorced from emotional intimacy.
Both Dani and Nico learn this lesson in painful, but memorable terms. Dani learns it in his ultimate crisis of understanding that Nico does not experience their physical experimentation in the same fashion as he does. Nico, on the other hand, learns it when he and Elena ultimately have sex, yet Elena insists that it only be for one night because she wants to return to her boyfriend who is in the military. Although Nico agrees to these terms, after the deed is done, he cannot help but feel emotionally drawn to the girl to whom he has lost his virginity, only to find that she remains steadfast in their agreement. Therefore, both Dani and Nico experience sex in emotional terms with someone who views it only in practical terms. That Nico experiences both sides makes his plight that much more complicated.
Director Cesc Gay is sympathetic toward his two protagonists, and he does an excellent job of allowing them to be flesh-and-blood people with realistic feelings and worries. He doesn't shy away from the pitfalls of teenage life--he shows them drinking and smoking pot and boasting about sex. So many teenager characters in movies are one-dimensional and dull. Nico and Dani, on the other hand, are fully formed characters who say as much in simple glances as they do when talking.
So, by the time the 10 days have passed and it is time for Nico to take the train back to Madrid, we feel that these characters have actually grown. While they have not passed that threshold into manhood entirely, they are both a little closer.
©2001 James Kendrick