Swinging his way into the crowded race of shocking documentaries that seek to give audiences access to experiences that would otherwise be closed to most viewers, writer-director Mauro Russo Rouge brings us Bloom Up. The Italian filmmaker’s first documentary is an unforgettable journey into the subculture of swingers. His entry point into this world is a middle-aged married couple: Elisabetta (Betta) Barbero and Hermes Osnato. While they may occupy their days by checking their stock of dog kibble for the pet store they own, come evening, the two often find themselves entangled in a mass of naked bodies. Their dalliances are anything but routine, with sessions taking place anywhere from the bedroom to dark massage parlors or the interiors of luxury vehicles.
There’s no judgment from Rouge. In documentaries, it’s exceedingly difficult not to project moral judgment, at least subconsciously, on the subjects of a film. That’s not the case here, though. For the most part, this couple’s lifestyle is devoid of the usual comeuppance we’ve been groomed to expect from narrative movies that cover similar ground. We should be thankful for this, as their lifestyle probably comes under enough scrutiny in a culture so imbued with Catholicism.
Now, we can’t escape discussing the frank sexuality on display. The filmmaker has been given access to Betta Barbero and Hermes Osnato’s lives behind closed doors. While Rouge skillfully avoids the naughty bits that would cross the doc into different territory, not much is left to the imagination otherwise. These sequences are fairly long, and were this ever to have a home on a streaming platform, one would be advised against watching this on a shared account.
“…come evening, the two often find themselves entangled in a mass of naked bodies.”
Bloom Up wouldn’t succeed without this level of candor. The nonchalant discourse on the swinging lifestyle as Osnato dons his leather G-string has about as much enthusiasm behind it as when the main couple talks to customers at their pet store. This works to underscore the normality of their lives to them. In the view of Barbero and Osnato, this isn’t a deviant or scandalous approach to sex. It’s just what works for them. That the director shows the couple in the act as well as filming them performing more mundane tasks brings us entirely into their world with an intimacy we don’t often see in cinema – narrative or documentary. It also makes the subjects tangible individuals rather than an exhibit, which would be the case without the dichotomy between their double lives.
Underpinning the whole movie is the love between Barbero and Osnato. Some complications arise late in the film, but their adoration for each other is never in doubt, even for a second. This is a brave production because Rouge is unquestionably aware that its subject matter limits its commercial viability in a cinematic world that’s becoming increasingly reticent about graphic sexuality in film – even if movies with gratuitous violence and gore are not even remotely subject to the same amount of scrutiny and censorship.
Bloom Up is hard to forget. This is a poignant examination of the many forms of love. Even if one isn’t totally on board with the lifestyle at the center, it makes it hard not to wonder what that seemingly mild-mannered couple you know might be up to when the shades are drawn.
"…a poignant examination of the many forms of love."