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Chance Encounter in ‘The Man With the Answers’

Chance Encounter in ‘The Man With the Answers’

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“You’re in a car with a beautiful boy, and he won’t tell you that he loves you, but he loves you. And you feel like you’ve done something terrible, like robbed a liquor store, or swallowed pills, or shoveled yourself a grave in the dirt, and you’re tired.”

These are the first few sentences in stanza 24 of Richard Siken’s You Are Jeff from his debut poetry collection Crush. A violent articulation of queer desire. In this particular poem, Siken perpetually builds up tension leading to a poignant moment in the poem and the collection where the lover starts to see himself as worthy of being loved.

Goodreads | Crush – Richard Siken

Much of this line is encapsulated in Stelios Kammitsis’s The Man With the Answers. A picturesque road trip between two polar opposite characters. Victoras (Vasilis Magouliotis), a diver, goes on a road trip to visit her mother in Bavaria, Germany after his grandmother’s death. During this trip, he encounters Mathias (Anton Weil), a carefree, free-spirited, German student and from there we see what seems to be the beginning of a romance.

Chance encounter

The idea of perfect strangers is practically a cliché. A fabled meeting. From the proverbial destiny to the shallow coincidence. The phenomenon of destiny is said to be a product of modernity. For generations, humans only meet a handful of people in their lifetime mostly within their respective areas. However, the industrial revolution which precipitated the invention of trains and consequently public transportation, a new mode of interaction was basically created.

The Man With the Answers navigates this terrain of chance encounters. Albert Bandura defined chance encounters as the “unintended meeting of persons unfamiliar to each other”. It’s accidental. Oftentimes fleeting. But ultimately it sets us up for things that would not have happened had we not experienced it. “Some chance encounters touch people only lightly, others leave more lasting effects, and still others branch people into new trajectories of life,” he said. There’s an arc to it. A beginning, middle, and end. The perfect formula for a classic rom-com.

There’s an art when crafting chance encounters that rely on many factors. The development must earn itself. That there are enough fortuitous events to make the “meet” seem realistic, happening under the virtue of verisimilitude, which is the possibility of happening in real life.  Moreover, chance encounters often rely on the alchemy of the two characters. How they are presented on page or onscreen, and how well both of these are going to be sustained. Chance encounters present a kind of volatility to certain character archetypes and their dynamics. One can see through if the characters’ personalities are crafted only to serve plot points instead of working hand-in-hand with the narrative.

Mathias and Victoras

The film begins with lingering shots of Victoras’ lifestyle. His part-time shift in a furniture house, his solitary biking trips to a park with a trampoline where he practices his jumps as a diver, and visits to an ailing grandmother in a derelict hospital. There’s only minimal dialogue in the first few scenes which punctures the white noise of Victoras’ movement, a perfunctory ‘How are you?’ call from his distant mother (figuratively and literally) in Germany. A few scenes later, a visit from the hospital tells Victoras that his grandmother has died.

Victoras in The Man With the Answers.
IMDb | The Man With the Answers

The deliberate long drawn-out scenes of the film are beautifully shot, the colors are coordinated and the minimal dialogue and lush soundscape gently pull, if not lull the viewers in the world of our character whose silence we can only presume from bits of narrative that will unfold in the film.

Afterward, we see Victoras trading his gold medals to pay for the funeral services. He then rented a car to get on a road trip to Bavaria, Germany to visit his mother. Moments later, we eventually find him boarding a boat and bringing the car with him. Here, on the ramp of the boat, is our ground zero. Here, we see Mathias comes into the frame looking at the car and the unsuspecting eyes of Victoras unbeknownst to the other.

The film then cuts through dinner. Hungry, Victoras goes to the boat’s cafeteria. Scrutinizing what seemed like an overpriced club sandwich he then opts for a bottled water. Shortly after, Mathias comes. Briefly scanning the same sandwich, he then proceeds to pick up the same bottled water as Victoras did, purposefully dropping other bottles on the counter. While the waiter was picking those up, Mathias secretly sneaks a sandwich in his jacket, turns around, and finds Victoras looking at him.  The very first contact of our two main characters.

On the deck of the boat, Mathias approaches and tries to engage in small talk by offering the sandwich Victoras was eyeing earlier.

Mathias and Victoras on the deck of the boat. One of the very first chance encounters.
IMDb | The Man With the Answers

“Your sandwich. It’s ham and cheese. Take it. You deserve it.”

“No. You stole it,” Victoras said firmly.

Then comes the conversation. The beginning of the encounter. Mathias expresses interest in knowing Victoras. Both are in close proximity to each other but there is still the furtive glancing. In this case, the refusal to hold one’s gaze for a long time. Mathias’s genuine prompt to stir the conversation seems to be stalled by Victoras straightforward answers making the air charged with erotic desire.

“So where are you going?” Mathias asked.

“North,” Victoras replied, pointing upward.

“You have a car?”

“No.”

“Pity. It’s a lovely route by car.”

When the boat disembarked, we see Victoras dazed, map sprawled on the dashboard of the car. He sees Mathias coming over, and the shame from the lie starts to take over which made him hide behind the sprawled map.

“I thought you said you don’t have a car,” Mathias said coyly. Referring to yesterday’s encounter. “I knew you did. I saw you yesterday in the garage,” he revealed.

In the same fashion, Mathias expresses his knowledge about the ins and outs of the route going to Bavaria having traversed the road himself multiple times. Victoras listened in silence, face visibly perplexed at the surge of information. There’s a moment of silence for a few seconds there where both of them look at each other; Mathias seems to be waiting for an invitation to be in the car, and Victoras, conflicted about having a stranger be with him. The seemingly interminable silence Mathias eventually takes to mean as a sign that Victoras wants to be alone. Then goodbye.

“Alright then. Safe trip,” he said as he walked away.

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Distressed at the prospect of not knowing the directions, Victoras soon follows Mathias and allows him to ride with him under one condition. “But we share the gas money,” he offered.

Then begins a feverish trip marked by several detours, stopovers, and gatecrashing.

Desire

Evidently, the entirety of The Man With the Answers largely focuses on the temporal present (of the narrative). There are no flashbacks, no temporal shift. The film unfolds the way a travel trip does. In continuous successions. In different places.

One crucial part of the film is when they seemingly gatecrashed a wedding. Here, we find our two characters starting to warm to each other. After the ceremonial “You may kiss the bride”, Mathias approached a friend named Tomaso which we would soon come to know as a former fling. Their encounter happened in the same way theirs did.

“Where did you two meet?” Victoras asked Tomaso.

“We first met at the Greek Islands,” he replied. “Doing island hopping, drinking, and getting naked on the beach. We then took the ferry to Italy, and I gave him a ride in my car.”

“Did he pay for the gas?” Victoras curiously asked.

IMDb | The Man With the Answers

You can tell something in Victoras’s eyes when Mathias approached. The suspicion that what happened so far in the trip has been contrived. This suspicion we can only take to mean as the realization of his desire. As easy as this hurt registers, as quickly as Victoras seems to forgive. On the dancefloor of the wedding, we see their tenderness towards each other. The liquor, the sound, and the presence of the other make their inhibitions recede in the background. It reminds me of the dance scene in Fin de Siglo (2019) and Call Me By Your Name (2017). The dance implies the comfort the characters have found with each other, and quite possibly an acceptance of their own body, its movements, in relation to the person they desire.

Arriving at their destination, Mathias joined Victoras in his mother’s house, sharing a dinner. In the end, we see them, on the road again. The allure of a road trip romance is that inevitably ends. The significance of this chance encounter is left to the viewers’ imagination. But for our characters what only matters is the present. Both of them carry the final sentences of Richard Siken’s stanza 24 of You Are Jeff.

“You’re in a car with a beautiful boy and you’re trying not to tell him that you love him, and you’re trying to choke down the feeling and you’re trembling, but he reaches over and he touches you, like a prayer which no words exist and you feel your heart taking root in your body like you’ve discovered something you don’t even have a name for.”

Mathias and Victoras, chance encounter, on the road, in the car

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