The Perfect David explores a young bodybuilder’s unhealthy obsession with creating an ideal body and his mother’s equally obsessive artistic motivations.
After finishing a workout, the young bodybuilder David (Mauricio di Yorio) reluctantly poses for his mother Juana (Umbra Colombo) and she runs her fingers across his chest and shoulders, noting spots for improvement. It’s a strange moment of bodily intimacy that feels almost sexual to our puzzled eyes, but Juana’s examinations of her son’s body are treated with a detached calculation in her probing gaze. When she later measures David, Juana finds a one-centimeter difference between his shoulders—not something particularly noticeable, but to her a striking flaw.
We later learn that Juana is an artist, using David to craft a “perfect” physique to use as a model for her latest sculptural creation. To build this “perfect” body, David is put on a strict training regime including early morning workouts, a rigorous diet requiring him to feed himself even in the middle of the night, and eventually supplemental pills to increase his strength. Although Juana assures David that his progress is almost complete, his motivation continues to falter, and his training intrudes further into his personal life. After a series of distressing events including an unsuccessful sexual encounter and a violent episode that leads to his suspension from school, David becomes more and more obsessed with sculpting his body into an unhealthy ideal. Surrounded by intense pressures and driven to extreme measures, he is taken on a journey where he faces shattering consequences and unexpected revelations.
Inside The Perfect David (El Perfecto David) is a clever thematic core centered around art, bodies, and obsession. Look no further than the protagonist’s name, which clearly recalls Michelangelo’s David—the iconic sculpture often held as a standard of male beauty in the eyes of the Classical art world. There’s an intriguing story here about Juana’s careless obsession with crafting a perfect body for David and the dangerous consequences of her artistic pursuits—the physical, mental, and emotional toll on David’s health and self-esteem. Even the relationship between the two offers a puzzling psychological dimension—a strange relationship guided by artist and subject, where she sees him not as her son, but a body to be used as a clay to mold to her artistic desires. Had The Perfect David kept its focus on this unique premise around Juana’s artistic motivations and this strange mother-son relationship, it would have been a lot more original and intriguing.
Unfortunately, the film ignores this angle to focus instead on David’s bodybuilding obsession and how his life is suddenly torn apart by steroids, hormonal rages, and fractured relationships. This narrative detour throws in a handful of predictable story beats and never coalesces into anything particularly compelling since none of the characters are well fleshed out enough or given much personality. After an all too sudden climactic moment that doesn’t feel very impactful, the film takes another tonally confusing detour, ending on a strange note that clashes with everything that came before it. And for a film so concerned with aesthetics and artistry, The Perfect David’s sense of style is remarkably ugly and uninspiring with its dark and dry color palette and an electronic score that grates with abstract, industrial tones. Even the direction feels too obvious, like when the most intense sequences quickly switch to rapid handheld shots and blur in and out of focus.
Drawing from personal experience, writer and director Felipe Gómez Aparicio created The Perfect David to tell the story of a young man’s journey of self-discovery when he’s put under intense pressures by family and society to look and act in a certain way. There’s certainly plenty of rich ideas to explore there, but they ultimately never translate into a compelling narrative and cinematic vision, and we never get a true sense of that journey and where exactly David is going.
The Perfect David will be available to watch digitally at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 15-23, 2021.