Dir: Catherine Corsini | Cast: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Marina Foïs, Pio Marmaï, Aissatou Diallo Sagna, Jean-Louis Coulloc’h | France, Drama 98′
Corsini’s Parisian dramady unfolds over 24 hours reflecting the political conflicts dividing France through a disintegrating romantic relationship between two women. Raf (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and Julie (Marina Foïs) have been together for ten years but the arguments are getting worse. After a night of angry texting distraught Raf begs Julie to stay chasing after her into the street and ending up in hospital with a broken elbow. The two are briefly united in a ward fraught with hysterical patients, Raf knocking back the tramadol to quell her physical and emotional pain. Valeria Bruni Tedeschi gives another of her signature melodramatic performances full of vulnerability and mischievous tongue in cheek humour.
Meanwhile outside the famous ‘gilets-jaunes’ are staging yet another rally against president Macron. One of the protestors is truck driver Yann (Pio Marmaï) who takes a bullet from the police and ends up in the same ward as Raf. ‘Casualty’ fills up with a constant stream of sick and injured while the staff do their best – led by real-life caregiver Aïssatou Diallo Sagna – in a microcosm of French society ‘du jour’ raging with anger, fear and disenchantment at the government and the world at large. Joined by her co-writers Agnes Feuvre and Laurette Polmanss Corsini directs a whip smart script laced with satire and acute observations. MT
Elene Naveriani’s subtle and classically told auteur feature centres on a rather sinister turn of events in the closely knit seaside community on Georgia’s Black Sea coast. Neighbours who thought they knew each other are suddenly back-footed when a regular at the local beach cafe is found to have committed suicide to everyone’s surprise. The dark humour is in the realisation that savage mistrust and divided loyalties are just as at home here and they are in the big city, and perhaps even more so. Agnes Pakozdi’s camerawork creates a painterly sense of place in the faded grandeur of the settings. Naveriani directs with style and attention to detail in an unhurried but memorable gem that won Gia Agumava’s performance Best Actress at Locarno 2021. MT
This drama about Moomins creator Tove Jansson (1914-2001) is as enchanting as her hippo-like cartoon characters that are celebrated by kids and adults all over the world.
Finnish filmmaker Zaida Bergroth brings the Finnish bisexual artist to life in this delicately sensuous and affecting biopic that showcases her unconventional loves as much as her talent as an author, artist and creator, played here by a captivating Alma Pöysti and scored by evocative soundtrack of tunes from the era from jazz to swing, Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing being the musical motif throughout with Stefan Grapelli and Edith Piaf enlivening the Parisian sequences of the early 1950s.
Eeva Putro’s gracefully paced script focuses on the immediate aftermath to WWII in a discretely decadent Helsinki where Soviet bomb raids fail to spoil Tove’s fun at lively cocktail parties where champagne continues to flow during illustrious soirees. Home is a stylish bohemian milieu where Swedish is spoken. Tove is often put down by her renown but competitive sculptor father (Enckel), although her graphic artist mother (Kajsa Ernst) adores and encourages her creative potential.
Later at art school Tove is nudged by her father towards the more highbrow artistic expression of painting, but prefers illustrating and doodling cartoons for a subversive magazine, and this is where she will eventually make her name and earn a meagre living. All this creativity naturally spills over into amorous encounters. Soon Tove is involved with a married politician (Shanti Roney as Artos Wirtanen) and a wealthy female client Viveca Bandler (Kosonen) in dizzying sexual encounters, both leaving her troubled and unsatisfied as she seeks solace in her art. Bergroth keeps the tempo romantically-charged and touching rather than tortured or soul-searching. Artos eventually proposes but Paris beckons promising other opportunities on the horizon as well as a reunion with the past.
This is such a wonderful film about female creative and sensory expression made more so by its gentle, often handheld, camerawork in Helsinki and Paris – DoP Linda Wassberg often uses that atmospheric technique of fading out the scenes in slow-mo to an echoing soundtrack lending emotional depth and a dreamlike quality to the narrative leaving us contemplating what has gone before and appreciating the intensity of Tove’s artistic and emotional truth. MT
During the FLARE LGBTIQ+ BFI’s annual celebration of all things gay five festival films have been selected to screen free internationally from 17-28 March
Five Films For Freedom 2021 sees filmmakers exploring emerging sexuality, trans-activism, homophobia and genderless love at a time when people may have been adversely impacted by the pandemic.
In a new twist for 2021, audiences will be invited to nominate their Five Films Favourite via a British Council web poll, the winners will be announced via British Council social media channels prior to 28 March. Voting opens 17 March via the #Five FilmsForFreedom homepage.
The FIVE FILMS FOR FREEDOM campaign has been going since 2015 and over 15 million people from more than 200 countries have engaged with it particularly in places where homosexuality can be prosecuted and, in some cases, punishable by death.
Five Film For Freedom programme 2021:
Bodies of Desire (India/Dir. Varsha Panikar & Saad Nawab/3 mins), directed by Varsha Panikar and multi-award-winner Saad Nawab, uses Indian poet Panikar’s work as the basis for a visual, poetic film capturing four sets of lovers in a sensual celebration of genderless love and desire.
Land of the Free (Sweden/Dir. Dawid Ullgren/10 mins) – Ullgren’s tense Swedish drama follows the fictional David and friends as they celebrate his birthday with a nightly swim at the beach. The good mood swiftly changes after two straight couples walk by and laugh – was the laughter directed at them, or something else? Who owns the truth of exactly what happened?
Pure (USA/Dir. Natalie Jasmine Harris/12 mins) is the fictional debut from 2020 Directors Guild of America Student Film Award winner Natalie Jasmine Harris, centring on a young Black girl grappling with her queer identity and ideas of ‘purity’. The film is written, produced and directed by Harris – a filmmaker passionate about the intersection between filmmaking and social justice.
Trans Happiness is Real (UK/Dir. Quinton Baker/8 mins) – a moving documentary from first-time filmmaker Quinton Baker – sees transgender activists take to the streets of Oxford, England to fight anti-trans sentiments using the power of graffiti and street art.
Victoria(Spain/Dir. Daniel Toledo/7 mins) follows a bittersweet reunion between a trans woman and her ex, sparking tension and long buried resentment. Directed by award-winning filmmaker, Daniel Toledo, Victoria also features acclaimed trans actress, writer and director Abril Zamora (The Life Ahead, The Mess You Leave Behind).
All films will be available to view from 17 – 28 March 2021 via the British Council Arts YouTube channel as well as being part of the BFI Flare digital programme on BFI Player and associated platforms.
Wri/Dir.: Lisa Zi Xiang; Cast: Goowa Siqin, Renhua Na, Huang Xiaoya, Thomas Fiquet, Wu Renyuan; China/Spain 2019, 107 min.
A Dog Barking at the Moon traces a family’s life over a period of over thirty years centred around Huang Xuioyou, a writer who is emotionally abused, albeit in very different ways, by her sexually ambivalent parents. Partly based on the director’s own life experience, this is a stylish debut for Lisa Zi Xiang, and takes place in a magical setting, shot by her husband DoP Jose Val Bal. Taking its title from a Joan Miro painting, and chronicling the different stages of Xiaoyou’s (Siqin) up-bringing, its non-linear narrative often leaves us bewildered but this also makes for some welcome surprises and twists.
Xiaoyou was a model student at secondary school, she also excelled as a violinist, but was suddenly removed from her class for purportedly having written love letters to her teacher Zhen, who had allowed her to read western literature in class, unlike the other students who were banned from exploring this avenue of pleasure.
Xiaoyou’s mother Jiumei (Na) is not a likeable character – often angry with her daughter she accuses her of being ‘oversexed’ like her father. The parents decide to divorce when it emerges that her lecturer father is homosexual, and has been indulging in affairs with his students. In an embarrassing scene Xiaoyou is forced to witness his sexual shenanigans, although plans for the divorce are later shelved. In another cringeworthy moment Jiumei invites one of her husband’s lovers and his wife and daughter for dinner.
Xiaoyou later marries an American, Benjamin (Fiquet), but cannot escape the emotional lure of her parent’s abusive treatment, and soon returns to China to give birth to her first baby-girl. The relationship with her mother deteriorates even further when the second child arrives, Juimei telling her daughter “if I had known everything, I would have strangled you at birth”. It seems, like many abused characters, Xiaoyou is unable to break free and scenes illustrating the casual humiliation at the hands of her parents are littered throughout the feature: Xiaoyou endures more embarrassment when she sits at a restaurant table with one of her father’s young lovers who tells her he is happy to share her father with her mother, asking her to accept her father loves her – which Xiaoyu simply refuses to condone. Finally, her mother becomes a member of a Buddhist cult.
What emerges here is a stultifying society where stiff upper lips are the order of the day and any attempt at emotional honesty is punished. Siqin is superb as the “orphaned child”, while Na’s Jiumei is very much the product of sexual repression. Zi Xiang delivers a small masterpiece, boding well for her future in filmmaking AS
Flare at Home, the BFI’s digital version of Europe’s largest LGBTIQ+ film festival, will be hosting YouTube Live events with filmmakers from across the BFI Flare festival programme:
Dir.: Jasco Viefhues; Cast: Jürgen Baldiga, Aron Neubert, Ulf Reimer, Meitta Poppe, Paula Sau, Michael Brynntrup, Mignon, Renate; Germany 2019, 83 min.
Berlin’s Gay Scene at the end of the 20th Century provides the backdrop to this revealing biopic about painter, photographer and gay activist Jürgen Baldiga (1959-1993). Rescue the Fire is a thoughtful first film from writer director Jasco Vifhues. It recalls the time when the Aids/HIV epidemic was taking a grim toll, German government cuts making things worse. .
Visiting the ‘Schwules Museum Berlin’, Baldiga’s surviving friends present archive material of his work. These also link up with the directors and festival organisers of the Berlinale of that era. Baldiga was working as a photographer at that time and took photos of Derek Jarman, Wim Wenders and Dolveig Dommartin among others. He was also a friend of the first Panorama director Manfred Salzgeber, and his Wieland Speck who took over when her died of AIDS.
Growing up in the Westphalian town of Essen, Baldiga arrived in Berlin in 1987. He developed from a mere ‘snap-shot’ amateur to become a professional photographer. During the ‘Tunten’ scene in Berlin, he apposed Government cuts which were having a punitive affect on the gay community at a time when Aids/HIV was rife. A laudable exception to the negative face of authority was Anne Momper, wife of the West Berlin mayor, who joined the HIV infected in the public bath in Krumme Strasse, racing them in a competition.
Baldiga celebrated his 31st birthday at a demonstration to abolish the infamous law number 175, which criminalised all homosexuals. But by then he was already infected; his answer was “to live faster, more intensively”. The filmmaker Michael Brynntrup remembers his collaboration with Baldiga, who not only took stills but shot some scenes on 35mm. The rest of the short film was in 16mm. In Pioneer Seriös two men wrestle in the bath, one covered in yellow paint, the other in blue. Brynntrup remembers he had difficulties asking the actors to proceed, but Baldiga had no such problems: “The camera was his proverbial rabbit – just the opposite of me”. Baldiga focused on his bodily changes. Being ‘positive’ meant much time was spent finding the right doctors, avoiding getting colds and other infections. And: “Educate, don’t hide”.
For many years, he also wrote a diary, which he bequeathed to his friend Aron Neubert: “I know, your hands will keep them well. Take the photos and put some of commentaries from the diaries next to them.” In 1991 Baldiga was hospitalised with pneumonia. But he still posed in drag as Louise Brooks. His wig went up in smoke, after he leaned too close to the spotlight. He also went to extremes, showing the horror of the Karposi Sarcomas on his legs. He had his first Sarkoma cut out and put in a box with ornaments like a relic. The more his body disintegrated the more he yearned for something physical. From the attractive poster boy of the gay scene, “I have deteriorated to something decrepit, ugly, a shrivelling and dying person”.
But he was not alone, his good friend Melitta went to the hospital and died inside thirty minutes. That was Baldiga’s dream death, he took all the medicine and morphine (his friends had in vain tried to hide the from him) and fell into a coma, from which he never recovered. He instructed one of them to take a last photo of him “ICH BIN TOT (I am dead), Jürgen Baldiga 4.12.1993. I loved 4000 men, in the end the fabulous Ulf.” Then there is one of his last photos, where he eats ice cream with a morphine drip in his arm, subtitled “Isn’t life great?” But for most of his last year, he ‘was often lonely in his thoughts’.
Rescue the Fireis a not an easy documentary because Baldiga’s friends followed his advice, and told all. In the end this a long ‘Trauerarbeit’, with evocative images by DoP Hendrik Reichel. Those who who witnessed the era will never be the same again. Too much was lost well before time. AS
Dir.: Romas Zabarauskas; Cast: Eimutis Kvosciaus, Darya Ekamasovia, Dogac Yildiz; Lithuania 2020, 97 min.
Lithuanian writer/director Romas Zabarauskas paints an affectionate rather wistful portrait of a gay corporate lawyer who has not come out of the closet. Meeting his paramours secretly at night, while fronting up in Neo-capitalist Lithuania by day, he is very much aware of being ostracised in his homophobic homeland if he breaks cover. Zabarauskas (who is openly gay and an activist) hits all the right political notes, his narrative is simply too slight to justify a 90+ minute running time.
Holding court in his luxury apartment surrounded by younger friends,mid-thirties Marius (Kvosciauskas) is resigned to being “an old poofter in this homophobic country of ours”. At work he is glib and condescending towards his receptionist, but when nouveau-riche gallery owner Darya (Ekamasovia) turns up and wants him to take on a defamation case, he is only too willing to indulge her because of her status and bank account. The death of his father brings him up short, the two had a uneasy relationship and the funeral takes him into the countryside for a spot of navel-gazing. On his return Darya hires him for what looks like a tricky divorce, but this thread is totally abandoned when Marius is enraptured by a male model called Ali (Yildiz) he meets on a Pay-TV channel. But it soon transpires that Ali is a Syrian Asylum seeker living in a refugee camp in Belgrade. The two fall in love, and hatch a daring plan to overcome Ali’s illegal status.
The Lawyer is basically two films in one: the first part deals with Marius and his professional persona, so to speak, dealing with clients and his family; the second is a passionate gay love story. Although this is entirely possible, indeed common, the narrative fails to knit the stories together convincingly. Kvosciauskas is terrific as the corporate whizz-kid, but less authentic as the committed lover, unable to embody the character the director had in mind, and script’s flawed structure doesn’t help. DoP Narvydas Naujalis captures the transient nature of Belgrade and Vilnius, cities caught between a Soviet stricture and a materialistic present where human realities are best swept under the carpet. AS
BFI FLARE has been postponed and will be re-scheduled shortly | 2020
Dir/Wri: Justin Kelly | Cast: Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Diane Kruger, Jim Sturgess | US Biopic Dram | 108′
The story behind the literary persona JT LeRoy, created by American author Laura Albert, has certainly had some cinematic mileage. Albert took part in the documentary Author: The JT Leroy Story (2016) that screened a few years ago at the BFI Flare’s Film Festival, Here she is played by Laura Dern in Justin Kelly’s slick and lively re-imagining of one of the most brazen literary hoaxes known to mankind. Albert published three books in the early years of the 21st century, under her nom de plume JT LeRoy. They explored the life of a sexually confused teenage boy, abused in childhood. A gamine Kristen Stewart plays her sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, who comes to stay and ends up being persuaded by Albert to pose as JT for a promotional photo session. And it doesn’t end there. Dern and Stewart give luminous performances in this seamlessly pleasurable and darkly amusing drama that explores themes of gender fluidity, moral ambiguity and fraud. MT
NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | premiered at BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL | 21 -31 MARCH 2019
Dir.: Annabel Jankel; Cast: Anna Paquin, Holiday Grainger, Gregor Selkirk, Emun Elliot, Steven Robertson, Kate Dickie, Lauren Lyle; UK 2018, 105 min.
Annabel Jankel’s literary adaptation of a popular fifties novel is strong on historical detail but much weaker on cinematographic potency, coming across as a rather tame affair, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Jankel (Live From Abbey Road) and her scriptwriters Jessica and Annabel Ashworth (Killing Eve) have already worked together in TV: Tell It To the Bees makes ideal family viewing and marks Flare Festival’s mature progression into programming decent drama for a sexually inclusive audience, not just a LGBTQ one.
When Dr. Jean Markham (Ana Paquin) comes home to small-town Scotland to take over her late father’s surgery, she is greeted with mixed feelings. As a teenager she had caused a bit of a scandal with her ‘inappropriate’ behaviour. But she settlers down striking up a friendship with Lydia (Grainger) a young mother of who husband Robert (Elliot), has gone off with another woman. Lydia’s wages in the local mill are not enough to even pay the rent, and when her son Charlie (Selkirk) becomes the victim of bullying at school, Dr Markham offers them board and very soon, a great deal more. Elsewhere, the town’s gossip monger Pam Krammer (Dickie), subjects her daughter Annie Lyle) to a botched abortion rather than bear the child of her black boyfriend, George. Meanwhile, Robert has become violent towards Lydia, and so Charlie is forced to come to her rescue. A muddled finale on the station platform accompanied by grown-up Charlie’s voice-over commentary is symbolic of this rather cack-handed adaption of its much superior novel. It feels like Jankel is aiming for the stoic fatalism of the adult voice-over in Joseph Loosey’s Palme d’Or winner The Go Between. But it doesn’t quite come off: Jankel is no Loosey, her story-telling is dictated by a TV norm. feeding the viewer impressive snippets, while losing a conceptual frame work.
DoP Bartosz Nalazek emerges with some credit: his images, shot from Charlie’s POV, show A boy being overwhelmed by adults. And the magic realism in the form of the bees, come across as artificial and unconvincing. There is no passion in this postwar village, just a rather limp romantic longing. AS
Dir-Scr Chanya Button | Evangelo Kioussis. With Gemma Arterton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isabella Rossellini. UK-Ireland 2018. 110min.
How can a film about two of the 20th century’s most colourful female characters be so underwhelming? Drawing from Eileen Atkins’ 1993 play, Chanya Button’s biopic explores the lesbian relationship between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf without ever mining its incendiary dramatic potential. It is a drama without drama, lacklustre and trivial despite its lush, unconventional pretensions.
Elizabeth Debicki is suburb as the rather awkward blue-stocking Wolfe. And she towers above Arterton’s impishly pedestrian portrait of glamorous socialite and gardening expert Sackville-West (doyenne of Sissinghurst Castle, whose Grade I listed gardens is one of the most famous in England). Sadly, the only reference to horticulture is a rather odd attempt at magic realism that sees CGI ivy sprouting out of the floors.
Vita & Virginia looks absolutely sumptuous in its rich 1920s Arts & Crafts settings (including medieval Knole House) but the film plays out like an insipid soap opera, its lacklustre characters simply going through the motions. There’s a great deal of pouting and misty close-ups of lips; but in the end nothing vaguely illuminating happens, and we left in the dark about these avant-garde women. Director Chanya Button has had a promising career so far with several awards for her filmmaking. Yet this most fascinating of themes: LGBTQ, horticulture and literature fails to ignite on any level.
Part of the problem is the script – written by Button and Atkins – which simply traces the steps that lead to Woolf’s sexual awakening in rather tepid bed scenes, rather than probing the depths of their intellectual attraction. In fact, Vita emerges a rather bored, housewife with a faux posh accent, rather than a highly creative aristocrat and free-thinking intellectual. The two exchange excerpts from twee love letters bringing nothing constructive to the party. And to cast Isabella Rossellini as Arterton’s on-screen mother, Baroness Sackville, is a grave mistake – the two couldn’t be more different. Rossellini exudes charisma in her role, threatening to cut off her daughter’s allowance if she doesn’t behave.
Vita is married to a suave bisexual diplomat Sir Harold Nicholson (Rupert Penry-Jones in fine fettle) and Woolf is supported by her loving husband Leonard (Peter Ferdinando) who recognised her need for stability. Vita worships her from afar and the women finally meet at a bohemian Bloomsbury party. From then on a friendship develops – although the two share no chemistry to speak of. Vita is 30, Virginia 10 years her senior. Debecki adds subtle layers of depth to her character, including an impressive accent, redolent of the era. Her sister is the painter Vanessa Bell (Emerald Fennell) who lives with a gay artist Duncan Grant (Adam Gillen).
Although this is essentially Vita’s story, the emotionally delicate Virginia steals the show as a highly enigmatic character who is in the process of penning the radical 1928 novel Orlando, an experience that appears initially to thrill her far more than her lesbian dalliance with the “Sapphic” Sackville-West, and encapsulates the male/female duality of her character. Virginia gradually becomes more involved in the relationship which eventually destabilises her (she in fact went on to commit suicide) and this is shown through convincing CGI rooks sweeping down in the gardens of the Knole.
Button certainly exposes the lesbian relationship between her characters but that’s really all the film does. Vita & Virginia is a missed opportunity to offer something more invigorating about the women themselves, and what attracted them to each other in the first place. MT
Dir.: Jeremiah Zagar; Cast: Evan Rosado, Isaiah Kristian, Josiah Gabriel, Sheila Vand, Paul Cashillo; USA 2018, 93 min.
Jeremiah Zagar’s debut feature is a dreamlike portrait of the artist as a (very) young man, and a total repudiation of macho behaviour. Shot brilliantly on 16mm by DoP Zak Mulligan, We The Animals is a unique undertaking.
Based on a novel by Justin Torres, this is a wild ride of sexual awakening told from the perspective of nine-year old Jonah (Rosado) the youngest of three brothers who live with their parents in a dilapidated house in rural New York. Their Mum (Vand) a white woman from Brooklyn, who works at a bottling plant and her husband (Cashillo), a Puerto Rican security guard, are either fighting or fucking passionately, so the three boys are left to themselves; the two older ones, Manny (Kristian) and Joel (Gabriel) looking out for their little brother. A lakeside incident sets the tone: Dad, all macho bravado, throws Jonah into the water – and he is lucky to survive. His furious mother is soon the victim of more violence from her husband. After that, the father disappears only to re-appear suddenly, wanting to be part of the family, like nothing has happened. Mum asks Jonah “to stay my little boy” – no wonder, because her older sons copy their dad’s obstreperous behaviour. As a form of escapism, Jonah starts sketching, under the bed at night. After his drawings are discovered, he has to make a choice.
The human side of the outside world takes a back seat to the adventures in the forest, but the neighbour’s emotionally immature son makes a dramatic impact on the three siblings with his amateur porn videos, one of which features a homosexual act – and something in Jonah stirs.
Whilst the adult’s relationship is too often clichéd, the children’s games are full of magic and poetry. Jonah’s self-discovery comes in leaps and bounds, and the languid images are a perfect foil for it. The crude drawings and illustrations by Mark Samsonovich are somehow fitting as a “Contra-Point” to the overall dreamlike mood. Cruelty and imagination live cheek by jowl, and Jonah’s inner life is as volatile as his parent’s relationship. We the Animals is freewheeling and genre-less, an innovation in itself, like Jonah’s coming of age in a world of permanent contradictions, using art for self-determination. AS
SCREENING DURING BFI FLARE 2019 | ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE COURTESY OF EUREKA from 14 JUNE 2019
Dir/Wri: Frederic Tcheng | With: Tavi Gevinson, Liza Minnelli, Marisa Berenson, Joel Schumacher, Pat Cleveland, Bob Calacello, Carl Epstein, Lesley Frowick, Sassy Johnson, Naeem Khan, John David Ridge | US Doc, 120′
Well known for his insightful portraits of the fashion world: Dior and I (2014);Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011), which he co-directed; andforValentino: The Last Emperor, (2008), which he co-produced, Tcheng gets top marks for this exposé on Roy Halston Frowick the all American boy from De Moines, Iowa who put America in the frame with his flare for flattering the female form.
After the boxy styles and artificial fabrics of the Sixties, Halston’s voluptuous dresses enveloped and caressed curves and cleavages as they “danced around you” according to Liza Minelli, one of his biggest advocates and a firm friend. All this was in part thanks to his master tailor Gino Balsamo whose clever crafting created single-seam clothes that ‘freed the female body” and swirled and seduced due to the unique simplicity of their genius bias-cut.
Apart from its length the only slight criticism ofthis biopic is the gimmicky structure that sees actor Tavi Gevinson as an innocent bystander, sleuthing through the Halston company archives and VHS tapes to needlessly sex up the sinister nature of Halston’s final fall from grace. It’s a device that feels tacky and counterintuitive to the sophisticated slimline slinkiness of the designer’s raison d’être.
Born during the Depression in 1932, Halston was an ordinary gay man who instinctively knew how to re-invent himself as a suave mover and shaker. Starting out in the 60s as a milliner to Bergdorf Goodman famous clients (Jackie Onassis wore his pillbox hat), he rapidly moved on to create his own brand through celebrity endorsement in New York’s 70s and 80s. Sashaying onto the dance floor of Studio 54 with his beautiful entourage, known as the Halsonettes, he moved on with movie stars, and invented “hot pants”. Andy Warhol and Elizabeth Taylor were amongst his friends and clients. He also dressed the American athletes at the ’76 Olympics, the girl scout leaders, the NYPD and Avis car rental staff, as well as the Martha Graham dance troupe.
His all American freeform fashion parade at Paris’ Palace of Versailles in 1973 featured black American models and set the night alight with a fizzing floor show, despite French domination of the event. China was the next step and we sample previously unseen footage from NBC visiting a silk factory where workers got a chance to try on creations made from their own fabrics.
But Halston was to grow too big for his own boots. Soon he moved offices to the glamorous mirrored interiors of New York’s Olympic Tower. His keenness to develop the brand saw high signing a multi-million dollar deal with conglomerate Norton Simon. This took away his rights to his designs and name, while offering him continued creative control, allowing him to jump into bed with the likes of Max Factor, facilitating the launch of his first fragrance, Halston, with a bottle designed by longterm collaborator Elsa Peretti. The brand was soon on sheets, towels, even leather goods. But gradually new bosses with scant appreciation of fashion or design would take over, and one by the name of Jacob Epstein would be his nemesis.
Halston launched a worthy endeavour to dress mainstream America through a deal with JCPenney (a sort of US Marks & Spencer). Termed “From class to mass” the venture focused on volume rather than artistry, and did not go down with well with Bergdorf Goodman, or his high-net-worth clientele, many of whom cancelled orders.
By this time Halston’s lavish lifestyle was also becoming financially exhausting, along with his on-off Venezuelan lover Victor Hugo, who had arrived on the scene purely for his looks (“One night Halston dialed a dick”) and then became involved in the business, upsetting several members of his team. The final segment sees Halston re-connecting with his family and employing his niece, Lesley Frowick, who emotes on his HIV/AIDS demise rather too copiously.
Halston works best as a chronicle of his fashion design artistry with its eye-catching footage and fascinating characters of the era. The business side of things often feels over-laboured and detailed. But it’s still an entertaining biopic to watch. Clearly Halston was a force to be reckoned with, totally redefining the fashion world, and bringing America to the forefront with his fabulous legacy. MT
ON RELEASE On various platforms including Dogwoof.com
Dir: Robert Anderson Clift, Hillary Demmon | With Montgomery Clift, Brooks Clift, Ethel “Sunny” Clift, Patricia Bosworth, Jack Larson, Judy Balaban, Robert Osborne, Eleanor Clift, Lorenzo James; Joel Schumacher, Tucker Tooley, Vincent Newman, Michael Easton, Mollie Gregory, Woody Clift, Eddie Clift | US Doc, 88′
Montgomery Clift’s nephew sets out to debunk the theory that the Hollywood actor’s life was a conflicted tragedy. Apparently, it was quite the opposite. As you may have guessed from the title, this is not a chronicle of his film career but an exploration of his personality and the rumours that haunted his starry life.
Co-directing and narrating this eye-opening documentary, Robert Clift (who never knew Monty) digs into a treasure trove of family archives and memorabilia (Brooks recorded everything) to reveal an affectionate, fun-loving talent who loved men and dated and lived with women, according to close friends. Monty chose his roles carefully during the ’40s and ’50s, declining to sign a contract to retain complete artistic independence from the studio system with the ability to pick and chose, and re-write his dialogue. This freedom also enabled him to keep much of his private life out of the headlines, although his memory was eventually sullied by tabloid melodrama with his untimely death at only 45. His acting ability and dazzling looks certainly gained him a place in the Hollywood firmament with a select filmography of just 20 features, four of them Oscar-nominated.
Edward Montgomery Clift was born on 17th October 1920 in Omaha Nebraska, with a twin sister Roberta, and older brother Brooks. Privately educated, his wealthy parents struggled during the Depression years and he travelled with his mother extensively in Europe and grew extremely close to his brother. An early role as a teenager on Broadway saw him spending over a decade on the New York stage before Hollywood beckoned, due in part to his friendship with the older and fluidly sexual star Libby Holman, who was apparently instrumental in his decision to decline roles in Sunset Boulevard (1950) and High Noon (1952). His film debut was Red River (1948) alongside John Wayne. This was followed by The Search (1948), The Heiress (1949); the Wartime epic The Big Lift (1950); A Place in the Sun (1951) with his great friend Elizabeth Taylor (who helped him from the scene of his accident); his only Hitchcock collaboration I Confess (1953); Vittorio De Sica’s Indiscretion (1953); From Here to Eternity (1953), Raintree County (1956). Post accident: The Young Lions (1958) alongside Dean Martin and Marlon Brando; Lonely Hearts (1958) alongside Myrna Loy; Wild River (1960); The Misfits (1961) alongside Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable and Judgement at Nuremberg (1961).
Particularly interesting are Brooks’ conversations with Patricia Bosworth, one of the film’s talking heads and the author of a 1978 biography of Clift that inspired later biographies, but has so far become the accepted version of events, although she apparently got many details wrong and certainly lost out to Jenny Balaban in the Monty relationship stakes, when Barney Balaban (President of Paramount) invited the young actor to join them on a family holiday. He is seen messing around on the beach where he cuts a dash with his good looks and exuberance.
Two men who enjoyed significant relationships with Monty have since died but they recorded for posterity on the film: they are Jack Larson who remembers a full-on and unexpected French kiss from Monty, the night they were introduced. And Lorenzo James, who was living with Monty when he died. James sounds a reasonable and honest character on audio tapes and Robert Clift confirms the family’s acceptance of him in the words “my uncle through Monty.”
Clearly Monty resorted to painkillers after his tragic car accident on his way home from a night out in 1956, during the filming of Raintree County. But the directors play this down and downsize the rumours that he became unreliable, a sort of ‘male version’ of Marilyn Monroe. Yet many claim his post accident performance in Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) to be his finest hour. Others state that Nuremberg was actually a “nervous breakdown caught on film”. Instead they claim his mental anguish at the time was the result of a lawsuit by John Huston relating to the film Freud, suspending his from working for four years, and naturally leaving him distraught, as any working person would be. Others state that his disfigurement actually made him a better actor.
Brooks is now dead, but his ex-wife, a prominent Washington journalist Eleanor Clift, states that he was on a mission to correct subsequent editions of Patty Bosworth’s biography using the phrase “Sisyphus battling the myth-making apparatus.” And although Brooks more or less failed in his mission, Robert and his wife have made a decent and worthwhile documentary that aims to reveal the brighter Montgomery Clift. Clearly he will always remain an enigma paving the way for many more insightful biopics.
BFL Flare | ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 7 JUNE 2019
This sexually fluid and visually lush love-in has shades of François Ozon La Piscine to it- except Ozon’s sizzling storyline puts this tepid affair distinctly in the shade.
In the heat of a languid Portuguese summer four beautiful people are languishing in a fabulous villa, sunning themselves and salivating over the next meal. A phone-call disrupts their placid naval-gazing to announce an absent friend, now back in town will shortly pay them a visit. David’s call sends unnerving ripples through the tepid torpor. Clearly he has touched their lives in different ways. His imminent arrival now creates waves of tension in this becalmed backwater as they cogitate and speculate over the outcome.
Ricardo Barbosa plays Simao a beardy, pale-skinned script-writer prone to wearing skimpy white trunks. Vasco (Ricardo Pereira), a tanned adonis with striking come-to-bed eyes has unrequited romantic yearnings, while tousled-haired Francisco (Nuno Pardal) swings both ways with the bronzed and brooding Joana (Oceana Basílio), who is keen to have his child.
Their laconic exchanges over lunch are laced with nervous insinuations as the memories of David come silently back to haunt them. Cocktails on the terrace take a more sinister turn; their after dinner sambas seem more urgent, as distant sirens announce a far away fiasco in the cool of the night.
David’s imminent arrival casts a pall over their pleasure, both individual and collective, as they remember how he slighted them each in his own special way. Yet they seem to savour the betrayal and the hurtfulness it caused them, secretly fostering hopes for a positive reunion, why ruminating over his motives, as he talks to them, unspecifically, in voiceover.
At the end of the day, this is a story that sounds much more interesting than it actually ends up being on the big screen. These beautiful people feel strangely empty in the picture perfect place they inhabit, each possessing a curious lack of personality and certain, spontaneity. Sunburn is has a brilliant premise, poorly executed, a missed opportunity for the something really stunning. MT