Archive for the ‘Gay-themed film’ Category

Paloma’s Wedding (2022) Munich Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Marcelo Gomes; Cast: Kika Sena, Ridson Rice, Ze Maria, Suzy Lopes, Samya De Lavor, Anita Souza Macedo, Ana Marinho; Brazil/Portugal 2022, 104 min.

Brazilian director/co-writer Marcelo Gomes (Waiting for the Carnival) combines the classical South American melodrama with a modern twist: In a remote village best known as Brazil’s capital of jeans, Paloma, a transgender woman with a daughter, wants to marry the love of her life in church. The tension finally erupts from all directions.

Paloma (Sena) works as a hairdresser and harvest mangoes the nearby fields. José (‘Ze’) (Rice) is very much in love with his motorcycle, but his commitment to Paloma is sometimes shaky. He tries to talk her out of wanting to marry in church but Paloma asks the local priest to perform the marriage ceremony. Jose is adamant that only the Pope can change the rules around church marriages where only a man and woman can be united in holy matrimony.

But Paloma’s not for turning and digs her heels in with a letter to the Pope, expecting a positive answer. When the priest reads the pontiff’s reply giving Paloma the bum’s rush, Paloma indulges in a one-night-stand with Ivanzilo, the driver who ferries the workers from the village to the mango fields.

Meeting up with old friends in the town of Saloa, one of them, Rikely, reminds Paloma of the wild times they used to have. Despite varies setback Paloma doesn’t lose sight of her goal and soon the local media gets hold of the story, causing more drama.

DoP Pierre De Kerchove creates vibrant images on the widescreen and in intimate closeup, the sex scenes are provocative and despite the darkness they have a poetic quality. Kika Sena’s Paloma is a brilliant portrait of a vulnerable person taking on the whole community while bringing up a child in challenging circumstances.

There is a very subtle scene featuring casual racism at a hotel swimming pool and Gomes never lets up: Paloma is always on the move, trying to fix problems – but never forgetting the dream of a church wedding. Few features have packed in so many diverse conflicts in a running time of just over a hundred minutes. Passionate and emotionally charged, Paloma is an ambiguous heroine, who wants all what heaven allows – and more. AS

PREMIERING AT MUNICH FILM FESTIVAL | 24 June 2022

Cicada (2021)

Dir.: Matt Fifer, Kieran Mulcare; Cast: Matt Fifer, Sheldon D. Brown, Sandra Bauleo, Michael Potts, Jazmin Grimaldi, Scott Adsit, Cobie Smulders; USA 2020, 96 min.

Auto-fiction can be very satisfying in feature films as well as novels, but the logo “based on a true Story” does not always guarantee the promising results anticipated. First time directors Kieran Mulcare and Matt Fifer – also the co-star, co-writer, producer and editor – have scripted reality into something which is often to pat, and looks more constructed than the authors might have wished.

New York drifter and sex addict Ben (Fifer) meets data-tech expert Sam (Brown, who also has a writing credit), gay and the only black employee in his company. Whilst Ben is only too happy to let everyone know how much in love he is, Sam is understandably more reserved about showing his emotions in public.

We are introduced to Ben’s family: his mother (Bauleo), sister Grimaldi) and church-going father (Potts) and also meet Sam’s father. These short encounters are mainly used to explain the past of the couple: Ben has been sexually assaulted as a child, and Sam nearly died, when he was shot in broad daylight. Misfiring cars bring his PTDS to the surface, whilst Ben has developed a catalogue of psycho-somatic illnesses, for which the stern doctor (Adsit) has no diagnosis. A visit to an off-beat psychiatrist (Smulders), whose dog shares the sessions, does not help Ben either. We are witness to the couple’s self-help, which is also limited, in spite of their best and long drawn-out discussions. The outside world, in from of a news commentary about the Jerry Sandusky trail (2012) does not often enough intrude into this often clumsy and over-wrought ‘Kammerspiel’.

The NY images of DoP Erich Schlicher save the feature from being a verbal slug feast: the scenes set in Washington Park Square are a poetic master-stroke. But even with a running time of only just over 90 minutes CICADA overstays its welcome: repetitions and a near pathological need to show the main protagonists in the best light, leave the audience for great parts unengaged – there are simply no barbs in this rather simplistic tale of love and coming to terms with the past. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 21 JANUARY 2022 theatrical and digital in UK and EIRE

 

Five Films for Freedom | BFI Flare 2021

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.

Charlatan (2020) Digital release

Dir Agnieszka Holland | Wri: Mark Epstein | Cast: Ivan Trojan, Juraj Loj, Josef Trojan | Drama Czech, Irish, 118′

A talented self-taught Czech herbal physician fights discrimination during the totalitarian 1950s in this lushly inspired drama that also tells a convincing gay awakening story.

Agnieszka Holland really finds her groove in this fascinating film about Jan Mikolasek (1889-1973) a mercurial master of alternative medicine who treated a wide range of illustrious patients including Nazi Martin Bormann and leader Antonin Zapotocky, but eventually fell from grace when homosexuality was still a crime. The film opens during the political turmoil of 1957 that sees the 70-year-old Mikolasek suffering under the draconian cosh of the post-Stalinist era when the death of his ally Zapotocky ushers in president Antonin Novotny.

Czech actor Ivan Trojan gives a mesmerising performance as the maverick medic in this elegantly realised period piece that makes appealing use of its picturesque settings in the verdant Czech countryside. Award-winning scripter Mark Epstein admits to playing fast and loose with the sketchy historical facts in giving life to this slightly mysterious man who railed against the febrile Eastern European political system despite his outwardly pucker credentials and dapper demeanour.

Mikolasek grew up with an interest in plants and their medicinal properties, and we meet him as a young man (played by the main actor’s feisty 18-year old son Josef Trojan) who learns to read bottled urine samples by holding them up against the light. The young Mikolasek is prone to violent outbursts at one point threatening his father with an axe and then bashing a bag of newborn kittens against a tree instead of drowning them. In flashback we see him as a young soldier traumatised by his orders to execute a comrade. All this serves the main story well and is seamlessly interwoven into the narrative.

The doctor’s arcane abilities to cure the sick were endorsed by a long line of locals who queued for hours to received a diagnosis of their ills. And soon his successful practice allows him to move into more luxurious surroundings in a countryside manor which also serves as his clinic. He hires an assistant in the shape of Frantisek Palko (Juraj Loj) who lacks training and experience but desperately needs a job to support his growing family and is prepared to offer his undivided time and loyalty.

The men develop a bond that extends beyond the professional and these scenes feel convincingly natural, their sexual tension ramped up by the illicit nature of an affair that culminates in a heart-stopping finale.

Scored by Dvorak and other Czech composers, Holland’s accomplished filmmaking is showcased in this illuminating work that sheds light on a little known episode of the nation’s history. The past and present comes together gracefully, delineated by the entrancing camerawork of DoP Martin Strba that contrasts sun-filled outdoor scenes with stylishly subdued interiors and black-and-white archive footage of the Communist era offering a really enjoyable experience. MT

NOW ON PREMIER DIGITAL PLATFORM AX1 from 7 MAY 2021. Berlinale FILM FESTIVAL premiere 2020

 

Franz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask (1995) **** Locarno Film Festival | Black Light

Dir: Isaac Julien | Writers: Isaac Julien, Mark Nash | Doc, UK 70′

Franz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask is one of the most important films about Martinique and racial identity, along with Euzhan Palcy’s Rue Cases Nègres (1985). And here in Locarno 72 to present a re-master of the poetic film essay is its British film-maker Isaac Julien.

Julien co-wrote this vibrant, collage-style biopic that explores the life and work of psychoanalytic theorist Franz Fanon (1925-1961), who emerges a controversial and restless figure as remembered by those who knew him. Born in Martinique, he was educated in Paris then worked in Algeria, where he felt he could make most impact with his psychoanalysis during the 1950s. His life’s work was to support the anti-colonial struggle and those suffering from its repercussions, but he sadly died of leukaemia in his thirties before publication of his most famous book, The Wretched of the Earth, which became an indispensable study tool during 1960s.

This documentary-drama hybrid is really brought to life by British actor Colin Salmon who is rather too suave, tall and good-looking to be like the man himself, although we get the gist of Fanon’s charisma in these colourful vignettes where he appears in various dapper outfits, stoking a pose and glaring suitably. And there are the usual talking heads, mostly intellectuals, and his brother

There’s a bit of poetic licence when we see Fanon (Salmon) removing the chains from a mental patient in one of Algeria’s psychiatric hospitals where sallow-skinned, emaciated men peer out of their grim existence. No doubt this serves as a metaphor for him unburdening their souls. And this is what Fanon was all about. The bitter conflict takes up the lion’s share of the shortish feature and Julien offers up fascinating black and white archive footage of street battles during the War of Independence. The rest of the film wades through rather dense intellectual debate as to the various definitions of racism as seen by gay men, women and arch feminists – and this comes across as rather complex, and depends from which angle you approach it as to whether it makes any sense. Fanon himself married a white woman but another woman, identifying as a feminist, claims that Fanon regarded black women who were attracted to white men as, by definition, ‘victims of the slave mentality’.

Fanon had some fascinating and quite revealing ideas about the veil which he expounds by illustrating how, in Algeria, veiled women often carried guns and grenades to their male counterparts during the war, without attracting suspicion. And these women where regarded as “beyond reproach”. That certainly resonates now decades later with the war on terrorism.

Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask does reveal some important issues although some of his ideas and perhaps his untimely death precluded his exploring further and resolving some of the more complex and controversial matters he highlights, such as colonialism being made up of “visual experiences, ‘the gaze that appropriates and depersonalises”. But this is also the case with the gender debate that is still raging and is part of our experience as humans. As a gay filmmaker Julien comments on the white man’s desire for the black man’s body. But this is also true of the white (heterosexual) woman for the dark male. This is not racism but merely sexual preference. Don’t opposites attract? An engrossing and fascinating film. MT
BLACK LIGHT RETROSPECTIVE | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 AUGUST 2019

We The Animals (2018) ****

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    

   

X Y Chelsea (2018) ***

Dir.: Tim Travers Hawkins; Documentary with Chelsea Manning; UK 2019, 92 min.

Tim Travers Hawkins’ documentary debut is a work progress – rather like the main character – Chelsea Manning, a trans woman who was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment for leaking military “secrets” to Julian Assange’s Wikileaks. The secrets were mainly images of the USA’s covert war in Iraq, including the murder of two Reuters journalist.

Chelsea was born Bradley Edward Manning in 1987; her parents were alcoholics. The relationship with her father was particularly difficult. Even though she was only 1.57 m, she joined the army in 2007 and worked as an intelligence analyst from 2009. She garnered a slew of decorations (among them the National Defence Service Medal) but was still critical of the US engagement and the 750 000 plus classified documents leaked were known as ‘Iraq War logs’ and ‘Afghan War Diary’. They showed the ‘dirty’ combats the Pentagon would have rather kept under wraps. After an online contact reported on her, she was jailed in 2010 in the Army Correctional Unit in Quantico, Virginia, where she was kept in Solitary confinement from July 2010 to April 2011. After pleading guilty during the 2013 military trial, she was sentenced to serve 35 years at the High Security Military Correctional Facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, which happened to be an all-male prison. On 17. January 2017, President Obama commuted her sentence to seven years, dating from her first imprisonment in 2010. Since 2013, she received hormone replacement therapy after choosing to identify as a female.

On her release, lawyer Nancy Hollander found a safe house f so she could slowly adjust to her new freedom. In prison, she had struck up correspondence with Lisa Rein, who had also tried to help her. But Chelsea made in clear she wanted a life as as a public person, claiming those who sent her hate-mail would never go away. She wanted to fight them head on. She challenged the democratic Maryland Senator Ben Cardin for the nomination in 2018, coming second with 5.7%. But an ill-timed appearance at an alt-right meeting cost her support; many did not understand that she simply wanted “to spy on the enemy”. In March 2019 she was arrested again for contempt of court, refusing to testify against Julian Assange. Manning objected to the Secrecy of the Grand Jury process, and the fact, that she told the court everything about Assange in her trial. She is currently held in a jail in Alexandria City.

Hawkins does a great job of showing Manning’s vulnerability and impetuousness: she is truly as naïve as she claims. But for the most part we are left frustrated by too many unanswered questions. The director fails to analyse her many contradictions in his rather ad-hoc approach to her own scattergun fight for survival and recognition in the real world. AS

ON RELEASE from 24 May 2019 IN SELECTED ARTHOUSE VENUES

       

5B (2018) **** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir: Dan Krauss, Paul Haggis | US, Doc 95′

A new documentary from Oscar nominee Dan Krauss (The Kill Team) and Paul Haggis delves into the history of the first ward in the world for people with AIDS, at San Francisco General Hospital. The film focuses on the unsung heroes, a small collection of nurses and caregivers who banded together to provide courage, compassion and, crucially, touch to those devastated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s. Even pets were allowed to visit their afflicted owners and partners were invited to make the ward their home. 

Spiking their film with moments of sharp humour, the result is a poignant tribute to this tragic time in American history, and a celebration of the quiet heroes worthy of renewed recognition, although the directors do demonise those medical professionals who exercised prudence in their treatment of the patients. Particularly, top orthopaedic surgeon and head of the San Francisco surgical team, Dr Day, who decided to wear protective garments because she wanted, quite understandably, to avoid being infected from the spurting blood of infected patients. Also unpopular was President Reagan who introduced a raft of measures to protect those working in AIDS care. Reagan even considered exiling the sick to their own private island – as the Venetians did to stamp out the plague – and one AIDS sufferer jokes: “we’d be happy to go if it was Santa Catalina island”. Yet it was an era were America was just not ready for people coming out, let along dying at the same time, so these draconian measures were hardly surprising.

Combining archive footage and interviews with those involved and affected, Krauss and Haggis explain that those people first infected with the virus in the late 1970s went downhill rapidly, often dying within months, even weeks. As fear spread throughout the community of San Francisco and beyond, AIDS sufferers lost their jobs and were kicked out of their apartments. One dying caretaker’s desk was even burnt in the parking lot of his building. In contrast, those pioneering individuals, who offered loving support, talk of their own memories: Rita Rockett even staged parties once a week in the ward, offering musical entertainment and food. Grateful patients were allowed to say: “they loved her to bits, but not to death!”

With the arrival of protease inhibitors – antiviral drugs that block the disease – fatalities eventually went into decline in the late 1990s. And many of the talking heads featured in the documentary have lived to tell their tearful tales. Well-paced and informative, 5B is a fascinating film that could have even added a positive twist in the fight for AIDS. These point towards immunity and even the possible eradication of the disease in the not too distant future. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | GOLDEN EYE DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

 

The White Crow (2018) ***

Dir: Ralph Fiennes | Writer: David Hare | Cast: Oleg Ivenko, Adele Exarchopoulos, Ralph Fiennes, Raphael Peronnaz, Chulpan Khamatova, Sergei Polunin, Calypso Valois, Louis Hoffman, Olivier Rabourdin | UK | Biopic Drama | 122′

Ralph Fiennes’ third feature – in which he also stars – is an ambitious and classically-styled biopic of the Russian ballet legend Rudolf Nureyev’s defection to the West in 1961.

Quite why David Hare decided on a fractured narrative to tell the maverick Russian dancer’s life is not clear. And it certainly doesn’t intensify the storyline. The dancer’s life had so much dramatic heft that a straightforward chronicle would have seen it steaming ahead rather than shunting occasionally into the sidings. Drama is also provided by the sheer verve of Nureyev himself as played by professional dancer Oleg Ivenko in an extraordinary screen debut as one of the 20th century’s most celebrated dancers whose rise to fame was justified by his remarkable talent and legendary status. At the helm, Ralph Fiennes captures the zeitgeist and stultifying atmosphere of a Soviet Russia still languishing behind the Iron Curtain. He also conveys the elegantly sleek conservatism of France during the 1960s. France may have invented ballet but the East provides the energy and gusto and this comes through in Ivenko’s ballet sequences that echo the spirit of Nureyev and enliven this graceful but sober drama. Fiennes’s performance as ballet master Alexander Pushkin is immaculate and exudes a calm dignity that is delightful to watch, he also appears to be proficient in Russian. This together with a strong support cast and mise en scène more than compensate for the flawed narrative structure. Adèle Exarchopoulos brings allure and intensity to her rather buttoned down role as Chilean heiress Clara Saint, who announced herself as a friend of André Malraux, and  who comes to Nureyev rescue in the final scenes. And Olivier Rabourdin (Taken) makes for a mesmerising chief of Police during the heart-pounding denouement at Le Bourget Airport in Paris when Nureyev dramatically claims political asylum.

Those from incredibly harsh beginnings with nothing to lose often rise to fame and fortune. And Nureyev was no exception. We are appraised of his background in the film’s early scenes where his mother gives birth to him on a train in Siberia in 1938. But despite his remarkable talent as a dancer it was unlikely that he would ever have made it to the international stage without his ego, utter determination and bloodymindedness, showcased to ample and often darkly humorous effect in The White Crow, along with his cultural voraciousness: once in Paris he devours every bit of local culture he can lay his hands on from the Louvre to the Follies Bergères. Wilful in the extreme, he ignores his superiors, rails against everyone in authority and no Westerner seems to bat an eyelid in letting him have his way, with the exception of Clara who stares him down in icy disdain after a restaurant debacle. But his communist ‘handlers’ still shadow him everywhere (and this still happens today in communist China) and his wilfulness leads to him not being allowed to dance on opening night in the Champs Elysees theatre.

On a tour stop in Moscow with a local ballet company, Nureyev auditions for the Bolshoi and gets in but then picks holes in their classical techniques, decided to try instead for the Mariinsky Ballet school in St Petersburg where he becomes a protegé of Alexander Pushkin, the eminence grise of the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet. Pushkin invites him to stay in the apartment he shares with his wife, who discovers the only way to disarm the young man’s insolence. All in all this is an accomplished and entertaining arthouse drama and hopefully lead to Fiennes handing the script of his next film as well as the direction. MT

SCREENING NATIONWIDE 7 April 2019

 

 

 

Boy Erased (2018) **

Dir.: Joel Edgerton; Cast: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Xavier Dolan, Britton Sear; USA 2018, 114.min.

After his promising first feature Gift, Joel Edgerton overreaches himself with this disjointed drama lacking the emotional heft that the weighty subject matter deserves. And while some scenes have impact, for the most part Boy Erased feels rather clunky and underwhelming.

Edgerton bases his narrative on the memoirs of Garrad Conley, one of 700 000 gay minors who have become the victims of the Christian Conversion Therapy, still practiced in 36 US states. Lucas Hedges plays teenage Jared Eamons coming to terms with being gay in his highly conventional Baptist family. His father Marshall (Crowe), is a bigoted Baptist preacher and his hairdresser mother Nancy (Kidman), too weak to stand up to him in an effective way. Just before he goes starts college, Jared breaks up with his girl friend on account of his sexual motivations and finds himself paying for his sins at a fundamental Christian Conversion Institution, run by the vicious fanatic Victor Sykes (Edgerton). And Jared is not alone is feeling the wrath of God in this insufferable hell hole, joined by one dimensional characters like John (Dolan) and Cameron (Sear), who does his best to be a pal, before committing suicide.

Both Crowe and Kidman ham it parlously, and Kidman is particularly unconvincing as Nancy. Hedges is the standout, doing his best to flesh out Jared’s character despite his crass lines. DoP Eduard Grau’s attempts to break down the stultifying atmosphere with some fine camerawork, but to no avail. Edgerton seems very much at home with the schlock-horror environment of his debut, but he shouldn’t be let loose – for a long time – with material which deserves a serious approach. AS

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from Friday 8 February 2019

  

Sundance Film Festival | Award and Winners 2019

Sundance announced its awards last night after ten extraordinary days of the latest independent cinema. Taking place each January in Park City, snowy Utah, the festival is the premier showcase for U.S. and international independent film, presenting dramatic and documentary feature-length films from emerging and established artists, innovative short films, filmmaker forums. The Festival brings together the most original storytellers known to mankind. In his closing speech President and Founder Robert Redford commented: “At this critical moment, it’s more necessary than ever to support independent voices, to watch and listen to the stories they tell.” Over half the films shown were directed by women and 23 prizes were awarded across the board including one film from a director identifying as LGBTQI+

This year’s jurors, invited in recognition of their accomplishments in the arts were Desiree Akhavan, Damien Chazelle, Dennis Lim, Phyllis Nagy, Tessa Thompson, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Yance Ford, Rachel Grady, Jeff Orlowski, Alissa Wilkinson, Jane Campion, Charles Gillibert, Ciro Guerra, Maite Alberdi, Nico Marzano, Véréna Paravel, Young Jean Lee, Carter Smith, Sheila Vand, and Laurie Anderson.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary/China | Dirs: Nanfu Wang/Jialing Zhang,

 photo by Nanfu Wang.

ONE CHILD NATION After becoming a mother, a filmmaker uncovers the untold history of China’s one-child policy and the generations of parents and children forever shaped by this social experiment.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic/USA | Dir/Wri Chinonye Chukwu

 

photo by Eric Branco

CLEMENCY: Years of carrying out death row executions have taken a toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams. As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill. Cast: Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff, Wendell Pierce, Richard Gunn, Danielle Brooks.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary: Dirs: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov | Macedonia

HONEYLAND – When nomadic beekeepers break Honeyland’s basic rule (take half of the honey, but leave half to the bees), the last female bee hunter in Europe must save the bees and restore natural balance.

The Souvenir| photo by Agatha A. Nitecka.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic | UK | Dir/wri: Joanna Hogg

THE SOUVENIR: A shy film student begins finding her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man. She defies her protective mother and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship which comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams. Cast: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton.

The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, | USA  Dir: Rachel Lears:

KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE — A young bartender in the Bronx, a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia, a grieving mother in Nevada and a registered nurse in Missouri build a movement of insurgent candidates challenging powerful incumbents in Congress. One of their races will become the most shocking political upset in recent American history. Cast: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic, U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Paul Downs

BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON — A woman living in New York takes control of her life – one city block at a time. Cast: Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lil Rel Howery, Micah Stock, Alice Lee.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary/Austria: Dir: Richard Ladkan

SEA OF SHADOWS/Austria – The vaquita, the world’s smallest whale, is near extinction as its habitat is destroyed by Mexican cartels and Chinese mafia, who harvest the swim bladder of the totoaba fish, the “cocaine of the sea.” Environmental activists, Mexican navy and undercover investigators are fighting back against this illegal multimillion-dollar business.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic/Denmark Dir: May el-Toukhy

QUEEN OF HEARTS — A woman jeopardises both her career and her family when she seduces her teenage stepson and is forced to make an irreversible decision with fatal consequences. Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Gustav Lindh, Magnus Krepper.

 

The Audience Award: NEXT, Alex Rivera, Cristina Ibarra

THE INFILTRATORS / U.S.A. (Directors: , Screenwriters: — A rag-tag group of undocumented youth – Dreamers – deliberately get detained by Border Patrol in order to infiltrate a shadowy, for-profit detention center. Cast: Maynor Alvarado, Manuel Uriza, Chelsea Rendon, Juan Gabriel Pareja, Vik Sahay.

The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary | USA Dirs: Steven Bognar and Julia

AMERICAN FACTORY  — In post-industrial Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring two thousand blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.

The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic U.S.A. Dirs: Joe Talbot, Screenwriters: Joe Talbot,

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO — Jimmie Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont, Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary NOR | Dir: Mads Brüggerwas

 photo by Tore Vollan.

Cold Case Hammarskjöld / Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium — Danish director Mads Brügger and Swedish private investigator Göran Bjorkdahl are trying to solve the mysterious death of Dag Hammarskjold. As their investigation closes in, they discover a crime far worse than killing the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic | Spain (Dir/Wri: Lucía Garibaldi,

THE SHARKS / Uruguay, Argentina – While a rumour about the presence of sharks in a small beach town distracts residents, 15-year-old Rosina begins to feel an instinct to shorten the distance between her body and Joselo’s. Cast: Romina Bentancur, Federico Morosini, Fabián Arenillas, Valeria Lois, Antonella Aquistapache.

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic USA | Dir: Pippa Blanco

SHARE— After discovering a disturbing video from a night she doesn’t remember, sixteen-year-old Mandy must try to figure out what happened and how to navigate the escalating fallout. Cast: Rhianne Barreto, Charlie Plummer, Poorna Jagannathan, J.C. MacKenzie, Nick Galitzine, Lovie Simone.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Moral Urgency| USA | Dir: Jacqueline Olive

ALWAYS IN SEASON — When 17-year-old Lennon Lacy is found hanging from a swing set in rural North Carolina in 2014, his mother’s search for justice and reconciliation begins as the trauma of more than a century of lynching African Americans bleeds into the present.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Emerging Filmmaker USA : Liza Mandelup

JAWLINE — The film follows 16-year-old Austyn Tester, a rising star in the live-broadcast ecosystem who built his following on wide-eyed optimism and teen girl lust, as he tries to escape a dead-end life in rural Tennessee.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing USA : Todd Douglas Miller

APOLLO 11 — A purely archival reconstruction of humanity’s first trip to another world, featuring never-before-seen 70mm footage and never-before-heard audio from the mission.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography | U.S.A. Dir: Luke Lorentzen

MIDNIGHT FAMILY / Mexico/DOC — In Mexico City’s wealthiest neighbourhoods, the Ochoa family runs a private ambulance, competing with other for-profit EMTs for patients in need of urgent help. As they try to make a living in this cutthroat industry, they struggle to keep their financial needs from compromising the people in their care.

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019

Crucible of the Vampire (2018) **

Dir: Iain Ross-McNamee | Cast: Neil Morrissey, Charles O’Neil, Katie Goldfinch, Angela Carter | 96′ | UK Horror, Vampire.

Crucible of the Vampire is a rather pale attempt to re-create the traditional fare made by Hammer in the 1960s and early 1970s. The plot is familiar (but required three writers, Ross-McNee, Darren Lake and John Wolskel, who penned Blonde, Busty & Keane) – a naive, young blond (Goldfinch) goes to a 17th century Manor House in rural Shropshire. This time the blond’s clever too, some kind of minor archeologist sent there by her boss to examine the remains of a broken 17th century pot whose owner, a putative sorcerer we witness being accused of all sorts of Devilry, and strung up, in the opening scene. Isabelle (Katie Goldfinch) is apparently oblivious to the goings on in the house where she is made to drink a potion on her first night with the resident couple and their coquettish daughter, who appears to be lesbian, and later has no trouble seducing Isabelle, who has so far resisted the advances of her boyfriend, wanting to remain ‘pure’ until marriage. Clearly, it was just his technique that was lacking, rather than her resolve. More dark revelations unfold with Neil Morrissey’s friendly local farmer offering his manly protection to our heroine, who is seemingly unaware of the dangers surrounding her, until it’s too late. A nice try, and quite watchable. Iain Ross-McNamee certainly succeeds to a degree. But where’s the tinkly organ music, and some of the acting is predictably as twee as the premise. But that’s the whole point, I guess. MT

OUT ON  1 FEBRUARY 2019

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Rotterdam Film Festival | 23 January – 3 February 2019

Rotterdam is one of the largest shipping ports in Europe and forms part of the prosperous oil-trading triangle known as ARA, along with Amsterdam and Antwerp. Rotterdam is the cradle of Modernism from the 1930s onwards and although it was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War (apart from the iconic Sonneveld House Museum which still remains, built in the Nieuwe Bouwen style). The vibrant Dutch city takes pride in its Avant garde and Art Nouveau architecture and buildings such as the Cube House (left), Kunsthal Museum and the Erasmusbrug Bridge (below) making it a magnet for design lovers – and cineastes alike.

This year’s Rotterdam Film Festival takes place from 23 January until the 3rd February with the latest World premieres running alongside 4 sections entitled Bright Future, Voices, Deep Focus and Perspectives – and a cutting-edge arts programme to add a cultural dimension to the 10 days, and this year includes SLEEPCINEMAHOTEL a one off project by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and never before seen outtakes from Sergei Parajanov’s masterpiece The Colour of Pomegranates (196

The 2019 jury comprises Chilean filmmaker and artist Alfredo Jaar; Daniela Michel, festival director of Morelia Film Festival; Katriel Schory, former director of the Israel Film Fund; Pimpaka Towira, Thai filmmaker/producer and programme director of Singapore Film Festival; and Italian filmmaker Susanna Nicchiarelli. The festival’s Big Screen Competition awards a prize of €30,000 to its winning director whose film will be guaranteed a theatrical release in the Netherlands, as be broadcast on the Dutch public TV network NPO.

Sacha Polak’s Dirty God will open the festival.

T  I G E R   C O M P E T I T I O N

Sons Of Denmark, Ulaa Salim, 2019, Denmark, world premiere

No coração do mundo, Gabriel Martins Alves/Maurílio Martins, 2019, Brazil, world premiere

Take Me Somewhere Nice, Ena Sendijarević, 2019, Netherlands/Bosnia and Herzegovina, world premiere (left)

Present.Perfect., Shengze Zhu, 2019, USA/Hong Kong, world premiere

Sheena667, Grigory Dobrygin, 2019, Russia, world premiere

Nona. If They Soak Me, I’ll Burn Them, Camila José Donoso, 2019, Chile/Brazil/France/South Korea, world premiere

Koko-di Koko-da, Johannes Nyholm, 2018, Sweden/Denmark, international premiere

Els dies que vindran, Carlos Marqués-Marcet, 2019, Spain, world premiere

B I G   S C R E E N   C O M P E T I T I O N

Bangla, Phaim Bhuiyan, 2019, Italy, world premiere

The Best of Dorien B., Anke Blondé, 2019, Belgium, world premiere

God of the Piano, Itay Tal, 2019, Israel, world premiere

Hail Satan?, Penny Lane, 2018, USA, international premiere

Joel, Carlos Sorín, 2018, Argentina, European premiere

Queen of Hearts, May el-Toukhy, 2019, Denmark, European premiere

Transnistra, Anna Eborn, 2018, Sweden, world premiere

X&Y, Anna Odell, 2018, Sweden/Denmark, international premiere

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019 

The Gospel According to André (2017) Mubi

Dir: Kate Novacek | US Biopic | 95′

Kate Novacek cuts André Leon Talley rather too much slack in this glowing portrait of the first black fashion editor of Vogue who rose from a modest upbringing in North Carolina to become the driving force of changing the face of fashion in Paris and New York, during the Jim Crowe era. The Gospel According André is very much that, with Talley projecting his own self image and Novacek rarely getting behind it.

Born in 1948, Talley’s grandmother was the abiding influence in his upbringing. Early interest in fashion came during Sunday’s church meetings, “the only time when Afro-American identity was re-affirmed. It was like a fashion show”, says Talley, who was particularly impressed by the hats worn by the female congregation members. An MA at Brown on a scholarship, led Talley to New York in 1974, where he was taken under the wing of Diana Vreeland, then editor of Vogue. He became a regular at Andy Warhol’s Studio 54 “the only person not interested in sex or drugs”. But Talley’s love life is a blank: he is quoted “the work left him little time for a partner”, and he chuckles when recalling how Vreeland was suspicious “that he’d slept with a white woman”. “If only she’d known”. This comment regarding his sexual orientation is a leading one. 

Nearly two metres tall, Talley stands out in any crowd, and his love of capes and kaftans gives him an air of an African prince. His was a meteoric rise through the ranks from Women’s Wear Daily and W between 1975 and 1980, he then became Fashion’s News director at ‘Vogue’ between 1983 and 1987 and its creative Director until 1995 when he moved to Paris for Vogue and W meeting Carl Lagerfeld and Yves St. Laurent. In 1998 he became Vogue’s Editor-at-large until 2013.

‘Operatic best’ describes his taste. He loved Visconti and one of his film-subjects, Sissi but also experimented with Gone With the Wind creating the first black Scarlet O’Hara. He wrote at length about Sandy Crawford’s appearance in a black veil, reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy. We hear a lot from other celebrities like Woopi Goldberg, Diane von Furstenberg and Anna Wintour, but somehow Talley is absent from this portrait – apart from what he wants to give away. Only once does Novack find an emotional moment, when Talley talks about being called “Queen Kong” in Paris; that seems to imply he could only make so many connections in the fashion world by sleeping around. Somehow a true trail-blazer like him deserves a more demanding approach, even if it means re-questioning him. And that would be another film. AS

Now on MUBI

 

New Directors for the Berlinale

The Berlinale turns over a new leaf as Carlo Chatrian takes over as artistic director and Mariette Rissenbeek as executive director of the International Film Festival starting in 2020.

Carlo Chatrian, born in Turin in 1971, is a film journalist and has directed the Locarno Film Festival since 2013, where he has proved that he can successfully curate and lead an art house audience festival. He stands for an artistically ambitious mix of programming and for a focus on discovering new talents. He and the new executive director, Mariette Rissenbeek, will head the Berlinale starting in 2020. Mariette Rissenbeek (born in Posterholt, The Netherlands in 1956) has long headed German Films, the information and advising centre for the international distribution of German films, as managing director. Her successful career in the film industry makes her the ideal choice for this position: She has many years of experience in working with all the important film festivals around the world and has an extensive network of national and international contacts in the film industry.

BERLINALE 2019 | 7 – 17 FEBRUARY 2019

 

Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) ***** | Bluray Limited Edition

Dir.: Rainer Werner Fassbinder; Cast: Günter Lamprecht, Gottfired John, Barbara Sukowa, Hanna Schygulla; West Germany/Italy 1980, 940 min.

This captivating 15 hour odyssey is Fassbinder’s adaption of Alfred Döblin’s 1929 novel of the same name. It is the story of two men who can not admit their love for each other, and go on to destroy themselves and the women they become involved with. At the same time, it is a symbol of advancing Fascism in the Germany of the Weimar Republic – of which Döblin (1878-1957), a practising psychiatrist and novelist, became a victim himself, and was punished with emigration for being Jewish.

Berlin Alexanderplatz is often compared to James Joyce’s Ulysses and Don Passos’ Manhattan Transfer, two contemporary novels where the protagonists play a major part. Fassbinder has translated the associative structure of the text into an impressionistic portrait of the German capital, where half-sentences and poster texts mix with a permanent flowing traffic: a city which never sleeps, everything dazzles and glimmers. But the chaos of words, sounds and thoughts covers the growing infection with the Fascist bacillus, a regime which promised a new order of certainties.

Franz Biberkopf (Lamprecht) has just been released from prison, after serving four years for strangling his girl friend Ida. He is forbidden by the Police to live in certain areas of Berlin because the milieu might make a recidivist of him. Franz is working as a hawker, selling necktie holders, but he has not the gift for the gab, and finds it impossible to make ends meet, so he is talked into selling the Nazi newspaper Der Volkische Beobachter, even though some of his Jewish contacts warn him of the consequences. Unfortunately, Franz does not want to take on board their efforts to protect him and he sinks further and further into the negative influence of this misguided political movement, where robberies are supposed to benefit the NSDAP, but more often than not serve only the perpetrators. Franz gets to know his nemesis Reinhold (John), a sort of underground leader. Reinhold get quickly bored of his girlfriends, and Franz “inherits” them. One of them is Eva (Schygulla), who once worked for Franz on the streets of Berlin. But his true love is Mieze (Sukowa), who is only too glad to lose Reinhold as her pimp. But Reinhold is jealous of Franz’ chance of a happiness, and he murders Mieze, before throwing Franz from the back of a truck, after a robbery. Franz survives, but loses his right arm – ironically, he cannot perform the ‘Heil Hitler’ greeting anymore. An epilogue sees Franz recovering from his psychosis in a closed psychiatric ward where he suffers from nightmares: dreaming of the atomic bomb and other Armageddon-like events. In the end, he is prepared for work in a Fascist society, but becomes very much a prisoner of the system.

This impressive endeavour, described as the longest film in history at 900-plus minutes, is photographed brilliantly by Xaver Schwarzenbeger (Querelle, Lilli Marlen). With a cast and crew of over a hundred, most of them Fassbinder regulars – such as composer Peer Raaben and editor Juliane Lorenz – Berlin Alexanderplatz is the director’s greatest opus: the homoerotic element of German Fascism symbolised by the bi-polar love-hate relationship between Franz and Reinhold, causing (self) destruction first on a private, then on a worldwide level. AS

AVAILABLE from Second Sight as a LIMITED EDITION BLURAY BOXSET ON 23 JULY 2018 | Complete with a luxury 60 page perfect bound book. 

SPECIAL FEATURES FOR LIMITED EDITIONLimited edition deluxe box set (2000 copies only)

  • ‘Fassbinder: Love Without Demands’ – The acclaimed 2015 feature length documentary by ChristianBraad Thomsen
  • Berlin Alexanderplatz – A Visual Essay by Daniel Bird
  • ‘A Mega Movie and its Story’ documentary by Juliane Lorenz
  • ‘The Making of Berlin Alexanderplatz’
  • ‘The Restoration’ documentary including ‘before and after’
  • The Original Recaps
  • Berlinale 2007 trailer
  • 60-page perfect bound book featuring new essay by Cahiers Du Cinema’s Stephane du Mesnildot andarchive material by Wim Wenders, Thomas Elsasser and Christian Braad Thomsen

 

Edinburgh International Film Festival | 20 June – 1 July 2018

Artistic Director Mark Adams unveiled this year’s programme for Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), with 121 new features, including 21 world premieres, from 48 countries across the globe.

Highlights include Haifaa al-Mansour’s long-awaited follow-up to WadjdaMARY SHELLEY, with Elle Fanning taking on the role of Mary Wollstonecraft, the World Premiere of Stephen Moyer’s directorial debut, THE PARTING GLASS, starring Melissa Leo, Cynthia Nixon, Denis O’Hare, Anna Paquin (who also produces), Rhys Ifans and Ed Asnerand an IN PERSON events with guests including the award-winning English writer and director David Hare, the much-loved Welsh comedian Rob Brydon and star of the compelling Gothic drama THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE, actor George MacKay, as well as the Opening and Closing Gala premieres of PUZZLE and SWIMMING WITH MEN.

BEST OF BRITISH

This year’s Best of British strand includes exclusive world premieres of Simon Fellows’ thriller STEEL COUNTRY, featuring a captivating performance from Andrew Scott as Donald, a truck driver turned detective; comedy classic OLD BOYS starring Alex Lawther; the debut feature of writer-director Tom Beard, TWO FOR JOY, a powerful coming-of-age drama starring Samantha Morton and Billie Piper; oddball comedy-drama EATEN BY LIONS; striking debut from writer and director Adam Morse, LUCID, starring Billy Zane and Sadie Frost; Jamie Adams’ British comedy SONGBIRD, featuring Cobie Smulders. Audiences can also look forward to a special screening of Mandie Fletcher’s delightfully fun rom-com PATRICK.

AMERICAN DREAMS 

This year the AMERICAN DREAMS strand has the quirky indie comedy UNICORN STORE, the directorialOscar-winning actress Brie Larson in which she stars alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Joan Cusack; the heart-warming HEARTS BEAT LOUD starring Nick Offerman; glossy noir thriller, TERMINAL, starring and produced by Margot Robbie and starring Simon Pegg and Dexter Fletcher; IDEAL HOME in which Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan play a bickering gay couple who find themselves thrust into parenthood; 1980s set spy thriller starring Jon Hamm, THE NEGOTIATOR; and PAPILLON, starring Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek.

EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES

Notable features include 3/4  Ilian Metev’s glowing cinema verity portrait of family life. Malgorzata Szumovska’s oddball drama MUG that explores the aftermath of a face transplant; Aida Begic’s touching transmigration tale NEVER LEAVE ME highlighting how young Syrian lives have been affected by war; actor-turned-director Mélanie Laurent’s fourth feature DIVING, and Hannaleena Hauru’s thought-provoking THICK LASHES OF LAURI MANTYVAARA and the brooding and atmospheric drama THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE starring George MacKay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Mia Goth and Matthew Stagg.

WORLD PERSPECTIVES 

This offer a fascinating snapshot of developing world-cinema themes and styles such as BO Hu’s epic Chinese drama AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL; Berlinale award-winning South American dram THE HEIRESSESGIRLS ALWAYS HAPPY, a touching but darkly funny tale of a Chinese mother and daughter and Kylie Minogue starrer FLAMMABLE CHILDREN , a raucous comedy set in Aussie beachside suburbia in the 1970s. THE BUTTERFLY TREE starring Melissa George and Ben Elton’s THREE SUMMERS starring Robert Sheehan and set at an Australian folk music festival.

DOCUMENTARIES

This year’s EIFF programme features a strong musical theme from Kevin Macdonald’s illuminating biopic WHITNEY, about the life and times of superstar Whitney Houston; GEORGE MICHAEL: FREEDOM – THE DIRECTOR’S CUT narrated by George Michael himself and ALMOST FASHIONABLE: A FILM ABOUT TRAVIS directed by Scottish lead-singer Fran Healy. Audiences will be inspired by the creativity of Orson Welles in Mark Cousins’ THE EYES OF ORSON WELLES; HAL, a film portrait of the acclaimed 1970s director Hal Ashby; LIFE AFTER FLASH, a fascinating exploration into the life of actor Sam J. Jones.

DOWNRIGHT STRANGE

As the sun sets, audiences will be able to journey into the dark and often downright strange side of cinema, with a selection of genre-busting edge-of-your-seat gems including: the gloriously grisly psychosexual romp PIERCING starring Mia Wasikowska; the world premieres of Matthew Holness’ POSSUM and SOLIS staring Steven Ogg as an astronaut who finds himself trapped in an escape pod heading toward the sun; dark and bloody period drama THE MOST ASSASSINATED WOMAN IN THE WORLD and the futuristic WHITE CHAMBER starring Shauna Macdonald.

FOCUS ON CANADA 

The country focus for the Festival’s 72nd edition will be Canada, allowing audiences to take a cinematic tour of the country and its culture, offering insight as well as entertainment, from filmmakers new and already established. HOCHELAGA, LAND OF THE SOULS is an informative look at Quebec’s history; but possibly best to avoid the unconvincing FAKE TATTOOS opting instead for WALL, a striking animated essay about Israel from director Cam Christiansen and FIRST STRIPES a compelling look into the Canadian military from Jean-Francois Caissy.

Weather permitting, the Festival’s pop-up outdoor cinema event Film Fest in the City with Mackays (15 – 17 June) will kick off the festivities early, with the 72nd Edinburgh International Film Festival running from 20 June – 1 July, 2018.

Tickets go on sale to Filmhouse Members on Wednesday 23 May at 12noon and on sale to the public on Friday 25 May at 10am. www.edfilmfest.org.uk.

 

 

God’s Own Country (2017) | Bfi Flare Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Francis Lee; Cast: Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu, Gemma Jones, Ian Hart; UK 2017, 104 min.

Francis Lee’s feature debut is often hard watch to watch. This dour and utterly realistic portrayal of a gay relationship in the Yorkshire countryside does not spare humans or animals. But in spite of the gloominess of landscape and relationships, Lee allows a chink of sunlight into this country-noir.

Johnny Saxby (O’Connor) is a lost soul: he works for his stroke-impaired father Martin (Hart) on the family farm, his mother (Gemma Jones) watching his every step. The only entertainment is alcohol and quick sexual encounters in the pub toilet. Josh resents the world – but not as much as himself. Enter Gheorghe (Secareanu), a Romanian farm worker, hired to help Josh with the overbearing tasks of looking after the varied livestock and the land. Josh might be a country yokel, but he knows how to provoke Gheorghe at their first meeting: he calls him a Gypsy – but Gheorghe, who speaks near perfect English, wrestles him to the ground showing he’s no pushover. Gheorghe comes from a farming family experience and shows imagination and knowledge whilst saving a new-born lamb, Josh warms to him, and after yet another wrestling match in the mud, the two become lovers. With his mother growing more and more suspicious of the two young men, Josh’s father suffers a second stroke, leaving him bedridden for good. Stressed out, Josh takes up again with one of his casual lovers, but is caught in flagrante by Gheorghe, who leaves the farm.

DoP Joshua James Richards (Songs my Brother taught Me) beautifully captures the dappled Yorkshire countryside – always changing from light to shadow in support of the moody narrative. O’Connor is brilliant as Johnny, showing both vulnerability and brutal aggression. Secareanu is his equal: his Gheorghe is a much more developed personality than Johnny, but he is traumatised by the events in his homeland – one can only guess how homosexuals are treated in rural Romania, but we don’t know that he is not bisexual. Josh’s parents are trying to hold everything together, but in the end, they are both totally dependent on their son. So Josh, for the first time, gets a chance to be his own master.

God’s own Country has, in contrast with many contemporary British films, an intricate narrative, and a proper dramatic arc: Lee, who grew up on a farm in Yorkshire, directs with assurance, never rushing anything; incorporating the gloomy landscape into the human mire. A great character study, and a visual feast, even though some more delicate souls might have to close their eyes now and again. MT

Screening during Bfi Flare on 1st April |ON BLURAY AND DVD FROM 29 JANUARY 2018

Call me by your Name (2017)

Dir: Luca Guadagnino | Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlberg, Timothee Chalamet | 133′

Directed by Luca Guadagnino and based on André Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME has similar stylishly languorous credentials to its forerunner, I Am Love, as it ravishingly unfurls.

In 1980s Cremona, where the summers are blindingly hot and torpid during the August holidays, one English family make their yearly vacation. Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) is the musically gifted and sexually naive teenage son of Jewish parents, an eminent Classics professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his wife, who are accustomed to a philanthropic gesture of inviting another Jewish student to stay at their villa to help with research. This year’s intern is Armie Hammer’s rather too sexy and urbane Oliver, who looks more like one of the Greek statues Elio is wont to study, than a budding historian. Elio is smitten in discrete ecstasy as he descends into emotional meltdown. Guadagnino conjures up the heady world of la Dolce Vita that mingles with the sexual undertow and uneasiness of Body Heat and the elegance of a James Ivory classic (he co-wrote the script). And it all looks stunning.

Elio and Oliver grow closer as the Ferragosto shutdown approaches, swimming, sunbathing and sampling the locale ‘by night’; Elio gawping at Hammer’s pecs – as we do too. In return, Hammer treats him with thinly-veiled disdain, coming and going at will and flirting outrageously while rocking a massive Star of David on his tanned and tousled chest. While he is every so slightly brash, the Perlmans are discretion itself, as Elio’s father gracefully points out. Elio doesn’t know where to put himself as his burgeoning sensuality is challenged by his ‘bon chic bon genre’ credentials, he teeters like a Tom cat on a hot tin roof, wanting to howl at the moon, bewitched and bewildered.

When he meets Esther Garell’s girl next door, he is flummoxed by her gamine charm and distracted by his burning desire for someone who is clearly not available, fluffing his own chance at enjoably losing his own virginity in the process. His father misjudges the sexual ambiance -or does he?- coming up with one of the best son/father soliloquies of recent years where he outlines emotional intelligence for his son’s benefit. This is something every teenager should hear.  CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is a thoroughly enjoyable, slow-burning romantic drama which should be savoured more than once. It has so much more to offer than its awkward title belies, and merits its generous running time. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 27 OCTOBER 2017  | BERLINALE REVIEW 2017

The Cakemaker (2017) | BFI London Film Festival 2017

Dir: Ofir Raul Grazier | Cast: Sarah Adler, Zohar Shtrauss, Tim Kalkhof, Roy Miller | 104′ | LGBT Drama |

Narrative torpor is not the only thing on the menu in this genteel gay-themed film debut from Israeli director Ophir Raul Grazier. Two stories of grief and bereavement interweave in a thoughtful but flaccid study of long-distance love that unfolds between Berlin and Jerusalem. Lust has nothing to do with it when young German baker Tomas (Kalkhof) meets married Israeli business man Oren (Miller) who calls by his cafe looking for directions, but also swings both ways. We are led to believe that the two then fall for each other, in the absence of any kind of convincing chemistry or even rapport. Oren then goes back to his wife Anat (Sarah Adler) and son in Jerusalem and after a brief silence, Tomas finds out he has been killed in an accident back home. The grief-stricken baker then goes to Jerusalem to scope out Anat and her family and ends up inadvertently working for her, although the two are totally unaware of their connecting backstory. As they cope with sadness of loss, cafe life in Jerusalem poses all kinds of Kosher problems for Thomas’ who cooking skills are hampered by not being Jewish, although we are persuaded that the cakes he makes are popular amongst the un-Orthoodox customers. THE CAKEMAKER is an LGBT title that wouldn’t say boo to a goose, let alone a nice fat challah during Passover; but there’s a quiet respectability here and it’s decent and well-performed. MT

BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | 4 OCTOBER – 15 OCTOBER

 

Cannes Film Festival Awards 2017

COMPETITION

Palme d’Or: THE SQUARE (Ruben Östlund) – main pic

70th Anniversary Award: Nicole Kidman

Grand Prix: BPM  (Robin Campillo)

Director: Sofia Coppola, THE BEGUILED

Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

Actress: Diane Kruger, IN THE FADE

Jury Prize: LOVELESS (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

Screenplay — THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou) and YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (Lynne Ramsay)

SIDEBARS

Camera d’Or: JEUNE FEMME Montparnasse-Bienvenüe) (Léonor Serraille)

Golden Eye Documentary Prize: FACES, PLACES (Visages Villages) (Agnès Varda, JR)

Ecumenical Jury Prize: RADIANCE Naomi Kawase)

UN CERTAIN REGARD

Un Certain Regard Award: A MAN OF INTEGRITY/ Mohammad Rasoulof

Best Director: Taylor Sheridan, WIND RIVER

Jury Prize: Michel Franco, APRIL’S DAUGHTER

Best Performance: Jasmine Trinca, FORTUNATA

Award for Poetry of Cinema: Mathieu Amalric, BARBARA

DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT | QUINZAINE

Art Cinema Award: THE RIDER  (Chloe Zhao)

Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize — TIE: LOVER FOR A DAY Philippe Garrel) and LET THE SUNSHINE IN (Claire Denis)

Europa Cinemas Label: A CIAMBRA Jonas Carpignano)

CRITICS’ WEEK | SEMAINE DE LA CRITIQUE

Grand Prize: MAKALA Emmanuel Gras)

Visionary Prize: GABRIEL AND THE MOUNTAINS (Fellipe Barbosa)

Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers Prize: AVA  (Léa Mysius)

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 17-28 MAY | AWARD WINNERS | LIST BY VARIETY

Discreet (2017) | Berlinale Forum

Dir.: Travis Mathews; Cast: Jonny Mars, Atsuko Okatsaka, Bob Swaffar, Jordan Elsass; USA 2017, 80 min.

Writer/director Travis Mathews (Interior. Leather Bar) relies very much on atmosphere in this moody drifter/road movie, set in a desolate Texas, where the anti-hero is alienated and caught in a diffuse past.

DISCREET starts and ends in a setting alongside a stream where in the opening scene a black body bag is thrown into the water, but hardly moves. It is Alex (Mars), the main character, who throws the body bag into the river, and, throughout the film, he is in communication with Mandy (Okatsuka), who runs a website called ‘Gentle Rhythm’. It’s content is always introduced by image of flowery wallpaper, through which Mandy tries to communicate her peaceful mantra.

But Alex is anything but at peace: he seems to be traumatised by an enigmatic past, and is constantly driving around in his car. After we watch two men in a porn booth masturbating, Alex arranges a meeting in his bedroom between homosexual men, coaxing them into absurd sex games. But most of his time is spent with his grandfather John (Swaffar), who lives in a dilapidated cottage in a fenced in property, where Alex is questioned extensively before being allowed to enter. Soon Alex picks up the young boy Zack (Elsass), who might be his younger Alter Ego. The grandfather is suffering from Parkinsons and Alex employs Zack to feed John. Whilst Alex visits the porn booth again, Mandy declares that she “is ready for the day”. Finally we learn the secret of the body bag – but even this throws up more questions than answers.

Mathews was clearly trying to evoke alienation and displacement for an American male who has not freed himself from his childhood, reliving it is constantly whilst driving aimlessly in an hostile environment. Unable to have any meaningful relationships, he uses Mandy’s website as a form of outlet, dreaming of a better future, without being able to envisage it clearly.

But Alex’ fragmentation is duplicated in the film’s structure, which allows the audience not vey much insight. Whilst certain segments are interesting, they do not really form a cohesive narrative together. Doing away with a narrative structure is fine, but one has to replace it with something, not just impressions and repetitions. The male lead is too weak to drive proceedings forward in a meaningful way. DoP Drew Xanthopoulos has the thankless task of holding everything together. He tries his best and succeeds with some disturbing images, particularly in the claustrophobic world of the porn booth. But overall DISCREET fails to make an impression as a gay interest piece or a mainstream arthouse title – even at eighty minutes.AS

BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 | Forum

Strike a Pose (2016)

Director-writers: Ester Gould, Reijer Zwaan | Cast: Luis Camacho, Oliver Crumes III, Salim Gauwloos, Jose Gutierez, Kevin Stea, Carlton Wilborn | Doc | US |

Revisiting Madonna’s 1990 Blond Ambition gig, 25 dancers reflect on their experience in a very different world, a quarter of a century ago. This Dutch documentary looks at what happens once the performance high is over and the champagne glasses are washed and back on the shelf.

1990 felt feisty and fresh and so was Madonna and her dancers. Breaking onto a music scene that still seemed rather touching and naive, the quaint newness of ‘nautifying’ religion now seems very dated and tame in its way, and Gould and Zwaan successfully capture the zeitgeist of those ‘ground-breaking’ moments, with the usual talking heads, clips and footage format. But STRIKE A POSE is rather top heavy on sentimental family stories and light on entertainment, music and Madonna herself. So don’t go expecting a toe-tapping cheer-filled shindig; this really should be classified as an LGBT interest documentary rather than music biopic, per se. None of the dancers stands out as a personality with any particularly charisma. That said, this low-key indie makes some salient points about the cult of celebrity and its often catastrophic consequences for delicate egos and sensitive types, many of whom were still really kids when they took part, and there are some sincere revelations about what it feels like to be gay, then and now: “We carried our flamboyance as a warning,” says Camacho. “Yes, we have earrings on, we have eyeliner on, but don’t mistake any of this for weakness.”

So STRIKE A POSE is certainly worth a watch if you’re in the mood for a human interest story about the soulful introspection of gay men in the entertainment business and their melancholy reflections on the past, and of the first great arena spectacle that now is very much the way to go. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 3 FEBRUARY 2017 AT BERTHA DOCHOUSE

 

 

 

King Cobra (2016) | LFF 2016

Dir: Justin Kelly | Cast| James Franco, Christian Slater, Garrett Clayton | 87min | Drama

The ubiquitous James Franco was once a name to be conjured with: Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, 127 Hours and even Pineapple Express showed initial promise for his sterling efforts and energetic talents as an actor, director and writer. But Interior Leather Bar set him off down another track and Every Thing Will Be Fine followed. In KING COBRA he is back on form, once here again teaming up with Justin Kelly (I Am Michael) and lending a certain charisma to his supporting role in this rather seedy gay porn outing, based on the true story of the early career of the soi-disant ‘Brent Corrigan’ (aka Sean Paul Lockhart) played by Garrett Clayton, who we first meet, aged 17, auditioning for Cobra Video, an amateur gay porn company set up by King Cobra himself, Stephen (Christian Slater).

From the get go, audiences will smell a rat when they see Stephen salivating at the discovery of his nascent porn starlet while still purporting to be straight: when his sister offers to set him up on a blind date, he protests:  “I can manage my own love life”. You bet he can, and it all originates from the privacy of his own home.

At first Stephen appears to be a relatively low key nonce. He is sadly aware that his ageing looks are a hindrance in bedding desirable under-age men. Although Sean claims to be 18. But delusion is his only bedfellow, and while he  kids himself that Lockhart and he are lovers,  the blond boy-star has other plans. Far too cute to fall in with Stephen,  he swiftly leverages his burgeoning potential by demanding more money from the slippery entrepreneur. And soon enough, perky porn producer Joe (Franco) comes sniffing along and smartly involves Lockhart his boss a ‘ménage à quatre’ with his easygoing partner Harlow ( Keegan Allen) and thus the ‘Viper Boys’ are born, servicing their physical and financial lives. But Joe is clearly also a profligate narcissist with a penchant for fiery temper tantrums when he is thwarted.

KING COBRA’s narrative plays out as a fascinating character study between the four men and their sexual interplay with some decent performances in scenes of an often graphic nature that will go down well if gay sex or gay porn is your schtick. MT

SCREENING DURING THE BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 5 -16 OCTOBER 2016

Rara (2016) | LFF 2016

Dir.: Pepa San Martin; Cast: Julia Lübbert, Emilia Ossandon, Mariana Loyola, Augustina Munoz, Daniel Munoz, Micela Christi; Chile/Argentina 2016, 92 min.

Filmmaker Pepa San Martin delivers a stingingly truthful portrait of family disintegration in her promising debut RARA, where a father uses the sexual orientation of his ex- wife to gain custody of their two daughters. Based on a true case in Chile, RARA is a sad account of judicial prejudice, told often in an ironic tone when describing situations bordering on the absurd.

In the Argentine city of Mar de Plata, Paula (Loyola) has left her husband Victor (D. Munoz) and taken their kids Sara (Lübbert) a maudlin teenager, and her much younger sister Catalina (Ossandon) to form a new family with. Lia (A Munoz). Things come unstuck when Sara tells her father about harassment at school because she lives with “two Mommies”, and Victor, a one time supporter of Pinochet in Chile, starts a court case to get custody of his two daughters, ably supported by a “tame” psychologist and his influential mother.

The catalyst of the narrative is Sara, whose teenage angst is driving her into the arms of her father, sometimes against her own will. Homelife for Paula and Lia is often problematic with the two arguing and causing friction between Catalina and her sister. At school, Sara’s best friend, Pancha (Christi), is everything Sara wants to be: slim, articulate, and indulged by her rich parents. Victor, manipulative by nature, uses Sara’s birthday party to alienate her from his ex-wife – after all, his house is much bigger than Paula’s. When Sara stays out late – just another attempt to copy Pancha – the situation boils over.

RARA, means strange in Spanish, and is certainly the situation finds herself in caused by adults who say something, but mean exactly the opposite. Sara flirts with co-student Julian, her sister is obsessed by a little kitten – their worlds do not meet. On top of it, Victor is a true macho man: when his new partner Nicole tells him to wash his hands before lunch, he immediately hits back, shouting at Sara to take her feet off the sofa.

RARA’s strongest moments are these small observations. The true victim is Sara, who is not only used by her biological parents as a pawn, but also is left to mother Catalina, since her father is hopeless at communicating with his girls and Paula is too engaged in her emotional struggle with Lia to notice, let alone care. Carried by Lübbert and Ossandon, RARE is always lively and tenderly humane as evoked in DoP Enrique Stindt visuals that contrast the two very different family homes, but also create lyrical scenes of the city, where Sara will find her freedom away from the interfering and selfish adults. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 5-16 OCTOBER 2016 | BERLINALE 2016 REVIEW

Theo and Hugo (2016)

Directors: Olivier Ducastel,  Jacques Martineu

Cast: Geoffrey Couet, Frqncois Nambot

97min | drama | France

This ‘boy meets boy’ drama deftly handles tonal shifts ranging from euphoria to anxiety to offer a slightly flawed but engaging experience of gay coupledom. What starts out as an 18 minute unbridled orgy in a Parisian sex dive (severely testing viewers’ attention spans), leads to a breezily romantic nighttime bike ride for Theo and Hugo (newcomers Couet and Nambot) who then make the angst ridden discovery that they have had unprotected sex and this leads to a blow by blow procedural of their medical treatment.

Capturing the freshness realisation of new love this drama will be a winner with the LGBT crowd or those drawn to bold filmmaking. MT

OIT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 9 SEPTEMBER 2016 | BERLINALE REVIEW

Symptoms (1974) | BFI Flip Side | Bluray and DVD

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Director: Jose Ramon Laraz

Cast: Angela Pleasance, Lorna Heilbron, Peter Vaughan, Paule Mailleux

UK | Horror Drama

Symptoms is a British horror film directed by Jose Ramon Laraz normally known as a director of exploitation movies with arresting titles such as The Violation of the Bitch, Whirlpool and Deviation. However the effective Symptoms is a much more subtle and nuanced production for Laraz.

Helen (Angela Pleasance) invites her girlfriend Anne (Lorna Heilbron) to an English country mansion house for a holiday. Some time back a young woman Cora (Marie –Paule Mailleux) was murdered and dumped in a lake in the woods. Brady (Peter Vaughan) is an odd job man who lives and works locally. He begins to intimidate the two women. And from the attic come noises at night.

The pleasure of Symptoms is that it’s a character study where no back history is provided. In Hitchcock’s Psycho, a glib analytic explanation of Norman Bates’s behaviour is given, only to then be shattered by Norman’s final motherly grimace. Symptoms deliberate omission of reasons for mad behaviour allows the film to journey inwards in a pure and non-didactic manner. Symptoms is slow, measured and appropriately shocking when the story demands. Laraz is no Hitchcock but he displays considerable skill in creating atmosphere whilst carefully restraining his direction.

Laraz had an early background education in art history, which probably accounts for the convincing set design. The house has a gothic appearance without being over-cluttered by disturbing artefacts. Great care is taken with the lighting and Laraz allows his camera to often pause on the disturbed Helen to produce eerie compositions (One such reminded me of the painter Fuseli). The film is beautifully photographed by Trevor Wrenn. With its muted colours, Symptoms could be described as a pastoral take on Polanski’s Repulsion. I suspect Laraz was also aware of the work of Ingmar Bergman, Kummel’s 1971 vampire film Daughters of Darkness and Clayton’s great ghost story film, The Innocents.

The women’s repressed lesbianism is pleasingly understated. One Kiss. One touch. One brief hallucination. All remind you of moments of desire in Bergman’s Persona. And though Symptoms is a psychological horror film it does have its ghostly frissons – the startling appearance of Brady at a window. Yet influences aside, Symptoms never feels derivative, but manages sensitively to adapt tropes and themes to powerful effect. Even when the film occasionally ventures into scenes of normal village life it avoids being clunky.

John Scott provides some very effective music – employing flute, harp and minimal piano that enhance the story. However such character driven horror movies stand or fall by the quality of their performances. Symptoms has exemplary casting. Angela Pleasance (possessing eyes as haunted as her father, the actor Donald), Lorna Heilbron (with dykish short hair) and Peter Vaughan (such malevolent body presence) are all excellent.

Symptoms was once on the BFI’s list of most desired, but now lost, British films. Thanks to a Belgian archive we again have a print. Symptoms is a fine horror movie for those who don’t normally like horror. For those of us who do it should be warmly applauded as an honourable contribution to the genre. Alan Price.

NOW AVAILABLE AT A BFI FLIP SIDE RELEASE | DVD AND BLURAY

Holding the Man (2015)

Director: Neil Armfield   Script: Tommy Murphy  Autobiography: Timothy Conigrave

Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Ryan Corr, Craig Scott, Anthony LaPaglia, Guy Pearce, Kerry Fox, Camilla Ah Kin

127min | Drama | Australia 2015,

Neil Armfield (Candy) screen adaptation of Tommy Murphy’s script, based on a true story of forbidden gay love in the ’70s and ’80s Australia plays out like a heightened melodrama in tonal oddity HOLDING  THE MAN.

In Melbourne 1976,  at the prestigious Xavier Catholic College, Tim Conigrave (Corr) falls for his classmate, the Australian Football player John Caleo (Scott). The sixteen year-old boys try to hide their mutual passion, but a love letter mistakenly falls into the hands of the teachers exposing their strictly illicit liaison in a society whose penchant was for tradition and masculinity. Where Tim’s parents Mary (Fox) and Dick (Pearce) simply try to deny their son’s wrongdoing; John’s father Bob (LaPaglia) hits the roof, refusing to let the relationship develop. Tim is meanwhile keen to develop his acting skills and is having difficulty expressing the sadness required for his part as Romeo. His drama teacher gives him a hard time over this: “You lost your fiancée, not your bus pass”. Tim later moves to Sydney to attend Drama School, where his teacher (a masterful Geoffrey Rush) again criticizes his performance, this time in his performance as a monkey: “There is not much work for effeminate monkeys”. John meanwhile is training to become a chiropractor but gradually the relationship breaks down – Tim enjoying the gay life of the capital. A reconciliation leads to tragic news for both men as the drama morphs into  ultra realism, before a rather poetic ending on the Italian island of Lipari.

The main drawback of Holding the Man (a term from Australian Rules Football) is the poorly-drawn characterisation of this rather vacuous pair of men: they seem to lack any kind of moral fibre lack, particularly John, who is portrayed as a fluffy, simpering pushover, just waiting for Tim to tell him what to do – and without him, he seems to have no life on his own. John at least has a selfish streak, but not much more. This is billed as being a great, passionate love story, but the characters are so devoid of any real traits, that their homosexuality seems to be their only exceptional quality – hardly the impact Conigrave would have wished for when penning his memoir. The rather the top ‘ 70s aesthetics and cliché ridden images of DoP Germain McMicking give the film a strange retro feel, without adding anything substantial. And while the leads Corr and Scott are mostly convincing despite their poor material, their portrayal of 16 year old boys suffers from a rather too obvious age gap. Overall, HOLDING THE MAN is a missed opportunity to give voice to what clearly may have been a meaningful experience in challenging times, making it difficult for the audience to invest emotionally or feel sympathy for their struggle. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 3 JUNE 2016

 

Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party (2015) | BFI FLARE 2016

Director.: Stephen Cone

Cast: Cole Doman, Pat Healey, Elizabeth Laidlaw, Nina Ganet, Melanie Neilan, Daniel Kyri, Joe Keery, Patrick Andreas

87min | Drama | USA

Stephen Cone made his name with multi-awarded breakout drama The Wise Kids. Still only 35, his 7th feature is a coming-out story that revolves around a family swimming pool party in upmarket Chicago where the aponymous Henry is celebrating his 17th birthday.

In this die-hard Christian community, Henry’s parents and the huge majority of guests and friends are born again Christians, their lives guided by (often ostentatious) thankfulness to the Lord – or so it seems. We meet Henry (Doman) for the first time on the eve of his birthday, in bed with his best friend Gabe (Keery). The boys masturbate, Gabe enthusiastically enumerating the sexual high points if he could seduce the class-beauty – but it soon becomes clear that Henry’s sex object is lying next to him. The next day’s birthday party starts off on a dull note; the adults gossiping about goings-on in the church, where Henry’s father Bob (Healy) is a pastor. But the tempo soon changes when stunning beauty Christine (Neilan) arrives, the boys hanging on her every word, and it’s clearly not Gospel. Meanwhile, Henry’s sister Autumn (Ganet), is still coming to terms with the big wide world outside the God-fearing community, after her first year at college – she is also angry with her boyfriend who had somehow talked her into losing her virginity. Then there is Henry’s friend Ricky (Andreas) who had “got aroused under the showers when seeing the bodies of his mates”. He later tried to commit suicide, and at Henry’s party he locks himself in the bathroom and disfigures his face with a razor. Finally, it emerges that Henry’s parents also have a skeleton in the cupboard: his mother Kat (Laidlaw) had an affair with a popular church leader (now dead) his widow Bob in reminiscing about his ‘great character’. Although Bob has forgiven Kat, she wants to move on, but being the sole family member in on her son’s sexual orientation, she asks her husband to give Henry his blessing.

In this rambunctious drama Cone impressively captures Henry’s hypocritical family background, but tries to involve too so many sub-narratives that Henry’s story submerges below the water line. What floats on the surface is his shyness, verging on blandness, and it’s never clear whether Doman, choses to plays him meek and mild or whether he truly is an emotionless cypher. While everyone else is rising to the bait, Henry seems un-engaged, almost distant. Cinematographer Jason Chiu echoes this mood with some insipid visuals, bringing a suitably voyeuristic feel to the underwater scenes. While empathetic to Henry’s feelings, Cone never really delves into wider implications of the issue, preferring to sketch out a story involving a series of social stereotypes. At such HENRY GAMBLE’S BIRTHDAY PARTY works better as a treatise on life in a devoutly Christian community, than as an involving drama of sexual awakening. MT

SCREENING DURING BFI FLARE | UNTIL 27 MARCH 2016

 

Wilde (1997) | blu-ray release

Director: Brian Gilbert

Writers: Richard Ellmann (novel) Julian Mitchell (screenplay)

Cast: Stephen Fry, Jude Law, Jennifer Ehle, Vanessa Redgrave, Gemma Jones, Michael Sheen, Judy Parfitt, Zoe Wanamaker, Tom Wilkinson,Ioan Gurffudd

118min |  Biopic  | UK

Brian Gilbert’s elegant Arts and Craft’s romp delicately unbuttons the sexual adventures of one of Ireland’s best known poets and playwrights who became a household name largely for his epigrams and novel: The Importance of Being Earnest.

Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning biography by the American writer Richard Ellmann, Julian Mitchell’s script rekindles Wilde’s warmth reflected from the pages of Ellmann’s book and Stephen Fry successfully evokes his purported decency, gentlemanly charm, suave eloquence and dashing sensuality.

The film opens as Wilde has returned from America and plans to marry a quietly pliant woman of breeding Constance Lloyd (played by Jennifer Ehle)  who “allows him an audience”. Soon after the birth of their first son, Wilde turns to homosexual lovers as he hopelessly juggles his writing commitments (like “a Nothern business man who has to keep an eye on his factory”) with those of his growing family. Then at the peak of his professional career as ‘Importance’ opened to rave reviews in 1895, Wilde was convicted of “gross indecency”, due to homosexuality being against the law, and he suffered a spectacular fall from grace which forced him to spend the remainder of his life behind bars and in emotional torment.

Gilbert’s cast is nothing short of masterful: apart from Fry, the standouts are Jude Law who plays his vain and petulantly impatient great love, Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas; Tom Wilkinson shines as Bosie’s dashingly witty but vengeful father, the Marquess of Queensbury, who furiously exclaims in a coruscating father and son tiff: “you’re nothing but a bum boy!” and Michael Sheen who plays his more discrete and companionable lover Robbie Ross.

Oscar Wilde’s downfall was largely due to his unwise move of suing the Marquess when he tried to defame him for sodomy and later was able to produce evidence from “rent boys” who testified that the Marquess was correct in describing Wilde as a ‘bugger’. At after scenes in court, Wilde lives out the rest of his life in less agreeable circumstances.

Stephen Fry is the shooting star of the piece giving a glowing performance that effortlessly reflects the poet’s appealing personality. As the first “modern man” he shines by cleverly managing the conflicting sides to his Wilde’s personal life, which he handled with consistent integrity, calm and dignity.  Despite all this, Wilde was sadly unable to win over the court and the final scenes are testament to Wilde’s deep philosophical understanding of the world around him.

On this pristine blu-ray re-release, Maria Djukovic’s imaginative production design and Martin Fuhrer’s visuals glisten with jewel-like brilliance and an original score from Wolf Hall’s Debbie Wiseman adds intensity and romance to the narrative depth of Brian Gilbert’s impressively-mounted Victorian moral tragedy. MT

NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY

 

Venice International Film Festival | 72th Edition | 2 – 12 September 2015

2015 is set to be a knock out year as VENICE FILM FESTIVAL claims its position as the oldest major international film festival, now celebrating its 72nd edition and championing a glittering array of independent and arthouse films. Unlike Cannes 2015, that promoted its own actors and filmmakers, Venice has chosen an eclectic mix of international talent drawn from veteran auteurs to sophomore filmmakers. Under festival director, Alberto Barbera and an erudite competition jury lead by Alfonso Cuaron, including such luminaries as Pawel Pawlikowski, Hsaio-hsien Hou, Lynne Ramsay, Elizabeth Banks and Francesco Munzi, the competition line-up sparkles with renewed vigour showcasing independent film talent and stealing a march on Toronto which neatly overlaps the Italian festival by two days, leaving the Canadians to show the blockbusters which will come to Britain very shortly anyway, for those who follow them.

1-11MINUTES-actorWojciechMECWALDOWSKIPresiding over the jury in 2001, Veteran Polish auteur Jerzy Skolimowski will be back in Venice with his long-awaited follow-up to Essential Killing, another thriller called 11 Minutes (left).  This time the setting is Warsaw, with a strong Polish cast led by Richard Dormer, Piotr Glowacki, Andrzej Chyra (In the Name of) and Agata Buzek. Sangue del mio sangue 1

The Italians have four films in the competition line-up this year: Marco Bellocchio presents Sangue del mio Sangue (Blood of my Blood (right) which knowing the director’s strong visual aesthetic with doubtless be a stylish vampire outing, set in the village of Bobbio (Emilia Romagna) and starring the ubiquitous and pallidly delicate Alba Rohrwacher. Giuseppe M Gaudino is not well-known outside his native Italy but his latest film Per Amor Vostro may well change things. Sicilian director, Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), once again casts Tilda Swinton in crime thriller A Bigger Splash which is set on the volcanic island of Pantelleria (south of Sicily). It has Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson and Ralph Fiennes who play an assortment of interconnecting lovers in a game of mystery. Juliette Binoche will be on the Lido as the main star of Piero Messina’s drama The Wait, essentially a two-hander where she gets to know Lou de Laâge (Breathe) who plays her son’s fiance as they both await his arrival at a Sicilian villa. I Ricordi del Fiumi  (Out of Competition) by Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio is a documentary about the platz, the large shanty town where over a thousand people of different nationalities live on the banks of the Stura river, in Turin. The area was recently the object of a major project to dismantle it and move part of the families into normal homes and the film documents life in this slum during the last few months of its existence, with its anguish, drama, hopes, life.

EQUALS VFF 01 ∏Jaehyuk Lee

Having shot their cinematic bolt at Cannes this year, the French are thin on the ground in competition repped by Xavier Giannoli with Marguerite, a drama starring Catherine Frot (Haute Cuisin) and Christa Théret (Renoir). Christian Vincent (La Séparation) who has cast Sidse Babett Knudsen (The Duke of Burgundy) and Fabrice Luchini in his comedy drama L’Hermine.

From Turkey comes Emin Alper’s second feature, Abluka (Frenzy). The sophomore filmmaker is best known for his striking 2012 widescreen drama Tepenin Ardi (Beyond the Hill) which was outstanding for its atmospheric ambient soundtrack and searingly authentic performances from Mehmet Ozgur and Reha Ozcan.

Heart of a Dog 1

From across the Atlantic, musician and actor Laurie Anderson will be in Venice with her latest drama, Heart of a Dog (right). Cary Fukunaga has cast Idris Elba in his actioner based on the experiences of a child soldier in the civil war of an unnamed African country: Beasts of No Nation. And where would Venice be without an animation title? Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman provide this in the shape of Anomalisa which features the voices of Jennifer Jason-Leigh, David Thewlis and Tom Noonon in a stop-motion film about a man crippled by the mundanity of his own life. Drake Doremus (Breathe In) presents Equals (above left) a sci-fi love story set in a futuristic world where emotions have been eradicated. The US crowd-pleaser, it will star none other than Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult and Bel Powley. Veterans Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau and Bruno Ganz lead in Atom Egoyan’s latest thriller Remember that looks back at a dark chapter of the 20th century through a contempo revenge mission. Australian Sue Brooks is the other female director In Competition with her drama Looking for Grace starring Odessa Young (The Daughter/Locarno) in the lead, supported by Radha Mitchell (Man on Fire) and Tom Roxburghe (Van Helsing).

Behimoth1

On the hispanic front, Mexico’s entry is Desde Alli (Out of There), the debut feature of filmmaker Lorenzo Vigas which stars Alfredo Castro (No). Pablo Trapero’s El Clan offers up a gritty slice of Argentine history in a drama that explores the true story of the Puccio Clan, a family who kidnapped and killed in Buenos Aires during the 80s.

Russian director Alexandr Sokurov’s La Francophonie: The Louvre Under Occupation studies the Second World War “from a humanitarian point of view” but the director is unlikely to attend the festival, according to sources. Israel’s Amos Gitai looks to politics for inspiration in his title: Rabin, The Last Day, and China’s Zhao Lang offers us a documentary Behemoth (left) which looks intriguing.

Danish

And last, but never least, Tom Hooper flies the flag for Britain with The Danish Girl, his screen adaptation loosely based on David Ebershoff’s book about the 1920s Danish artist, Gerda Wegener, whose painting of her husband as a female character led him to pursue the first male to female sex-change and become Lili Elbe. Eddie Redmayne leads a starry cast of Alicia Vikander, Ben Wishaw and Matthias Schoenaerts in this Copenhagen-set drama. MT

72TH VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 2 -12 SEPTEMBER 2015 | LIDO DE VENEZIA 

Four Austrian Films coming soon…

2014 was a stellar year setting a new record for Austrian Film in all the main international festivals: Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Sundance and Toronto showed award-winning titles for Ulrich Seidl (Paradise:Faith); Jessica Hausner (Amour Fou); Hubert Sauper (We Come As Friends); Sudabeh Mortezei (Macondo); Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (Goodnight Mommy) amongst others. 2015 is still coming up trumps although there will be no outings from Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl, the best known boys on the Austrian block.

Austrian cinema comes in all shapes and sizes from arthouse to mainstream, documentaries and features covering all the genres. Here are five films worth looking out for in the coming season:

Goodnight_Mommy_3GOODNIGHT MOMMY (2014) |Director: Veronika Franz/Severin Fiala| Cast: Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz, Susanne Wuest | 99min | Austria

The Austrians are very good at taking ordinary life and turning into horror at Venice this year. In the same vein as Michael Haneke’s FUNNY GAMES (1997), Ulrich Seidl’s (Im Keller) wife and collaborator, Veronika Franz, makes her debut with a vicious and expertly-crafted arthouse piece, set in a slick modern house buried in the Austrian countryside.

In the heat of summer, nine-year-old Elias is enjoying the school hols with his twin brother Lukas. They appear normal boys: swimming, exploring the woods, and keeping giant cockroaches as pets. But in the pristine lakeside home, their TV exec mother has made some draconian changes. Recovering from facial surgery and bandaged up literally like a ‘mummy’, she has banned all friends from visiting the house while her recuperation takes place in total privacy. Nothing wrong with that, but the boys misinterpret her behaviour as a sinister sign and start to wonder whether this is really their mother. The more they question her for re-assurance, the more fractious and distant she becomes. Reacting against her instinctively, they become convinced that she is not their mother but a strange intruder, and decide to take control of the situation.

Franz and Fiala create an atmosphere of mounting suspense with clever editing, minimal dialogue and the use of innocent images that appear more sinister and unsettling when taken out of context. Martin Gschlacht’s cinematography switches between lush landscapes, sterile interiors and suggestive modern art to inculcate a sense of bewilderment and unease. Susanne Wuest is perfectly cast as the icy, skeletal blond matriarch with menace and the innocent boys transformed into everyday low-level psychopaths due to the lack of early maternal love or support, bring to mind those creepy kids from The Innocents, or even Cronenburg’s The Brood. A very clever film which contrasts images of revulsion with those of serene beauty. MT

SuperweltSUPERWELT | Director/Writer: Karl Markovics |Cast: Ulrike Beimpold, Nikolai Gemel, Thomas Mraz, Anglelika Strathser | 90mins Austrian Fantasy Drama Sci-fi

Best known for his performance in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, Austrian actor turned writer-director Karl Markovics attempts poetic realism in his quirky second feature, a follow up to the award-winning drama BREATHING.

It has Ulrike Beimpold (The Wall) as a buxom blond suburban housewife who develops an unusual relationship with God. Wittily scripted and visually slick and inventive, SUPERWELT loses its momentum after an amusing and watchable start.

Gabi (Ulrike Beimpold) is happy in her work as a supermarket cashier and runs a tight household for her pot-bellied husband Hannes (Rainer Woss) and screen-based son Ronnie (Nikolai Gemel) in the leafy provincial town of Bruck, surrounded by golden cornfields and wind farms. But life is too good to be true and one day, out of nowhere, she is visited by an invisible and magical force, not similar to that in THE WALL, that rocks her ordinary world, sending her completely off balance emotionally and scampering into the fields, like the demented victim of some kind of religious fanaticism.

Beimpold is exultant as Gabi, her facial expression is off vacant gives a finely judged performance, her face vacant and anxious, but never overplaying Gabi’s beatific bafflement. A cartoonish chorus of minor characters, from intrusive neighbors to fainting Jehovah’s Witnesses, provide plenty of agreeable levity.
But Markovics proves more adept at setting up his divine dramatic puzzle than he does at resolving it. His script runs short on lucidity and momentum in its second half as Gabi wanders the sunlit Austrian landscape, increasingly angry with a Supreme Being she never summoned in the first place. Her spiritual epiphany ends up as a kind of extreme form of relationship therapy, exposing the hidden faultlines in her marriage. “How often have you been happy?” she asks Hannes bitterly. “How did we settle for so little?”
Markovics remains frustratingly opaque about the theological aspects of his story, and some may find the finale a fuzzy-headed anticlimax. All the same, SUPERWELT is consistently sweet and engaging, a warm-hearted celebration of minor earthly miracles as much as the more heavenly kind. MT

Vampire 1 copyTHERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE

Austrian auteur David Ruhm adds a stylish and witty contribution to the blood-bloated canon of the Vampire genre here with a Freudian-themed thirties pastiche THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE.

In his Viennese consulting rooms in 1911, Dr Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer) is conducting an early experiment using Art Therapy to explore his patients’ dreams. Naturally, given the title, one of his most illustrious patients is experiencing some challenging ‘issues’. Count Geza von Közsnöm (Tobias Moretti) is suffering from a generalised ennui: having lived for thousands of years, he’s simply tired of life and the sex with his wife, the strikingly sultry Gräffin Elsa (Jeanette Hain) has simply lost its bite. He is also haunted by the premature death, centuries earlier, of his true love, Nabila. When he sees a portrait of a woman painted by Viktor (Dominic Oley), Freud’s inhouse artist, he is struck by a mysterious ‘deja-vu’ between the subject of the painting, Lucy (Viktor’s girlfriend played by Cornelia Ivancan), and his own long lost lover.

Back in their bijoux castle in the wooded suburbs of Vienna, Count Geza enthuses over Viktor’s artistic skills to the emotionally needy and narcissistic Graffin Elsa, who is having serious problems with her image. Unable to see herself in a mirror, she implores Count to commission Viktor to paint her portrait.

Rühm has crafted two very appealing vampires here, who are not only stylish and drôle but also have lost none of their dark weirdness, in echoes of Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive, although this is a far more stylised drama. Drinking blood from transfusions they are able to define the exact profile of their victims – young Virgin, aged Diabetic – and so on – without the inconvenience and mess of blood spurts and uncontrollable haemorrhaging on their beautifully hand-tailored attire. They are endowed with all the traditional Vampire capabilities of bestial transformation, they quail away from crosses, garlic and wooden stakes but they also embody the more playful attributes of irony and self-parody as seen in The Munsters. But it is their obsession with counting objects that is their final downfall.

Beautifully-crafted and sumptuously staged, the success of Rühm’s Gothic horror piece lies in this combination of sinister weirdness and seriously dark humour, and there are some unexpected quirky laugh out loud moments that make this really entertaining. And although it never fully explores the Freudian premise, it pays homage to the legendary therapist in its themes of unrequited love, vanity and sexual obsession. Performances are consistently good: the two female leads are far from pliant, adding a foxy feminist streak to their Gothic horror credentials. Viktor is sensitive and appealing and Count Geza sneeringly wicked and elegantly masculine. MT

Der Letzte Sommer der Reichen copyTHE LAST SUMMER OF THE RICH

Best known for his appearance in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Despair, Peter Kern came to Berlin this year with his cultish portrait of Austria’s sexually depraved yet privileged jet-set. Styled as a darkly humorous retro LGBT outing, it features nuns and high society louches lesbians, all dressed up in fetish rubberwear. Despite its low-budget credentials, Peter Roehsler’s stylish visuals transform this into a slick story that will leave you with resounding cultural echoes of a bygone era with its lingering echoes of Helmut Newton.

Amira Casar stars as Hanna von Stezewitz  high class intern-abusing financier by day and leatherette lounge-lizard by night. Initially reluctant to care for her Nazi grandfather (Heinz Trixner) she selfishly rises to the occasion when his carer turns out to be an attractive young nun Sarah (Nicole Gerdon) and an unlikely romance blossoms that softens Hanna’s vituperative sadism, although it is too late for redemption. Despite a clunky script and some tonal unevenness where Kern is unclear about whether he is making a caustic 70s satire or is genuinely buys into his Fassbinder-style narrative. THE LAST SUMMER OF THE RICH is a deliciously indulgent throwback to the soft porn decadence of the seventies. MT

REVIEWED AT VENICE, EDINBURGH, BERLIN AND CANNES FILM FESTIVALS 2015 

 

 

 

I Am Michael (2015) | FLARE London LGBT Film Festival 2015

Director: Justin Kelly

Writer: Justin Kelly |

Cast: James Franco, Zachary Quinto, Charlie Carver, Emma Roberts, Daryl Hannah, Avan Jogia

98min  US   Drama Biopic

The ubiquitous James Franco is either behind the camera or in front of it these days, playing both gay and straight roles and in  I AM MICHAEL he does both with this inspired foray into the life Michael Glatze, a gay magazine editor who becomes heterosexual after finding God, and transforming into a Christian pastor with unsettling undertones.

Gus Van Sant has financed the debut feature from writer-director Justin Kelly, which is based on a real-life story with  Zachary Quinto and Emma Roberts lending able support as his boyfriend and subsequent fiancée. This is not a straightforward film but one that offers much food for thought in a nuanced and cleverly-scripted narrative (based partly on a New York Times article about Glatze’s life) that  insightfully explores the nature of sexuality, love and belief.

The story opens as Glatze (James Franco) is editor of a gay magazine in late nineties San Francisco and happily involved with lover Bennett (Zachary Quinto), who persuades him to move to Canada so he can take up an important post in Architecture. The relationship with Bennett is natural and totally convincing and both actors seem entirely at one in their performances. But Glatze is jobless and soon bored with the life in Nova Scotia, despite meeting Tyler (Charlie Carver) who adds spice to the couple’s love life and is soon sharing their bed. Glatze launches a new magazine aimed at the ‘coming out’ market whose sexual beliefs are being compromised or constrained by their religious beliefs, and the trio start shooting a documentary entitled Jim in Bold. At this point, we’re persuaded that Glatze’s real raison d’être is to help humanity. James Franco’s forceful presence and hard-eyed gaze melts, on occasion, and particularly when Glatze comes across Jacob Loeb.

But the emergence of regular panic attacks seem to indicate that he’s not happy with his life or his relationship, and these also stem from the fear of a heart condition that cut short his father’s life as a young man. His close relationship with his mother is also a motif running through the film, and he regularly visits her resting place to reinforce his convictions and reminisce. transformation is fleshed out on a blog with voiceover describing his religious zeal. Unable to see himself or his ambitions clearly, Glatze emerges a troubled and confused soul and, while Kelly in no way seeks to condemn or judge him, James Franco reflects this accurately and powerfully in a performance that’s both compelling and subtle but also indicates the presence of a mild personality disorder – it’s a tremendously difficult role which Franco pulls off with remarkable aplomb. After a Buddhist retreat in Wyoming where he meets the gentle Nico (a fine turn from Avan Jogia) he ends up in Bible School where he falls in love with Rebekah Fuller (Emma Roberts) a naive yet appealing young Christian girl.

Christopher Blauvelt’s camerawork is competent on both the widescreen and on more intimate moments but the score occasionally overdoes it, producing an intrusiveness that makes contemplation impossible – and there is a great deal to take in and process in Glatze’s transformation. By the end though, we are more than convinced that this man has by no means found his way in life and those who stray onto his complicated path will continue to find themselves in emotional danger. MT

I AM MICHAEL HEADLINES THIS YEAR’S BFI FLARE LONDON LGBT FILM FESTIVAL FROM 19 – 29 MARCH 2015 AT BFI SOUTHBANK, LONDON SE1. REVIEWED DURING BERLINALE 2015

Out To Win (2015) | BFI Flare

Directed by: Malcolm Ingram

With: Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and others

102min  Sport Documentary  US

OUT TO WIN is a full on in ‘your face’  affair that focuses on LGBTQA World class athletes as they share their ‘coming out’ stories to the camera. There’s nothing new here revelation-wise, for most of us, but the combined force of these heartfelt stories serves as a full scale slap in the face of the anti-sentiment that traditionally spread through the heartlands of America’s sporting life. Sporting communities are not as enlightened or as accepting as the creative arenas of film, theatre and the Arts, and most are reinforced by diehard traditionalists and often dominated by a macho male following, who are, by definition gay-phobic – particularly when it comes to the locker-rooms.

One after the other, talking heads of famous Athletes pop-up ‘close and personal’, to share their emotions and often their tears about being gay in the world of Sport: Wade Davies, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Brittney Griner, David Kopay, Jason Collins, Charline Labonté, Conner Mertens, and John Amaechi to name but a few. It emerges, not surprisingly, that many were scared to reveal their true sexuality for fear of losing valuable sponsorship or community support.

Without doubt, it’s a crying shame that these talented individuals have had to suffer in the name of sexuality. Filmmaker Malcolm Ingram is known for his documentary award-winning doc: Small Town Gay Bar. Here he has assembled an impressive array of news stories and archive footage to serve his hard-hitting story that doesn’t even give lip service to creativity in its camerawork or style. Often, the film is edited to repeat soundbites, like an advertisement, blaring out and reinforcing his message, over and over again so it feels like a list of examples instead of a cogent narrative. Rather than appealing to our hearts and minds, we feel pistol-whipped into commiserating with these confessions, worthy though they undoubtedly are, in telling a story of pain and gradual acceptance has come about due to the trailblazing efforts of the early lesbian and gay sporting pioneers.  MT

SCREENS DURING THE BFI FLARE FESTIVAL FROM 19-29 March 2015

Bad Hair | Pelo Malo (2013) | DVD VOD release

Director/Writer: Mariana Rondon

Cast: Samuel Lange Zambrano, Samantha Castillo, Beto Benites, Nelly Ramos, Maria Emilia Sulbaran

93min  Venezuela  Drama

Joining the recent crop of gay interest films from South American comes  Pelo Malo (Bad Hair). Themes of identity and nascent sexuality are sensitively but rigorously explored in this appealing Venezuelan arthouse gem which runs along similar lines as the award-winning Brazilian indie The Way He Looks. The star turn here is newcomer Samuel Lange (as Junior) whose fraught but loving single mother, Marta (Samantha Castillo), is anxious to suppress confusing sexual signals as she struggles to run home and family in the overpopulated city of Caracas. Meanwhile, Junior channels his childhood angst and burgeoning adolescence into taming his crop of afro curls. As the title suggests, he’s definitely having a ‘bad hair’ day, and it continues throughout the drama.

The barnet in question is the legacy of his black father, but Junior has more of a pop idol role model in mind as he desperately tries to straighten his unruly locks. As Marta, Samantha Castillo puts her foot down in a subtle performance of well-concealed irritation. She really needs a masculine man about the house to help her raise his baby brother, not a budding gay star with a eye for the boys, and particularly the local newspaper boy (Julio Mendez) who seems to be the object of Junior’s affections. As is often the case, Junior gets more leniency from his paternal grandma, Carmen (Nelly Ramos) but she has her own reasons for wanting to bring him up. Mariana Rondon crafts her narrative sparingly allowing us space to fill in the gaps and form our own conclusions in this nifty neorealist social drama that tackles the age old subject of oedipal love in a traditional matriarchal and Catholic environment, without resorting to sentimentalism. Micaela Cajahuaringa’s mobile camera evokes this nightmare of Caracas’s psychogeography with a vivid backdrop of traffic-choked streets and chaotic social housing that suffocate childhood dreams in a marasma of sombre daily reality. On a positive note, Camilo Froideval’s upbeat score suggests that Junior’s imagination may just win out in the end.  MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 30 January 2015 | 30 March on DVD VOD  with interviews with Mariana Rondon, featurettes, and trailers.

 

King of Escape (2009) | DVD release

DIRECTOR: Alain Guiraudie

Cast: Ludovic Berthillot, Hafsia Herzi, Pierre Laur, Luc Palun, Pascale Aubert

93min  French with subtitles   Comedy drama

Middle-aged gay tractor salesman Armand Lacourtade (Ludovic Berthillot) is a rough and ready country type who enjoys his food and a glass of red. But when he breaks up a local brawl to save sultry teenager Curly (Hafsia Herzi), he doesn’t expect her to fall in love with him. This is what happens in Alain Guiraudie comedy drama KING OF ESCAPE. A far cry from his award-winning hit Stranger By the Lake, this is rather a curio as gay-interest films go. Sharing the same laid back Provençale setting as Stranger, its upbeat summery charm contrasts with the sinister ambiance that haunted the thriller, although Armand is a similar character to the unlucky Henri (Patrick Assumcao).

Curly’s father, Daniel (Luc Palun), is one of Armand’s competitors, and there are no prizes for guessing why he is dead against his daughter’s budding romance an affable and harmless chap who has grown rather tired of the limited gay scene in their remote village, and rather fancies a cosy future with Curly. But when she falls for his easy charm, Dad turns nasty, pursuing the courting couple with a loaded gun.

The homosexuality here is a light bucolic ripple rather than a pulsating undercurrent, giving KING OF ESCAPE an almost irreverent comic tone: old men with unfeasible large members indulging in some over-the-top groaning are  amusingly and indulgently weaved into a storyline that has some mainstream appeal, although it’s still not really a family film. As in several of Guiraudie’s previous outings, these older gay men are a normal part of the human landscape evoking a refreshingly laid back vibe, despite being a gay one.

That Armand should fall for this fresh young girl seems entirely plausible given the local competition and Guiraudie makes the salient point that sexuality, and indeed love, can be a moveable feast – often catching us unawares when we least expect it. Curly and Armand make convincing lovers in scenes of unbridled sensuality similar to those in the woods in Stranger. But there’s a twist to the tale involving Curly’s father and his mates.

KING OF ESCAPE is a simple story but an enjoyable one – Guiraudie drawing us slowly but surely into his world of southern camerarderie. His characterisation is inventive yet convincing and totally lacking in cliché in a setting that feels as comfortable as a pair of old shoes. Herzi is the main attraction and Berhillot’s relaxed style and economy of movement echo those of Henri in Stranger.

Sex scenes — mostly al fresco— are staged with humour and realism and the unlikely romance feels convincing in the heat of the Toulouse Summer. Well-formed characters bolster the comic background; from Francois Clavier’s serious gendarme who pops up when least expected, to Armand’s boss, played by Pascal Aubert. As a feisty old git, Jean Toscan provides a hilarious denouement. MT

RELEASE ON DVD FROM 23 MARCH 2015 COURTESY OF PECCADILLO PICTURES

Appropriate Behaviour (2014)

Director: Desirée Akhavan

Cast: Desiree Akhavan, Rebecca Henderson, Scott Adsit

90 min. US  DRAMA

After being voted ‘the ugliest girl’ at her school when she was fourteen, first time writer/director Desirée Akhavan wrote a play about it and from then on found a way to cope with life’s setbacks: “Telling stories is how I process life”. Her first feature APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR shows that there is a great deal to process.

Shirin (Akhavan) is the daughter of upper-middle class Iranians in New York. Whilst her family display all the outward appearances of success, Shirin struggles with her bi-sexuality and keeps it a secret from them. This may be have been one of the reasons her relationship with Maxine (Henderson) came to an end, since her ex-partner tried to push Shirin to “come out”. Most of the film is dedicated to this relationship and its aftermath. Shirin’s hunger for sex leads her into awkward situations: picking up a rather compliant male, she demands to be dominated, and the man takes flight. On another occasion, she is picked up by a couple but the ménage-à-trois never gets going, the other woman suggesting they play “Monopoly” instead. Shirin’s professional life is equally in disarray: she is supposed to teach a group of six-year-old boys how to make a video, but is overwhelmed by their obstructive and chaotic energy – whilst next door the girls of the same age group are only too willing to stage a remake of Hitchcock’s The Birds. Not surprisingly, Shirin’s class finishing film is titled The Fart. The gags come fast and furious, but utter absurdity and old-fashioned melodrama don’t always go together. And when Akhavan finally takes a breather in the last scene, it feels like a cop-out.

Playing the lead in her own drama – far from being ugly and a brilliant actress to boot – Akhavan’s debut feature suffers mainly from its weak screenplay, which is rather unstructured and episodic, the numbers being often hilariously funny in themselves, but lacking any dramatic coherence: it is more a revue of the funniest/saddest moments in the life of Shirin. The rather clumsy and prudish sex scenes do not help. Overall Akhavan shows that her heart is in the right place, but that an emotional outcry is not enough to make a successful feature film. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6 MARCH 2015

André Semenza | Director | Sea Without Shore | Glasgow Film Festival 2015

Matthew Turner spoke to André Semenza, the director of SEA WITHOUT SHORE which has its World premiere at this year’s GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL 2105

Fragments of theatre, dance, cinema and poetry co-mingle in this unique and ravishing film, tell us more…

André Semenza (AS): It came about through the rehearsal studio. Fernanda Lippi, the choreographer, and I have worked together since 1999 and also with the Director of Photography, Marcus Waterloo. We have a particular way of working which is almost like improvised theatre, where we work in a rehearsal room and explore things with dances and find themes and have visions. It’s a very intuitive and collaborative kind of process where things start taking shape. So there was a relationship between these two women, Fernanda and Livia, the dancer. Clearly something was happening between them and there was some dramatic material emerging and we started piecing that together, like any script, but in a slightly more intuitive manner. And then I had a vision that we should do it in Sweden – my mother was Swedish and I had visions of horses and people draped over horses. So we started location scouting and it was sort of like a quest into the unknown, really, the search for discovery goes all the way through to post-production when we actually review some of the footage and are surprised by some things. Marcus and I both come from a film background where film used to be very precious, so we’re quite efficient, it’s not just like shooting blindly, although we didn’t have a script or a shot list. We were just looking for stuff that is of interest and has potential and often when you’re able to just hang in a little bit longer, something else happens which is often surprising, whether it’s the performer or the actor gives something extra that we didn’t quite expect. It’s quite real and quite raw, so we had great respect for that, creating the space for this to happen.

imagesYou mentioned that you had visions of horses. Where did they come from?

AS: Yes. I was sitting in the rehearsal room with Fernanda and Livia – it was a community centre in London that we were using – and I just had these visions of horses, I started drawing horses that these two women would be draped over. We could have done it in England, we were looking at locations, but I just had this inkling we should do it in Sweden.

How did you find those incredible locations, particularly the house?

AS: So we did location scouting there and the thing just sort of snowballed in a very organic manner. We were actually approached by a Brazilian who lives in Sweden who liked our work, he offered to be our location scout. His girlfriend, her brother had access to these incredible locations, the house where we shot it is a family property, it was called the White House, 19th century, it’s an astonishing place, it’s untouched. So we found records on location that we used in the film, the old 1910 records and the wallpaper, it just completely married with the theme of the film. So when you put your neck out there as a director and a producer and you don’t have location scouts and you actually do that yourself, people engage with you much more, in a different manner. And I also shot in an area in the summer where I have ancestry going back 600 years – I’m a strange European mix – but suddenly people came out of the woodwork who knew my great grandfather or something and things just kind of happened. It’s a different process – you put yourself out there and somehow it pulls you back in, to places that you didn’t expect.

images-3Whereabouts was the house?

AS: It’s on one of the islands outside Stockholm. It’s basically owned by this person who we met briefly through this connection. He was extremely generous – he also took us to his mother’s house and just invited us to stay there for a month, ‘Oh, I’m going to Colombia, here’s the key’ – he’d met us for ten minutes! And then this fella’s uncle became the co-producer in Sweden, he found all these Pagan sites where we wanted to film – we were looking for Pagan circles and things like that where we could work with an agnostic theme of this woman looking for her beloved soul that disappeared. And he was a very, very quiet guy, and he said, ‘Yeah, I know a place’ and there was this place, walking distance, which was a sort of a circle where nothing grows and it’s been a sacred site for thousands of years. He asked the girls to take off their gloves and they were warm! It was minus ten! It was all rather odd, but there is a sense of adventure when you work like that and I think it triggers other people’s imaginations as well. And then of course my job and Fernanda’s job is to hone it, to unify that. Because of course, many ideas that we come up with are rubbish, even my own – you try and cling to your own ideas, but actually you have to drop them and all that. So in the end you have something that’s very organic, where the performances, the bodies, the costumes, the wallpaper, the lighting, everything should be – I don’t want to sound pretentious but the gesamtkunstwerk, the whole sensorial experience, covering all the senses, plus the intellect as well. I’m not really a Wagner fan, but he thought opera was it and then cinema became it, where if you’re open to going on a journey you can really have a very sensorial and an intellectual complete experience.

Who or what were your main influences? My editor felt that your film echoed Hungarian director, Gábor Bódy’s Nárcisz és Psyché…

AS: Really? I don’t know that film. Fernanda and I have a physical theatre company together as well, so I’ve always been interested in Grotowski, the Polish theatre giant, Peter Brook was a huge fan. His stuff was very physical but not in a cathartic way, it’s extremely controlled, but you’d see this quite shocking stuff and every night was the same. Technically phenomenal. So I was always interested in that and Fernanda, coming from Trinity Laban [Conservatoire of Music and Dance], having that experience married very well with these sort of things. And of course I trained, Stanislavsky, whatever, so that’s the performance side of things. And from the cinema point of view, I think my greatest influence perhaps was Tarkovsky, I think that’s one of the most shocking experiences I’ve ever had. And of course Ingmar Bergman, speaking Swedish as well. Especially with this film, the voiceover is in Swedish and there’s definitely a Nordic tempo in it. Many film people probably have a similar list of film cinema influences to mine, the Ozus and the Godards and so on, but I think for this film, Tarkovsky and Bergman would be big influences. Dreyer too, Ordet is devastating stuff. Early Fritz Lang too.

images-1How did co-directing with Fernanda work in practice? Were you responsible for different elements?

AS: Well, we did a film before, Ashes of God, in 2003 and I was the director and she was the choreographer. But we felt in this project, because she conceived so much in the rehearsal room – I’m very much the film side of things, the choice of shots with markers, I also edited and so on, but her influence is a deep understanding of the emotional story, sometimes she would have incredible insights and she was just there from the very beginning when it was just people flopping around in a studio looking rather rubbish and then shooting stuff from the beginning and it still looked very rubbish, but then just like nursing it through and being a real coach to the cast, to Livia and to [Anna Mesquita] in particular and of course doing her own work as well. So it’s a situation where we don’t step on each other’s feet at all – she provides material and I can then give my own guidance or input, but she’s not precious about, ‘Oh, you have to shoot all the choreography’ – if you work with a famous choreographer, you have to cover the whole thing and every dancer has to be in shot, so it’s not really cinema, it’s nothing to do with cinema. So it’s very much surrendering all the material to the camera and what the camera falls in love with, and Marcus, the cameraman, is very intuitive as well, so we have this triangular co-creation, shall we say, going on.

And you also did the editing yourself. What was that process like?

AS: I was very concerned about editing myself, because I’m aware that some directors, when they edit, they get very self-indulgent and stuff just rambles on forever, but what we did was basically, I was editing and then I’d put it on DVD, not look at it for a week and then watch it with Fernanda in a different context. And she would be the “Paramount Pictures person”, she would be the outside view, we would talk about it and she would see stuff that maybe I had missed. And of course, I was able to distance myself and have a new appraisal of it, so I’m actually very happy with the edit. Of course, it requires certain patience, it’s not MTV editing, it’s classical stuff, but when I look at the cuts now, the timing is just right. And it was just a slow, patient process like that.

Were Fernanda and Livia always going to play those roles? Was there a casting process?

AS: Livia had worked with us in other productions before, live productions, and we always wanted to make a film project together. She came from Brazil with us and that was the cast. In Stockholm, we approached a senior dancer for that third role and she was unable to do it, but then the person who was approaching her was actually a young dancer herself and we looked at her and thought, ‘Why don’t we try Anna?’ – she’s half Brazilian, half Swedish. It was a very happy coincidence, in a way. So we didn’t have a proper casting in that sense.

images-2So all the cast members were primarily dancers?

AS: Yes, apart from the lady who works with horses, who is a horse person, really. She used to be a designer, but now she has a farm for horses on their last legs, so to speak, post-career horses. So she was just providing that side of things.

Movement is obviously a very important part of the film – how collaborative was that process? AS you say, Fernanda was the choreographer, but did you work with Fernanda on the movements as the director?

AS: We have very similar taste, Fernanda and I, so we get excited about the same stuff, which is very useful. From my point of view, if I don’t believe something, it’s not going to make it [into the film], it has to be believable, it has to be authentic, even if it’s strange. So that’s always been my filter. I’m not really a contemporary dance person, I don’t really like a lot of contemporary dance, or the vanity, all that nonsense – it’s very much about performance and authenticity and when you capture something it’s a privilege, you feel it’s really tremendous, it’s a unique moment. In terms of editing, as an editor, it’s very much a new choreographic process, shots were slowed down, maybe 80 clips were slowed down, sometimes noticeably, other times not, and the juxtaposition and the breathing, the sense of rhythm is very choreographic, I think, as well. So I’m very much interested in movement. And in terms of the movement of the dance, it should not be a dance film, you know, breaking out in dance, it’s not a musical in that sense – it’s very much an externalisation of these compulsive, almost autistic kind of movements where the person is bereft and at a loss. And I think these movements are quite rooted in this person as well, in Livia, she brought that to the role, so we were able to use some of that material. And so when she dances by herself, it’s a memory, she re-enacts part of what she remembers, and then when she rocks, that’s very much an autistic, kind of lonely thing to do. So I think it should really be, again, not sticking out as ‘Hmm, this is a bit of a dance moment’, but actually being integrated as a whole in the story.

The film presents a narrative of doomed love from a female perspective, but is there a male perspective or is it exclusively female?

AS: Hmm. [long pause] It’s a difficult question, I don’t really know how to [answer that]. For me, I very much identified with that sense of loss. I actually lost my mum in 2005, which was just literally a week after the winter shoot. And of course that grief went into the film. So it’s a feminine film, I think, but also, it’s very hard, because my taste, our live work is quite shocking sometimes, not for the shock value itself, but just because it’s quite visceral. And also, Andrew Mckenzie’s work, the composer, from the beginning, he recorded the dancers’ performance and then created a twenty minute track that was then used in further rehearsals and on location, so they’re using their own sound and it becomes almost esoteric and quite mysterious. His stuff is quite shocking too – shocking is the wrong word, it would silence people, in a good sense. Which I think is what I’ve always loved, when I saw, let’s say Fritz Lang’s M for the first time, I couldn’t speak for two days. You don’t go outside and go, ‘Oh, that was nice’, you’re like [stares, open-mouthed], you want to stay through the credits and that sensation stays with you for some time. And I think Andrew’s music has that effect. As an artist, you always aspire to reach something like that. If you see a Mark Rothko, you feel something beyond just paint and the shapes. Something transcendent, maybe that’s the word.

What was the most challenging aspect of the production? What was the hardest thing to get right?

AS: There were lots of challenges on the shoot, but I see them as adventurous challenges, you know, like getting the boat and the ice-breaker, living in a house with no heating, all huddled together at night, shaking with the cold – all these things were tough, but not in a negative sense, they were part of the experience, of reaching the peak of the mountain, or whatever. But the tough thing really is the editing, when you start putting things together, when you start marrying the summer stuff with the winter stuff, it’s dreadful, you don’t really feel it’s going to work and then suddenly something gives. Editing can be quite a lonely and depressing place, sometimes, but the most difficult part for me, personally, was pushing it through the technological development, because we shot on a format which has now been surpassed, and then getting it through to the DCP, all that process was a real challenge, to be honest. Basically, what we did with Ashes of God, we shot that on digital as well, but went to film and it looked like a film, astonishingly, from DDV cam, it was like 35mm, massively blown up and nobody noticed that it was not film. And all of this was because emulsion is forgiving, but if you don’t have that process and you go from digital through to the final product and you don’t have that emulsion, you will see all the mistakes, all the artefacts, so we worked very hard to minimise that. And that was a long, long process, I’d say two years. Jumping through lots of programs and then you’re losing quality. We ended up doing it in Pinewood with a phenomenal, wonderful grader, who had recently restored lots of BBC films, Martin Greenback and he was just utterly patient and just fantastic. He really saved us.

Did you cut anything out during the editing process that you were sorry to see go?

AS: Well, yes, a lot of the poetry, some of the wonderful lines that we had – [Algernon Charles] Swinburne primarily, but also Katherine Philips, who was a 17th century lesbian poet, and also Renée Vivien. So some of these lines were great, but they just would not stick, or they would be doubling up the message and it would just be a bit too much of a good thing, so they had to go. Sometimes less is more and all that stuff. There were some dance scenes where we actually got a whole bunch of local dancers to dance for us, traditional dance, Midsummer Night’s Dance, wonderful stuff in Sweden, if you think of Miss Julie and all that stuff. And they’re not in the film – it just didn’t look right. We worked very hard to try and make it work, but all we have left is a bit of music in the background.

How did you go about choosing the text for the film and did you write any original text for the film?

AS: Yes, we did. Basically we wrote the stuff which I thought was too on the nose. Fernanda wrote some beautiful stuff which had to do with her sister, in fact. And that was very much of interest. And then I started reading massive anthologies of lesbian literature, from the 1500s onwards, and I came across a lot of interesting people, including Katherine Philips and I stumbled upon Anactoria by Swinburne, which is Sappho speaking to Anactoria and he’s a great poet and it’s wild stuff. And somehow that really reverberated. So it was a collage of fragments that I brought in, about thirty pages. And then I felt that it should be in Swedish, because these women are in Sweden and you could logically justify it in that, for instance, Renée Vivien was English and she was blue-blooded and inherited a massive fortune, and she had a massive fight with her mother, so much so that she left for France and just abandoned her Englishness and spoke French and wrote in French. So it felt like these are clearly not Swedish women, they are South American women in Sweden, looking for a kind of Pagan liberation, perhaps getting away from the macho South American world and so on. So I felt it should be in Swedish, but this was all very intuitive stuff, so I sent it to a great translator that somebody recommended and when I got the translation back, I just burst into laughter with pleasure, because she had actually managed to capture the essence of the poetry and in some cases even improved on it, if I may say so. I hope Swinburne’s not listening! But it was just, ‘Wow, this is great!’ And then, recording this, we had a Chilean Swedish lady doing a lot of the voiceover, with a great voice, and also Fernanda. Fernanda doesn’t speak a word of Swedish, and she didn’t even want to know the meaning of the sentences, and I was coaching her, and I actually felt that it was great that she didn’t know, because she would just deliver it without intention. I felt that was a very interesting way, almost like an Ozu or a Bresson way of approaching acting, where you strip things of meaning and emotion and just get the purity. So Fernanda was just repeating after me, like a parrot, so it had a very hypnotic quality, to me, and, I felt, a musical quality. So there were all kinds of factors, the voiceover script is also a musical score, I feel. It ranges, and it gives the passion, the rage, the loss, the tenderness, all the kind of things that you have in a love relationship, but also, because of the voices and the South American vibrato of the voices, there is a kind of musical quality, it goes into the music track, really.

Do you see it as a lesbian film in particular?

AS: Yes, lesbian, but not with a capital L. It’s very much about human beings, you know, it’s clearly a love story between two women, but we’re not really carrying the flag or something like that. In a lot of my work, sometimes there are gay characters and so on, so it is a lesbian film, yeah, but with a lower case L.

What’s your next project?

AS: I have two films to finish, that we shot in Brazil. They’re smaller films, but they’re dance / physical theatre films. And we have a film that we want to revive, that I raised finance for in the 90s, a great, great project, it was a triangular relationship, a psychological drama, with Lothaire Bluteau, from Jesus of Montreal. So I’m very keen to revive it now, but setting it a century earlier, because we’re very much into this late, decadent poetics kind of thing. We’ve gone to many congresses and become very friendly with these academics and studied these water painters and Oscar Wildes and Swinburnes and it’s just a very, very interesting world where I felt that the late Victorians, these guys really pushed the boat out, they were the punks of the time, so if we put this story in 1890s Britain, I think it would be very interesting. So that will be the next project.

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SEA WITHOUT SHORE | WORLD PREMIERE | GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL 2015  

 

 

Love Is Strange (2013)

Director: Ira Sachs

Writer: Mauricio Zacharias

Cast: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Darren E Burrows, Marisa Tomei, Charlie Tahan,

94min  Drama  US

Ira Sach’s previous feature Keep the Lights On was an exploration of gay love seen from the perspective of a young man in a troubled relationship. Fraught with despair and conflict it was a difficult film to watch. Here is something more gentle and kind about a couple who have been together for nearly forty years are appear to have found true love and contentment together.

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) finally decide to formalise their relationship but scarcely have the champagne glasses been put away than outside influences put a strain on their their early days of marriage. George is fired from his job at the local church because his new status is not considered acceptable there. During an odd interlude with their their close family and neighbours the pair fail to raise enough capital to pay their bills so while selling their place and searching for new accommodation Ben moves in with his nephew Elliott (Darren E. Burrows), his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their teenage son, Joey (Charlie Tahan). George manages to find a room with some neighbours.

Forced apart, their relationship comes under strain and this is where Love Is Strange gradually becomes unconvincing. For a start, it seems implausible that this affluent-looking and established couple in their sixties/seventies would prey upon their younger family for help with accommodation and then agree to living apart in a rather bogus set-up. Once Ben is established at his nephew’s place he becomes unbearably self-centred and particularly irritating in his insensitivity towards Kate; seemingly unable to understand how their family functions and lacking any graciousness in his status as a guest. Yet when he meets up with George in the evenings, he behaves in quite a different way: as a normally-adjusted and sympathetic adult. As a result we feel little for this rather spoilt old man whose only focus is to paint on the roof of his nephew’s apartment block in the afternoons. As George, Alfred Molina shines as the more mellow and appealing character of the couple. The fact that they are gay is incidental here as Sachs’s narrative focuses on love, coupledom and the nuclear and wider family dynamics. Whether Sachs is simply telling a story or whether he is trying to probe and explore the differences between the intimate love of two people (essentially coupledom ) and the love of a couple and their inherent responsibility to their kids and extended family network and community is unclear. However, the result is that we feel nothing for Ben and George as they simper over their cocktails but every sympathy for Kate and Elliott, who are holding their union together with the additional stress of kids, while trying to be supportive to their rather cantankerous uncle.

Make of it what you will. Ira Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias craft some interesting characters in this slim but engaging drama which has some wistfully dreamy moments (such as those when Ben is painting over the New York skyline) that allow space to drift and imagine the strangeness of love, responsibility and human dynamics to an appealing piano score. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 FEBRUARY 2015

 

Eastern Boys (2013)

image007Director/Writer: Robin Campillo

Olivier Rabourdin, Kirill Emelyanov, Daniil Vorobyov, Edea Darcque, Camila Chanirova, Beka Markozashvili

128mins  French with subtitles   Drama

Transeuropean migration and the nature of homosexuality are the themes that coalesce in this genre-bending French thriller that cleverly draws you into a web of intrigue from opening its opening sequences. EASTERN BOYS is the slick and provocative second feature from writer-director Robin Campillo, a long-time collaborator of Laurent Cantet (Vers Le Sud, The Class).

Eastern Boys copy

In the Gare Du Nord in Paris, gangs of Eastern European migrants hang around looking for opportunities for work and sex. One of them is the alluring Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) who catches the eye of Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin), a middle-aged business-man who is cruising for company.  What follows is a shocking and thought-provoking thriller, an immersive love story and a disturbing police drama with shifts in tone that feel entirely plausible yet at the same time highly innovative. EASTERN BOYS succeeds both as a cracking drama with gay and art house sensibilities and a sinister thriller with mainstream appeal. MT

EASTERN BOYS WON BEST FILM in the Orizzonti section at the 70thVenice Film Festival. MT

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH ROBIN CAMPILLO

EASTERN BOYS IS NOW OUT ON DVD/Blu on 9 MARCH 2015

 

The Circle (Der Kreis) 2014 | DVD release

Dir.: Stefan Haupt

Cast: Matthias Hungerbühler, Sven Schelker, Anatole Taubmann, Stephan Witschi, Marianne Sägebrecht, Ernst Ostertag, Röbi Rapp;

Switzerland 2014, 100 min. Docu-Drama

THE CIRCLE informs us, rather surprisingly, that Zurich once was the European capital of the gay scene. In the 1950s, every Friday plane loads of Germans arrived for the weekend because in Switzerland – contrary to Germany – homosexuality was not a crime. In Stefan Haupt’s engaging docu-drama (Switzerland’s Oscar® hope for 2015) we soon discover that gay men and lesbian women were under constant threat of police harassment and censorship.

Haupt (Utopia Blues) tells the story of “The Circle”, a gay community group formed in 1942 in Zurich by the actor Karl Meier (Witschi). We join the action in 1956, when the 18 year old hairdresser Röbi Rapp (Schelker) met the young teacher Ernst Ostertag (Hungerbühler) at the organisation’s yearly shindig, that become a magnet for gay men from all over Europe. The film follows their story, intercut with the usual talking-head interviews with Rapp and Ostertag themselves, which interrupt the rather well-constructed period narrative.

“The Circle” published a magazine of the same name which was tri-lingual for a good reason: whilst the police and censors were able to interfere with the French and German versions, none of them spoke English, so that the more daring parts were printed only in English, and omitted from the other versions. It was with regard to the contents of this magazine that Ostertag and Rapp had their first argument. Rapp felt inferior to the well-educated teacher, who came from a upper-middle class family (who would have been mortified by the knowledge of his sexual orientation), and whilst Rapp’s mother (Sägebrecht) was an immigrant from Germany (who coped well with her son being gay), she worked as a lowly cleaner. After their argument, Ostertag gave Rapp his poems, which his lover, a gifted singer, put into rather moving songs, which accompany the film.

At school Ostertag had other problems: he wanted to read Camus’ “L’ Etranger” with his all-girl class but Siebert, the head teacher, also a member of “The Circle”, told him to choose “some classical French text”: he himself had perfected a way to fly under the radar in all areas of his life. But after a gay composer is killed in Zurich, police harassment of the gay community worsens, and when Sieber’s name is mentioned after a raid on the club’s premises, the head teacher takes his life, after his wife leaves him with the children.

For the next decade, until the student riots of 1968 deflected the police from harassing the gay community, “The Circle” group was under surveillance: whenever a gay member was beaten-up or killed, it was often the perpetrator who was seen as the victim in the media, not the real victim. Ironically, 1968 meant the end for the “Circle” and its publication: magazine imports from Denmark were much more daring, and the younger members left the group because Meier had, in their eyes, made too many comprises with the police.

Haupt crafts a bold and lovingly detailed period-piece enriched by contemporary newsreels underlining the staid and bourgeois  atmosphere in the city, making it even more surprising that gay life was at all possible in such a reactionary social setting. The ensemble acting is convincing, and the social divisions between Ostertag’s and Rapp’s family are still alive and kicking even today, provoking intense debate between the (real) couple over the delay in Ostertag inviting Rapp to meet his posh family for the first time.AS

DER KREIS won Berlin’s Panorama Audience and Teddy Award and is now available on DVD from January 29, 2015

 

The Way He Looks (2014) |dvd/blu release

Director: Daniel Ribeiro

Cast: Tess Amorim,  Fabio Audi, Ghilherme Lobo,

This upbeat story of two teenagers is the feelgood coming-out debut from Brazilian filmmaker Daniel Ribeiro who came to fame with You, Me and Him in 2008. Pristine visuals and a winning script (Fipresci and Teddy awarded at Berlinale) ensures a watchable experience that centres on Leonardo, a blind college boy, managing his burgeoning sexuality and desperate to move on with his life in an upmarket part of Sao Paulo where he lives with his supportive, if overprotective, parents.

Extended from a short I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone filmed to finance the feature, Ribeiro develops his narrative extremely capably with this original premise, casting blind newcomer Ghilherme Lobo as his lead. Tess Amorim gives a thoughtful turn as his hopeful girlfriend Giovana, with well-concealed competitiveness for rivals in the school room.  But when Gabriel Fabio Audi comes into the picture, Giovana is pushed out amid much jealousy, as a palpable spark develops between the boys.

Lobo as Leo captures the sensitivity of gay love made even more poignant by his blindness and tentative approach to taking matters further with Gabriel.  Although for the most part uninventive visually, with the Brazilians looking very pale despite the sunny poolside life – there are some great sequences such as one in the nightclub. That said, it’s a brave attempt at handling a tricky story that comes off well and provides a strong and moving tale for young gay teens hesitant at coming out,  to feel encouraged by. MT

THE WAY HE LOOKS IS BRAZIL’S ENTRY TO THE 2015 ACADEMY AWARDS. It is available on dvd/blu from 9 February 2015

 

 

Interview with Robin Campillo | Director – Eastern Boys (2013)

image002EASTERN BOYS come from all over Eastern Europe to Paris where they hang around the Gare du Nord. Some are as old as 25 but others could still be in their late teens. They might be prostitutes but there’s way of knowing. Fifty-something Daniel Muller (Olivier Rabourdin/Of Gods And Men) meets one of them, Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) who agrees to visit him the next day. But when the doorbell rings, Daniel is unaware that his life is going to change forever.

Meredith Taylor chatted to writer/director, Robin Campillo, about his latest film which won the ORIZZONTI Prize at VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2013. He is a known for THE CLASS (2008), TIME OUT (2001) and THE RETURNED (2004).

MJT: Eastern Boys is a gay love story wrapped up in a migration thriller – where did the idea come from?

RP: The love story comes from a friend of a friend of about 55 who decided to adopt his former boyfriend of 35 or so who came from Poland. And I thought, how can I direct a film where the meaning of love changes?. And that was the challenge; to create the mutation that started with a sort of prostitution, then became more tender and gradually developed into a father and son relationship. And the other thing was that I wanted to create a character who was like ‘Boss’ (Daniil Vorobyov) who was at the same time frightening, enchanting and mesmerising. I love the idea of being afraid of someone but also by being attracted by them. And most of the time I think people are afraid of migration (and immigrants) and I find that exciting too, so I wanted to create a paradoxical situation here.

MJT: Now, in the film the younger man (Marek) attracts the older man (Daniel) by his charismatic gaze – did you intend him to be sexually submissive?

RP: I’m not sure whether Marek was a real prostitute but he uses sex to escape from his life and get what he wants – he wants to be desired by someone, and to re-gain his power (as ‘Boss’ the gang-leader, controls his life in Paris). He has empathy with Daniel and they get on but I don’t know what is going on between them actually. Daniel thinks he’s having a tender affair with Marek but all the time money is involved and he tends to forget that.

MJT: But Marek has sexual control over Daniel when they first meet at the Gare du Nord and that control continues…

RP: Well he’s trying to exert some power over his life and that’s the only way he knows how…maybe he has been taught by Boss how to behave in this situation so that he can get what he wants from Daniel…he (Marek) thinks he has the control because of the sexual power he has over Daniel but once they start their relationship, I think Daniel has the power…

MJT: Yes, and especially at the end…but we won’t reveal what happens there. What was the idea to set part of the film in your own apartment?

RP: It’s a thing about invasion (laughing) sometimes invasion can be positive..being invaded created a lot of things in the world so I like the feeling of being invaded by my own characters in my own film and my own space –  it all felt very weird and very exciting..

MJT: Did that continual spontaneity with the actors lead you to have to keep changing the script and re-writing during filming?

RP: Yes – before we started the shoot I didn’t realise that some of the Russian actors couldn’t speak English so, nine months before the shoot, I asked them to come to the apartment with Olivier Rabourdin and we did improvisations of a lot of the scenes and the party and they collaborated with me. Afterwards I went home and I re-wrote a lot of it..I used to think that directing a film meant being in control of it but I let go of this control and it became very exciting…I abandoned myself during the shooting and I wanted the others to do my film and it was a great idea.

MJT: Did you like that feeling of letting go?

RP: Yes, so much..I was mesmerised by the fact that they could take over the film. Of course, there was some germs (seeds) in my script to begin with but the collaboration then became so much more exciting – we had two cameras during the shooting and played with creating a different atmosphere with each and I found that very inspiring because it’s not like you have a programme when you wake up in the morning. You need to stay flexible and be surprised by what happens. I now have a lot of distance from my film and I love my film because it doesn’t belong to me and I that’s what I mean by being invaded by other people..foreigners… and yet to learn a lot myself.

MJT: Well film is really teamwork and certainly so in this case.

RP: Yes you’re right…and I’ve worked a lot with Laurent Cantet on this idea

MJT: Tell us about that.

RP: Well I’ve known Laurent for about 30 years or so and we are very close and good friends. When we did THE CLASS we were using three cameras and didn’t have a fixed project it mind. So we decided to look to the actors and let them create the characters. It was amazing to create that atmosphere where everyone is a little bit free. And I know now that whatever the story, we need to keep that feeling. It took me time to realise this but it always depends on good casting, so I always use good actors – the actors and the locations are the most important things in the film…for me.

MJT: Marek is amazing – he’s got a particular sense of vulnerability and he’s instinctive – where did you find him?

RP: It took me nine months..I searched all over the internet for my actors and watched them in many Russian films, not very good films I must say, and when you see bad films, and this is important, that’s when you can see who good the actors are…someone tried to tell me in France “you took these guys off the street” so I told him “please…he’s an actor, he’s been acting for years”. And Marek comes from a family of actors; he’s been acting since he was five. And you don’t even see the techniques with him because he’s so good. Between takes, he’s fiddling with his ‘phone but when you say ‘action’ he immediately starts to act. During the film I only told him three things and he’s so quick to learn and he understood everything. I’ve never met an actor like this – you just have to tell him a few things when you want to make some adjustments and he’s knows the character completely – he’s an amazing actor and, as you say he’s instinctive – he never asks you any questions – he just plays the part as you want it or completely differently – if you want that too..

MJT: Olivier’s also well-cast as Daniel. He’s vulnerable but also looks very worn down by life.

RP: Yes that’s right. That’s why I chose him because actors wear their lives on their face – and it’s very important to spend time to find the right casting – you can feel their life from their face without asking them. You don’t have to hear about their sad story with their last relationship. When you chose an actor, you chose a history on his face. That’s what cinema’s about. You don’t have to push things – things exist before you come along, you just have to find them. He has his own story and it’s rich for this character, he has this way of looking..

MJT: He has a world-weariness about him..

RP: Exactly – that’s the word “world-weariness”. You have a lot of expressions for everything…English is great for that!

MJT: Tell us about the look of the film. In the beginning it’s so disorientating…

RP: Yes the world ‘disorientation’ is for me a very important one. I like the idea that I lose myself: the spectator in the middle of nowhere with no compass! Debating what’s happening in this film. I want it to be (a) chaos! Very much like in THE CLASS – then after a moment you realise that there are characters and a relationship between them. You are the spectator and you are creating your own story, and you get lost occasionally and you have to focus a lot to see the fiction appear.

MJT: When you wrote VERS LE SUD (a drama about female sex tourism, starring Charlotte Rampling and directed by Laurent Cantet) it was about older women going with young boys, here you have an older man with a young boy. This oedipal/dominant relationship seems to fascinate you?

LC: Yes – it’s very strange because, I didn’t think a lot about it at the time but I must have a thing about it. I think what we call prostitution, or sex with money, is an important way of talking about domination and especially occidental domination in the world today. It’s a way of thinking about social differences but also about ‘desire’. I think prostitution will become much bigger because of the internet and because of people getting older…and wanting ‘desire’ in their lives. 

MJT: Do you mean older people still wanting to find chemistry ?

RP: Yes chemistry…people want to live more and have more experiences and I think it’s going to be huge. And I don’t mean that’s good or bad…I’m not judging..

MJT: No, you’re just making an observation about what’s actually happening.

RP: What we loved in VERS LE SUD was there were two kinds of minorities – women can be a kind of minority: they can be dominated a lot. So if women were dominated in their own lives they were going there (the Dominican Republic) to gain a little bit of power and desire. These films are about two types of people who were being dominated and now dominate a little bit. We found that fascinating.

MJT: So what’s next?

RP: This time I’m going to make another fantasy film (LES REVENANTS/The Returned was his first) with much more money! (laughing)

ME: So financing is not going to be a problem..

RP: I don’t know – we’ll see – but I want to make a film about women – because this one had a lot of men…

ME: And who would be your fantasy actress?

RP: Well I love Catherine Deneuve – but it’s a fantasy…(laughing)

ME: Well I hope your fantasy comes true. Thanks very much Robin Campillo.

RP: Thank you!

EASTERN BOYS IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 5TH DECEMBER 2014

In Their Room (2013) |London|Berlin|San Francisco

Director/Writer: Travis Mathews

113min  US Docudrama

So you thought INTERIOR LEATHER BAR was explicit? In some way, Travis Mathew’s latest project is even more so. Here, he takes his voyeuristic camera to reveal that the most intimate part of gay men’s lives is probably their bedroom. This is where hearts are opened and desires are divulged in a raw and sometimes moving exposé of gaydom that offers insight and food for though, even to mainstream audiences.

This latest docu-drama is cobbled together from a series of videos that have now been aired under the title IN THEIR ROOM, that wanders peripatetically through the boudoirs of eight urban men starting off in Mathews’ hometown of San Francisco back in 2009. Some men are open and candid; others more coy and clandestine; one or two even flirt openly with the camera but they all bare their souls and their bodies to provide us with fascinating thoughts centred mainly on their views of sex, relationships and love. In Berlin, the second and most provocative segment focuses on their online lives as they trawl the internet for dates and hook-ups. A couple compare notes and discuss their findings and, in common with any sexual orientation, the fear of loneliness looms ever present, surfacing as one of the most haunting fears: seemingly more worrying than contracting AIDS or other diseases.

Eventually we arrive in London for the third and most recent part filmed in 2013. Roaming through tawdry bedsits it feels that this capital city is really where gay men feel most isolated and fearful for the future. But, there again, London is the hardest, most competitive place for almost anything or anyone and this factor filters through quite alarmingly amongst the gay community. Ageism is mentioned as one of the ongoing fears of gay men. But isn’t that also a fear in the heterosexual community as relationships break-up more easily than ever before due to the pressure of modern life but also the availability of alternatives and the apparent ease of moving on with our lives due to the internet.

Whatever your orientation, Mathews provides a thought-provoking and engaging set of interviews thats probes the innermost thoughts of men stripped bare, quite literally. MT

OUT ON DVD FROM 8 DECEMBER 2014

 

Land of Storms (2014) Viharsarok

Director: Adam Csaszi

Writers: Adam Csaszi, Ivan Szabo

Cast: Andras Suto, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Adam Varga, Lajos Otto Horvath, Eniko Borcsok

105min  Hungarian/German/English  Drama

Adam Csaszi’s feature debut is a stunningly-shot and steamy affair that explores the erotic life of the three young men in the traditionally Catholic Hungarian countryside. Similar in tone and atmosphere to the recent Polish dramas: Floating Skyscrapers and In The Name Of,  Storms is another foray into Eastern European attitudes to homoexuality and benefits from the excitingly inventive visuals of Csaszi’s cinematographer Marcell Rev, whose widescreen compositions and intimate close-ups compliment the sexually-charged performances of lust and longing by leads Suto (Szabolcs), Urzendowsky (Bernard) and Varga (Aron).

Szabolcs and Bernhard are best friends, training with a German soccer team to become professional footballers. Before their big game, attended by a scout from a leading team, the young men watch straight porn and smoke joints, setting the tone for what is to follow. In the match, Andras is not only sent off, but has a bad game overall. He makes a hasty retreat to his native Hungary, where he takes refuge in a ramshackle house on the prairie, inherited from his grandfather. During the night a young man from the nearby village, (Aron), tries to steal Szabolcs’s motorcycle, but in spite of it, they become friends and are physically drawn to one another during horseplay, ending up in bed. Aron is shunned by the villagers after he shares this with his mother. Splitting up with his girlfriend Brigi (Zita Teby), he then moves in with Szabolcs. Suddenly Bernhard arrives, declares his love for Andras, and asks him to make a decision which has dramatic consequences and vehement resistance from the villagers.

Hungary, particular in the provinces, is still very much influenced by the Catholic Church, and even the young attend mass regularly and participate in processions. Homosexuality is therefore considered a sin, especially in these villages. The love between Andras and Aron is doomed from the beginning; Andras is seen as the seducer, not only poisoning Aron but taking away the male head of a household and potential husband to his girlfriend. The young men of the village want revenge, and since beatings for both men do not change anything, psychological pressure is put on Aron with startling consequences.

Csaszi’s debut captures the wide flatness of the Hungarian countryside, and shows a life more or less unchanged since the First World War. The camera pans over the vastness, dwarfing the men in the enormity of their environment. Szabolc’s diffidence is touching and sensitive, very much in contrast to Aron’s physical masculinity. Land of Storms is a slow-burning mood piece, that may be too slow for some audiences, but nonetheless mesmerises throughout with its potent narrative and the powerful atmosphere. Congratulations to Adam Csaszi’s brave attempt to convey the hostility of a country governed by ‘The Small Landholders Party’, which represents exactly the sort of old-timers who hunt down the likes of Szabolcs and Bernard.

LAND OF STORMS SCREENED DURING THE BERLINALE 2014 IN THE PANORAMA SECTION.

IT IS ALSO SCREENING AT SARAJEVO FILM FESTIVAL which runs from 15 – 23 August 2014.

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Lilting (2014) | BFI Flare 2014

Director: Hong Khaou
Cast: Ben Whishaw, Cheng Pei Pei, Naomi Christie, Andrew Leung, Peter Bowles
91mins  Drama UK 

LILTING, is the feature debut of writer/director Hong Khaou. Made on a shoe-string, this simply-told and sweet-natured drama, sensitively explores loss, denial and grief that ensues when gay writer Richard (Ben Whishaw) loses his partner Kai (Andrew Leung) in a tragic accident. Kai’s Chinese-Cambodian mother Junn (Cheng Pei Pei), also struggles to accept this sudden loss, and the nature of the relationship between Richard and her son. Having recently been moved to a retirement home, she speaks little English and is resentful at this isolation from her only son, who never told her of his homosexuality. Richard, at pains to support her emotionally despite the language barrier, feels hurt by her mild hostility, as he suffers with his own grief.  But when Alan (Peter Bowles), a kindly gentleman in the care home, makes romantic overtures to Junn, it’s clear that the language of love transcends the spoken word.

Hong Khaou shows how language is so much more than just mere words: while words can build a dialogue between people, sometimes body language and gestures can build a more significant rapport. When (Naomi Christie) arrives to interpret between them, her well-meaning efforts clarify matters for Richard, yet threaten the relationship between the amorous couple. A whole cultural mindset divides these people, who despite waves of goodwill, are still oceans apart. Ben Whishaw is moving as a man diminished by grief, yet determined to act with integrity and despite occasional lulls in pacing, and the implausible rapport between the love-birds, his mesmerising performance holds it all together.  MT

SCREENING DURING BFI FLARE 20 – MARCH 2015 | ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 8 AUGUST 2014

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Stranger By The Lake (2013) L’Inconnu Du Lac | DVD release

Director: Alain Guiraudie

Cast: Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d’Assumcao, Jerome Chapatte

100min  French with subtitles   Thriller

1374946_10151927858522387_889948991_nAlain Guiraudie’s STRANGER BY THE LAKE is one of the year that has really made a lasting impression. Disturbing and utterly absorbing right up until its enigmatic showdown, it may at first appear to have little to offer mainstream audiences. But what develops is a gripping psychodrama with naturalistic performances that just feels ‘real’.  Stranger is set in a naturist cruising spot for gay men by a lakeside in southern France. Stripping off on arrival, they swim and bond with each other; occasionally indulging in explicit sex in the lush vegetation nearby. Guiraudie has captured the sensuality of these torrid encounters enhanced by the natural ambient sounds of nature and sparky, realistic dialogue and simple narrative structure.  The lakeside setting provides an ideal ‘stage’ for the sinister events that gradually emerge.

Handsomely-built but hard-edged Michel (Christophe Paou)  is a regular to the hedonistic idyll; parking in the clearing, he swims each day and cruises for casual pick-ups. Is he a homosexual predator or a homophobe exacting revenge on his fellow men for their putative sins of the flesh.? Guiraudie ramps up the tension by making us rely on body language and only patchy dialogue, leaving us intrigued to know what’s going on. Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) is attracted to Michel like a moth to a flame. An easy-going and pleasant-looking gay, Franck is open and honest; emotionally quite vulnerable.  As Michel has a regular hook-up, Franck strikes up a chatty friendship with Henri (Patrick D’Assumcao), a portly straight guy who is newly single and depressed at spending the August holidays alone.  Henri appears dismissive but also fascinated by the cruising activity on the beach. While Franck enjoys the beauty of the sunset one evening, he witnesses Michel drowning a boyfriend, after horseplay in the lake. Rather than quelling Franck’s desire for Michel, the murder seems to enhance his sexual attraction. Guiraudie captures this essence of danger that spikes when strong attraction overrides the rational brain.  In the quite calm of the lakeside, a simmering and palpable tension builds  from Franck ‘s attraction to Michel’s sexual allure.  Michel is clearly tricky; dangerous, but he fancies him to the point where seduction blocks out reason: offering the ultimate in escapism and the thrill of the unknown.

Guiraudie’s wanted to create a drama that evoked the strong emotion of falling in love passionately, not just having casual sex. His drama is thrilling; leavened by quirky almost humorous moments that prey upon the subconscious. The characters just happen to be gay rather than heterosexual and the sex feels natural and totally without sensationalism, just as any encounter may feel, irrespective of the sexual persuasion it entails.  The police inspector remarks are the casual disregard that the gay community by the lakeside seem to feel for one another. The overall tone is one of intensity and the undercurrent as unsettling as the individuals involved, but the everyday conversations they indulge add intelligent and thought-provoking texture to the story.  The cast all give performances that feel spontaneous and believable. By turns provocative and sinister,  STRANGER meditates on the nature of sexuality, solitude and the power of seduction

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The Lakeside setting feels like a jungle where animals prowl around quietly, engaging  in atavistic power-play: some hoping to conquer, some hoping to be conquered, some simply enjoying the ritual. Enigmatic, amusing and mesmerising to watch, STRANGER BY THE LAKE will remain with you long after the sun has set. MT

SCREENED DURING BFI FLARE 20-30 MARCH 2014 | NOW OUT ON DVD FROM 12 MAY 2014

 

Bambi (2013) IndieLisboa 2014

Director/Writer: Sébastien Lifshitz

With: Marie-Pierre Pruvot

France Documentary 59min

Following his even-footed and effectively straightforward documentary LES INVISIBLES (2012), which concerned a group of middle-aged gay people in France, Sébastien Lifshitz makes mid-lengther BAMBI, an intimate portrait of one of the first French transsexuals. The film scored highly with audiences at the 11th edition of IndieLisboa last week – where it screened as part of the festival’s World Pulse programme.

Marie-Pierre Pruvot was born in a small Algerian village in 1935 as Jean-Pierre Pruvot. From an early age, she hated her given name and insisted to friends and relatives that she be referred to by the name she came to permanently adopt. Speaking of her past with unfussy clarity, Marie-Pierre tells of being an obese child who used to wear her sister’s dresses, and who at an early age began “a long process of construction, or reconstruction, which would last until [she] was 18.”

Marie-Pierre recalls her first love, a lad named Ludo, in whose arms she was found lying one morning by her mother. With this one incident, Marie-Pierre reveals, she changed in her mother’s eyes from being “a paragon of virtue, hard work and intelligence” to being merely “a sordid individual.” Contrary to initial external perceptions, however, Marie-Pierre wasn’t a homosexual boy: she was horrified by the idea of such a label, for it precluded her self-identification as a woman. And so began a two-fold struggle – against homophobia and transphobia.

Edited by Tina Baz, Lifshitz’s film follows a no doubt complex and often traumatic personal history in a defiantly simple manner – for which it is appreciably indebted to its central interviewee. Largely eschewing the sadness and hurt that might otherwise underline a struggle for acceptance in an unforgiving, prohibitive society, BAMBI remains celebratory of Pruvot’s infectiously determined outlook. Which is not to say its protagonist’s life has been free of hurt and sorrow; most moving here are Marie-Pierre’s recollections of when her mother came to visit her in Paris in 1956, realising for the first time how much humiliation and hearsay she had endured back in Algeria due to her daughter’s increasing fame in France.

The film is also evocative of a particular time and place, namely the 1950s Paris where Pruvot was able to join the famous high-end transvestite act La Carrousel de Paris after a successful stint at the renowned Madame Arthur’s. Including archive footage of Pruvot very much ‘at home’ in such a milieu – alongside fellow performers Capucinet and Coccinell – BAMBI provides a valuable chronological snapshot of a sociohistorical layer in which people who identified themselves as women could make unprecedented progress toward gender reassignment procedures. The film takes its title from a popular musical number by Michel Jaubert, which features throughout. Today, as the film itself reveals, Marie-Pierre lives and works as a teacher in Cherbourg. Michael Pattison

BAMBI SCREENED DURING INDIELISBOA 2014 

Naomi Campbel (2013) IndieLisboa 2014

Directors/Writers: Nicolás Videla and Camila Donoso

Cast: Paula Dinamarca, Ingrid Mancilla, Josefina Ramírez, Camilo Carmona

Chile Drama   83min

NAOMI CAMPBEL is the first collaboration between Chilean filmmakers Nicolás Videla and Camila Donoso and the debut feature of both. It screened at the 11th IndieLisboa in the festival’s long-standing Emerging Cinema programme, and its first screening proved very popular in the audience ratings (subsequent screenings are not voted upon).

On the outskirts of present-day Santiago, Chile, 22-year-old transgender woman Yermén (Paula Dinamarca) makes a living at Portal Tarot, an inbound call-centre that provides a fortune telling service. Aware that her wages won’t cover gender reassignment surgery, Yermén hopes to appear on a reality TV show, which could eventually earn her enough money to subsequently proceed with an operation. Undeterred by the bureaucratic process by which she must appeal for an op (which includes a series of Rorschach tests) and supported by older pal Lucha, Yermén remains optimistic about her immediate future.

Along the way, our protagonist ditches her neglectful boyfriend and meets an African immigrant who is herself seeking surgery – which will enhance her resemblance to Naomi Campbell. Named after such a narratively peripheral character (or, more precisely, her more famous surrogate), the film is a study of a certain milieu that promotes and feeds off the unattainable, from the glorification of size zero to the very consultancy provided by Portal Tarot. This is a society that alienates by way of seduction: it seduces the marginalised at the same time as denying the fulfilment of the very desires enabled by it.

The film is visibly documentary-like at points. Like its protagonist, it straddles the liminal space between two established codes with conviction and purpose and without self-pity or sentimentality. Most obviously, the film evinces a diaristic feel in those recurrent passages in which Yermén handles a lo-fi digital camera, depicting (for example) local canines that bark but don’t bite: “Just like men,” she says repeatedly and venomously, implying unacknowledged emotional wounds. Indeed, it is in such sequences that the otherwise inscrutably dogged Yermén’s vulnerability (as well as a palpably dormant torment) leaks through. At a decisive moment in the film – and in a rare instance of verbalised feelings – Yermén looks at a portrait of her deceased mother: “I miss you so damn much comrade.”

At other points, the filmmakers appear to capture the very real social layers amidst which their film is set. Early on, we eavesdrop on elderly neighbours’ prejudiced gossip, almost to camera, about Yermén’s gender. Later on, the film resembles an ethnographic study: nothing screams urban poverty like an image of two stray dogs mating in the street as locals walk by on their daily grind. In such scenes, Matthías Illána’s cinematography lends an authenticity of place that only anchors the story.

Despite the odd occasion of arthouse ambiguity here – such as that when we cut from Yermén peeling potatoes to a shot of her lying on the kitchen floor, in apparent shock-cum-paralysis – NAOMI CAMPBEL compellingly boosts its central drama with a subtly woven, more symbolic current. (Yermén’s idiosyncratic sense of humour also helps.) Indeed, in essence the film is about one transgender woman’s negotiation of an overly masculine world driven by ever-shifting masculinities – masculinities that are undergoing continual crises due, no doubt, to the changing shape and declining appearance of global labour relations.

One such masculinity is found in the propagandistic images of an incessantly action-packed war movie, which we see casually playing on a television set in the waiting room as Yermén awaits a consultation. Another is encountered when Yermén’s boyfriend suggests during sex that she fuck him from behind. Horrified by the thought of using the one organ she is hoping to have removed, her objection is an amusing and telling statement of anti-genderisation. Michael Pattison

INDIELISBOA runs until 4th May 2014 in Lisbon, Portugal

 

Reaching for the Moon (2013)

Dir.: Bruno Barreto

Cast: Miranda Otto, Gloria Peres, Tracy Middendorf

Brazil 2013, 118 min.

In 1951, the poet Elisabeth Bishop (1911-1979), suffering from writer’s block, travels from New York to Rio de Janiero, on the advice of fellow poet Robert Lowell. There she visits her college friend Mary, who lives with the architect Lota de Macedo Soares (1910-1967) in an idyllic retreat in the countryside. Soares, an imposing, strong willed woman, clashes immediately with the fragile, introvert and shy Bishop, who wants to leave but food poisoning intervenes and she stays – for another 14 years.

Glória Pires (Lota), Miranda Otto (Elizabeth) (2)Barreto (Four Days in September) tries successfully to avoid a melodrama and succeeds in a character study of the three leads. Bishop, not surprisingly extremely neurotic after the loss of her father before her first birthday and the institutionalising of her mother when she was five, uses alcohol to dampen her fear of losing people close to her again. She says to Soares “I am not drinking only because things go wrong, I am drinking when I am happy too, because I am afraid to lose you”.

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Winning the Pulitzer creates even more fear for Bishop, because the expectations are raised. Paris-born Soares, on the other hand. acts when challenged. Self-confident, she survives in a world ruled by men  – no mean feat, considering the balance of power between the sexes – particularly in South America during the fifties and sixties. She rules both Bishop and Mary, lovingly, but with a strong hand. Mary is by far the more socially responsible, compared with the self-obsessed Bishop, more attractive too – but Soares wants what she can’t get: the opposite of herself. In the end, her unsuccessful quest destroys her.

Gloria Peres is a brilliant Soares, vibrant and full of life’s optimism, whilst Otto is just right as the simpering, but sly Bishop. Middendorf’s Mary copes well with being “pig in the middle” in this tug of love and war. Camera work is lush and sumptuous, full of original angles and tracking shots. The music is staying well in the background, helping to bring a clearer understanding for the viewer, instead of drowning out all the nuances. But the greatest success for Barreto is that REACHING FOR THE MOON is neither a case celebre or a lesbian drama. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 18 APRIL (ICA LONDON + BRIGHTON

DVD ON DEMAND FROM 28 APRIL 2014 WITH INTERVIEW AND FEATURETTE

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Continental (2013) BFI Flare 2014

Dir.: Malcolm Ingram

Cast: Steve Ostrow; Documentary

USA/Canada/Australia 2013, 94 min.

Malcolm Ingram (Small Town Gay Bar) tells the story of the legendary “Continental”, a New York bathhouse for the gay community. Founded by the maverick Steve Ostrow in 1968, it was situated on the site of the Ansonia Hotel on 74th Street. The 400 rooms were used by 20 000 patrons a week; when Ostrow closed the “Continental” in 1974 six million visitors has seen its transfiguration from a hedonistic pleasure pool to an artistic centre. Ostrow borrowed the money for his enterprise from his father-in-law and had to live with corrupt cops as well as Mafiosi, who all took their share from the profits (the entrance fee was 15 Dollar).

Ostrow, a professional opera singer, comes over larger than life. He now lives in Australia, where he cares for the older members of the gay communities. And it is in Sidney, where he realised his greatest dream: singing the title role in Verdi’s “Othello”. His musical education helped him to transform the “Continental” from a pure pleasure heaven into an artistic centre. Patti Labelle, Peter Allen started their career here, as did Bette Midler, accompanied at the piano by Barry Manilow. But it was this new cultural identity, which was the main reason for the closure of the bathhouse in 1974. Sure, rival companies had sprung up, but Ostrow said, that the gay community felt, that they were looked at like animals in a zoo, by the ever growing number of straight people who came to visit. It was true, the “Continental” had changed from being a refuge for gay people, to being a meeting point of the cultural elite. Even Alfred Hitchcock was spotted there, dressed only in a towel.

It was difficult to avoid doing this as a ‘Talking Heads”  documentary, and the stills from the old place are mixed with contemporary shots of the same neighbourhood today. The rare footage of the entertainers in the heydays of the Continental are refreshing and raise many questions, in particular it begs to know why Bette Midler did not want to participate. Ingram avoids nostalgic reminiscing about a “golden age for the gay community before AIDS”, but delivers instead a well structured documentary lesson about gay history. AS

THE CONTINENTAL SCREENED AS PART OF THE BFI FLARE 2014 FESTIVAL

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Match (2014) BFI Flare 2014

THE LAST MATCH (LA PARTIDA)

Dir.: Antonio Hens

Cast: Milton Garcia, Reinier Diaz, Louis Alberto Garcia, Mirta Ibarra

Cuba/Spain 2013, 94 min.

In a contemporary Havana (even though the film was actually shot in Puerto Rico), two young men are fighting in their very different ways for economic survival and sexual identity: Yosvani is working for his future father-in-law, a loan shark and black marketer, as an enforcer. He does not seem to be much in love with his future bride, even kissing her seems to be an effort. On a rundown football pitch he meets Reinier, a star player, who supports his mother, wife and baby as a rent boy, mainly for wealthy Spanish men, who visit the city as sex tourists. At the beginning, it seems clear that Reinier is heterosexual, he tells one of his clients angrily that he is not a ‘faggot’. Yosvani on the other hand is certainly dreaming of boys, seeing the way he looks at them, but he is too uncertain of his budding homosexual awakening. But somehow Yosvani finds the courage to declare his love for Reinier, but leaving ‘the closet’ has dramatic effects for him: He steals money from his employer, originally for Reinier to pay his debts to the loan shark, but than Yosvani goes a step further – he wants to elope with Reinier, who has just started training with the national youth team.

THE LAST MATCH works well before the young men get together. The narrative is often hilarious, like in one scene, when Reinier’s mother is playing up to the clients of her son, in the hope to make a good impression, so he gets more work. Equally, the relationship between Yosvani and his girl friend is full of little details of mutual misunderstanding, which make one smile. But after the young men fall in love, the film deteriorates into a mixture of thriller and bad melodrama. As long as the social aspects are the driving force of the narrative, we can believe in the characters, but unfortunately it does not work as a tragic love story. Everything becomes contrived and the original ideas, which carried the film for so long, are replaced by stilted clichés, making the end torrid and simply unbelievable.

The main actors are by far the strongest aspect of this production, they are lively and their enthusiasm makes them carry the film, until the script lets them down. The camera is not so much adventurous, it is driving the point of the narrative (poverty and alienation) home in a very didactic way, creating an unsubtle world of opposites without being convincing (like the luxury hotel for the Spanish tourists and the beach front, where the young boys ply their sex trade). Less overtness would have been more in this case. But whilst the film suffers from its horrendous ending, one should not forget the original inspiring ideas, which carried it for so long. AS

THE LAST MATCH SCREENED AS PART OF THE BFI FLARE 2014

 

 

 

Test (2014) BFI Flare Festival 2014

Dir.: Chris Mason Johnson

Cast: Scott Marlow, Matthew Risch, Kristoffer Cusack, Katherine Wells

USA 2013, 89 min.

San Francisco 1985: Frankie, a dancer in his early twenties, young and insecure on all levels, is caught up in the Aids trauma. Where ever he goes, he can’t escape the epidemic: graffiti on walls denounces the gay community, people are openly discussing the placing of gays into quarantine and Rock Hudson’s death makes the front cover of ‘Times’.

His dark, brooding friend and co-dancer, Todd, makes fun of it all – and also of Frankie, who is also told by the ballet master (C.M. Johnson) “to dance like a fucking man”.  When an Aids test is offered, Frankie takes the plunge: two weeks of nerve racking fear follows, particular since one of his casual sex partners, Walt, phones him to tell him that his test was positive.

TEST is a study in paranoia. Frankie is caught like a rabbit in the headlights of a car: everything frightens him, even the use of condoms is an enigma: joking can’t hide the fact that he is not convinced of their usefulness. And even the rehearsals of the ballet group are not safe any more: Molly (Catherine Wells) challenges Todd to clean himself of his sweat since she is afraid that Aids can be transmitted through pores. Frankie fights for emancipation on all levels: as a dancer, as a homosexual and a man.

Frankie is looking more like a sad little boy than an adult, lost on all levels: he is only an understudy in the dance company, waiting seemingly forever for take advantage of the unavailability of a fellow dancer. His friends are both older and much more mature; not to mention their assured masculinity – however much of a put-on this may be. The two weeks between test and result seem to push him over the edge, he hallucinates a “positive” result and his landlord is giving him notice. Permanently searching his body for signs of sarcomas, Frankie flees into the world of music, his new Walkman helps him to escape into another world echoed in eighties vibes: Lawrie Anderson, The Cocteau Twins, Romeo Void and, significantly “Small Town Boy” by Bronski Beat.

TEST’s style is very much eighties: we see a great deal of San Francisco in panoramic shots. The music dominates and Frankie is allowed a naivety, which is both charming and irritating. The dance rehearsals are also a reminder of “The Living Theatre”. Colours are appropriately all primary: transmitting an innocence of which Frankie is the standard bearer. Sometimes Johnson overdoes it: the fluffy clouds are really not necessary. Mostly filmed indoors or on quiet streets, TEST feels like a picture from a ghetto: the living dead in their dream world, with Frankie as an Alice whose understanding of reality is tested permanently. AS

 

 

 

 

Gerontophilia (2013) BFI FLare 2014

Director: Bruce LaBruce

Writer: Bruce La Bruce, Daniel Allen Cox

Cast: Pier-Gabriel Lajoie, Walter Borden, Katie Boland, Yardly Kavanagh

82min  Comedy Romance   Canada

A young lifeguard gets a hard-on while giving mouth-to-mouth to an elderly male swimmer, forcing him to re-assess his romantic intentions to his girlfriend, in Canadian arthouse director Bruce LaBruce’s tame trans-generational romance that dabbles in attitudes towards ageism.

Lake and his girlfriend Desirée (Kate Boland) seem a well-matched, happy couple, but Lake decides to explore his emerging fetish for older men by taking a job in the local care home, where he meets Melvin Peabody, an elegant and sophisticated man in his eighties.  Shocked at the ageist attitudes towards its inmates, Lake’s growing affection for Melvin makes him determined to help him pursue his dream of visiting the Pacific Ocean.

Once on the road, Melvin emerges a flirty, vivacious character, while Lake morphs into his implausibly jealous boyfriend. Gerontophilia is tonally uncertain from start to finish, swinging from candid openness (in scenes with Desirée) to lukewarm humour and performances that feel equally ‘warmed through’.  It toys with the subject of ageism but comes down firmly as a tale of misogyny with both the female leads appearing weak and directionless, and totally reliant on men for their kicks  (“Woman is the Nigger of the World”).

As Lake, LaJoie is a bland boy threatened by his strangely mannish mother (Marie-Helene Thibault) who is rapidly heading off the rails. He plays hunky himbo to Katie Boland’s sparky Desirée, but when Ralph Borden’s Mr Peobody comes on the scene, he disappears completely behind the coquettish ‘queen of the road’ in a pairing which totally lacks sexual chemistry or intellectual spice.  Clearly, Melvin Peobody is the father figure he never had because, if there is sex, it doesn’t happen here. LaBruce is so uncertain about these ‘non-happening’ pairings that he uses footage of stirring skylines and simmering sunsets attractively shot and accompanied by Ramachandra Borcar’s tuneful original sounds, in an effort to inject romance to the flagging storyline.  It’s clear that Lake has some serious emotional issues, but GERONTOPHILIA is neither a meaningful gay romance or a particularly funny straight comedy. MT

SCREENING DURING THE BFI FLARE LGBT FILM FESTIVAL

 

 

Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013) NOW ON DVD/BLU

w311_4133335_blueisthewarmestcolour7311x311Directors: Abdellatif Kechiche

Writers: Ghalia Lacroix and Abdellatif Kechiche

Main Actors: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Jérémie Laheurte

179 mins  French with English subtitles  France   Drama

On her way to meet her would-be boyfriend Thomas, Adèle passes a girl with bright blue hair in the street. The world seems to slow around her: Adèle is transfixed. In class, she has been discussing a passage in a book relating exactly to such fleeting glances, to love at first sight. Could this be what Adèle is experiencing? It certainly seems like it. It’s one of the weaker moments in Abdellatif Kechiche’s heart-breaking romantic drama, but it’s also a defining moment for Adèle.

During lunch with Thomas, Adèle will question whether it’s better to study books in class, or read them alone for pleasure. She likes to read, Thomas doesn’t. But later, when Adèle reconnects with the blue-haired girl – Emma – in a gay bar, we learn that her knowledge doesn’t extend to art. In fact, the only artist she knows is Picasso, in sharp contrast to Emma’s expansive knowledge as a Fine Art student. Their meeting in the bar seems, perhaps, a little too coincidental – but Emma doesn’t believe in chance, and maybe we shouldn’t either.

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As a relationship begins to form between the two women, Adèle becomes uncomfortable around Emma’s friends, feeling she is not their equal culturally. Adèle might know literature, but not art or philosophy, and Emma’s knowledge in the latter area allows the girls a cover story: to Adèle’s parents, Emma is a friend who is helping her learn philosophy. There is truth in this alibi. Emma is broadening Adèle’s horizons: sexually, culturally and socially. Emma’s values, and her sense of freedom (both as a lesbian and as an artist), come from Sartre, who has taught her that humans are defined by their actions.

Sartre’s ideas, then, become the philosophical underpinning of a tale about the journey into womanhood, sexual awakening and the construction of human identities. Adèle’s reaction to Emma’s cultured friends mirrors her earlier conversations with Thomas, but with the tables turned. Culture and society form a part of who we are, who we become. As Adèle grows, becoming a woman, the film’s protracted duration allows Kechiche to leisurely build a detailed portrait, both of her personal development and her relationship with Emma – which Kechiche portrays with warmth, humour, drama and sex.

Julie Maroh, author of the graphic novel on which the film is based, has condemned the explicit nature of the sex scenes, labelling them ridiculous and unconvincing – and there’s certainly no denying that they are graphic and prolonged (their duration often seems excessive). At times, too, the camera lingers or pans over bodies in a gratuitous manner. When Emma teaches Adèle to enjoy the taste of shellfish, one can’t help but wonder if it’s all a cheap, sleazy metaphor.

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But, the sex scenes aside, the film is a convincing and moving exploration of romance. Kechiche’s camera catches much of the action in close up and, if the visuals themselves at times seem rather unexceptional, the sterling work of lead actors Adèle Exarchopoulos (Adèle) and Léa Seydoux (Emma) more than makes up for it. The film’s original French title translates literally as Life of Adele: Chapters 1 + 2, and the thought of seeing further parts would be extremely tantalising, were it not for the reports of the ‘horrible’ experiences that Kechiche put his actors through on set. In response, Kechiche has even said the film shouldn’t be released, that it’s ‘too sullied’ – but that’s too far. The shoot may have been gruelling, but the results speak for themselves. Blue Is The Warmest Colour is a film that deserves to be seen. ALEX BARRETT

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NOW OUT ON DVD BLU COURTESY OF ARTIFICIAL EYE

Yves Saint Laurent (2014) Netflix

Dir: Jalil Lespert | Wri: Laurence Benaiim, Jacques Fieschi, Marie-Pierre Huster, Jalil Lespert | Cast: Pierre Niney, Guillaume Gallienne, Charlotte Le Bon, Laura Smet, Marie de Villepin, Nikolai Kinski, Marianne Basler | France, Biopic drama 104′

The legendary designer and couturier, Yves Saint Laurent, had two biopics dedicated to him in 2014. The first is this one from actor turned director Jalil Lespert, the second is Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent.which won the Palme Dog at Cannes for Best Doggy Death scene played by pooch Moujik.

For fifty years YSL was the creative force that shaped the International fashion scene with designs celebrating haute couture and paving the way for prêt-à-porter to gain respectability for those with more dash than cash.

Lespert takes the first (and most significant) part of YSL’s career, which deals with his rise to fame; his significant relationship with his business partner, Pierre Bergé, and his emotional decline. This biopic is meticulously-crafted in conveying the importance of style and correct dressing, epitomising French style through wearable elegance. The film features his immaculate designs and particularly his appreciation of the female body in celebrating voluptuous curves and waists (his sister and mother modelled for him in the early days) unlike Chanel whose boxy designs focused on a more gamine look, highlighted by Audrey Hepburn.

After a childhood in Algeria, then a French colony, Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent moved to Paris to study fashion design. The film opens in 1953, as Christian Dior appoints him in-house designer. After a dalliance with one of the favourite in-house models (Charlotte Le Bon), he falls for Pierre Bergé (Guillaume Gallienne), who is to become his business partner and the love of his life.

On Dior’s sudden death, he is drafted into the army but escapes conscription in Algeria, on emotional grounds. The House of Dior then sacks him and YSL takes them to court, and wins. Lespert’s film works best in these early years when it deals with YSL’s perfectionist nature and his appreciation of the impeccable professionalism surrounding French design standards, and the seriousness with which the French treat the industry.

Lespert is also at pains to flesh-out his struggle with homosexuality in fifties France, and illustrates how Pierre Bergé was such a vital partner, providing a business brain and an emotional anchor due to their strong chemistry; showing how this was a compatible love match not just a sexual exploit, and also how the two strayed from their relationship, eventually making it stronger.

After they form their own fashion house, YSL moves with the times developing a groundbreaking prét-a-porter collection that responded to a new generation with sportier and more sexy, shape-flattering clothes for women such as the ‘Le Smoking’, thigh boots, tight trousers and swaggeringly sophisticated trouser suits.

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Stylish to look at, the film follows the couture shows on the catwalk, charting how the collections developed creatively demonstrating the importance of business acumen in the face of growing competition from the likes of Courrèges in the late sixties. As the brand grows in profile, the couple consort with the Jet Set, moving between Paris and Marrakech where the drama loosens up as an exotic twist tracks Saint-Laurent’s louche descent into drugs and alcohol – a reaction to his stiff upbringing and Bergen’s controlling influence. This segment also deals with Yves’ friendships with Loulou de la Falaise and Nicole Dorier and also his pioneering fascination with non-white models and ethnic designs, and this is accompanied by an eclectic soundtrack of hits from the era.  The narrative then wanders into more predictable ’sex, drugs and rock-roll’ territory rather than exploring Saint Laurent’s more personal love life.

Guillaume Gallienne is spectacular as Pierre Bergé, evoking not only his acute business and PR skill and in-depth understanding of Saint-Laurent, but also his aching desire to be seen as more than just a business man; and this shows through in Marrakech when his stiff style is at odds with the other relaxed creatives hanging out there.  Pierre Niney physically inhabits the role of Yves-Saint-Laurent. Not only does he look like the designer but he also embodies his volatility to perfection: his acute shyness in myriad expressions of painful anguish, mercurial anger and also his dignified restraint.

The film ends abruptly but perhaps at best the possible juncture for Saint Laurent as the later years of his life were less ground-breaking than his rise to fame. On reflection, a more in-depth examination of the earlier years would have made more fascinating viewing from a fashion point of view, with less of the repetitive drug-fuelled years which reveal nothing out of the ordinary, but create dramatic heft. Lespert’s film is at its best when charting the fashion scene of the fifties and early sixties and his family influences. Watching Pierre Niney, though, you cannot help but feel you’re in the presence of the great designer himself. MT

YVES SAINT LAURENT IS ON DVD and NETFLIX

 

BFI Flare LGBT 20-30 March 2014

FLARE is the new name for the London LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL AND TRANSGENDER Film Festival which takes place from 20 – 30 March 2014 at the Southbank Centre; what ever your sexuality this year has some stunning titles to enjoy, whatever your sexuality may be. 

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The festival is also available across the UK on the BFI VOD platform and a monthly screening programme at the Southbank.

Fresh from Sundance, this years’ opening night film is Hong Khaou’s LILTING. Ben Whishaw is compelling as a gay man living through the tragic aftermath of his lover’s death. Cheng Pei-Pei (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Peter Bowles also star in this cross-cultural drama that explores loss, miscommunication and denial, in the same vein as Xavier Doulan’s TOM ON THE FARM.  

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The Festival closes with Sophie Hyde’s 52 TUESDAYS which won a Best Director Award at Sundance and also screened as part of the official selection at the Berlin Film Festival where it was awarded a Crystal Bear. Shot on 52 consecutive Tuesdays over the course of a year, the film follows a teenager’s struggle to come to terms with her mother’s transition from female to male and the subsequent effect of her own emerging sexuality.

The Accenture Gala is THE LAST MATCH, a powerful and compelling story of two young men set in Havana, Cuba, who grapple with life and love, in a tale of economic desperation and sexual awakening.

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Under a series of themed groupings, the programme includes 50 films from all over the World:

H  E  A  R  T  S  – films about love, romance and friendship

This section showcases a rich crop of dramatic features including upbeat American high school comedy, G.B.F. which explores the comic implications of the outing of a male student who becomes the darling of the reigning prom queens but loses sight of who his real friends are, and features a great cameo by Megan Mullally as an over-supportive pro-gay mother. C.O.G. is the first film adaptation of a work by David Sedaris, and this road movie meets student journey of self-discovery will not disappoint his many fans. Returning festival favourite Marco Berger brings HAWAII a beautiful and subtle film of two childhood friends who unexpectedly become re-acquainted as adults. Dappled sun-light and dreamy nostalgia feature strongly in LAST SUMMER  a film about two teenage friends facing up to losing each other as one is about to head off to college. Memories of the 1980s and a great period soundtrack feature strongly in TEST, an account of the trials of a young male dancer learning big lessons about love and life in San Francisco in 1985 before mobile phones.

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DUAL is a charming story of an encounter between a lost tourist and a female bus driver late one night on the way from the airport. REACHING FOR THE MOON is a powerful account of a famous novelist and her architect lover in Rio de Janeiro whose lives encompass dramatic highs and lows, both professionally and personally.

Twenty years on from his death we feature a screening of a never-before-seen experimental work by Derek Jarman, WILL YOU DANCE WITH ME? filmed as a test for Ron Peck’s EMPIRE STATE. Derek roams around Benjy’s nightclub in 1984 among an invited group of club patrons which includes actor Philip Williamson and a cast of regulars.

Recent events in India will not prevent us celebrating some of the queerest things in Indian culture with rare big screen outings for PAKEEZAH(1972)  and MUGHAL-E-AZAM  (1960) while Dr Rajinder Dudrah gives a talk on Bollywood -LGBT Style: Queer Readings of Popular Hindi Cinema and Club Kali hosts a big themed party too.

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B  O  D  I  E  S   – stories of sex, identity and transformation

Exec produced by Rose Troche and directed by Stacie Passion, CONCUSSION is a bold drama about a well-heeled lesbian wife and parent who discovers a new way to deal with suburban ennui. WHO’S AFRAID OF VAGINA WOLF? is a genuinely hilarious, new comedy from Anna Margarita Albelo starring Guinevere Turner and the director herself plays a 40 year old bohemian lesbian who is forced to make a film in order to follow through on a dating stratagem.

Bruce LaBruce remains a deliciously subversive filmmaker, his latest GERONTOPHILIA world premiered at Venice and charmed audiences with an account of a young man working at a care home with a passion for much older men, cocking a snook at the youth cult of contemporary life.  THE PASSION OF MICHAELANGELO is a fascinating  re-imagining of a true story of an alleged teenage prophet whose visions of the Virgin galvanised the Chilean masses, but the inside story reveals sex, politics and deceit on a grand scale. I ALWAYS SAID YES: THE MANY LIVES OF WAKEFIELD POOLE is a documentary about a pioneering pornographer (Boys in the Sand) whose fascinating life took in performing with the Ballets Russe, Broadway, pop art, and much more.

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AGE OF CONSENT was inspired by a screening at last year’s festival.  This access-all-areas documentary by Charles Lum and Todd Verow  features the inside story of The Hoist, London’s only permanent fixture leather bar, what goes on there, its patrons and how its story reflects on the wider gay culture. Some scenes of a sexual nature.

Programmer Michael Blyth dissects the fascinating homo-erotics of gay horror films with a talk Queer Eye for the Dead Guy: A brief history of LGBT horror plus four of the best on the big screen: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART II: FREDDY’S REVENGE, THE LOST BOYS, FRIGHT NIGHT and BUTCHER, BAKER, NIGHTMARE MAKER.

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M  I  N  D  S   – reflections on art, politics and community

Highlights include a very strong range of documentaries: THE ABOMINABLE CRIME covers the lives of a lesbian survivor of a murder attempt and a male gay activist under threat in Jamaica, while BORN THIS WAY (presented in association with the Human Rights Watch Film Festival) is an exploration of brave initiatives in campaigning for gay rights in the Cameroon. The Abominable Laws is a discussion event which will focus on the appalling legal situation for many LGBT people around the globe. BIG JOY: THE ADVENTURES OF JAMES BROUGHTON is an insightful portrait of a poet and experimental film-maker whose art and life culminated in 25 years of love with a younger partner.  BRIDEGROOM is a poignant celebration of the life that two young gay men had before a sudden death, when the survivor was brutually snubbed by his boyfriend’s family. CONTINENTAL is a great documentary about a former early 1970s, New York landmark, gay bath-house which launched the careers of Bette Midler, Barry Manilow, Frankie Knuckles and more. VALENTINE ROAD is a heart-breaking study of the murder of young gay high school student.  MY PRAIRE HOME is a celebration of the life and music of the much-loved genderqueer Rae Spoon, while KATE BORNSTEIN IS A QUEER AND PLEASANT DANGER is an inspiring look at another gender outlaw.

SPECIAL EVENTS

Film-maker Allyson Mitchell will have a lesbian-feminist art installation at BFI Southbank for the duration of the festival: Killjoy’s Kastle is a haunted house style encounter with the horrors of political division and community politics. Allyson will also give a talk about her work as a film-maker and artist.

Archivist and DJ Jeffrey Hinton opens up his personal archive to explore the history of clubland drag in Life’s a Drag (a celebration) followed by a rare screening of THE ALTERNATIVE MISS WORLD (1980) (Andrew Logan hopes to attend). Stephen Beresford talks PRIDE in an on-stage interview with the writer of one of the most eagerly awaited films of 2014, a major new film called PRIDE, a drama which uncovers the remarkable true story of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners movement in 1984.

BFI FLARE RUNS FROM 20 MARCH UNTIL 30 MARCH 2014

 

Palaces of Pity (2011) Palacios de Pena AV Festival Postcolonial Cinema Weekend 7-9 March 2014

Directors: Gabriel Abrantes / Daniel Schmidt Writers: Gabriel Abrantes / Daniel Schmidt

Cast: Alcina Abrantes, Andreia Martina, Catarina Gaspar

Portugal Surreal Fantasy 59min

The theme for this year’s AV Festival, which runs in the Northeast throughout March, is ‘extraction’. Drawing upon its host region’s rich industrial history, the biennial festival of art, music and film concentrated its focus during Postcolonial Cinema Weekend (March 7-9) to showcase varying artistic approaches to colonialism and its lasting legacies.

Following its directors’ award-winning short A HISTORY OF MUTUAL RESPECT (2010), mid-lengther PALACES OF PITY (PALÁCIOS DE PENA) continues Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt’s preference for the distinctively ironic. As with their earlier work, the directors operate by means of cultural – and specifically cinematic – appropriation, in order to ruffle feathers, telling the tale of two spoilt cousins in present-day Lisbon who party their seventh grade away on the eve of their grandmother’s death.

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Just before she dies, the old woman recounts – in fantastical and eroticised flashback – a story to the two girls, in which two gay Moorish priests are tried and executed by knights who nevertheless admire the lovers. Upon waking up, the girls discover their grandmother has died. Following an intergenerational lesbian encounter with her notary, one of the girls is able to seize full inheritance of her grandmother’s will at the expense of her cousin. Absolute wealth corrupts absolutely.

Opening on a gorgeously and gradually illuminated football stadium, PALACES OF PITY unfolds against a series of breathtaking locations. Following the first scene, the two young protagonists visit a dam  and are dwarfed by it entirely as they take their grandmother’s goats to graze, while the flashback scene takes place in an actual Moorish Castle dating back to 700 AD. Natxo Checa and Eberhard Schedl’s cinematography belies the film’s apparently slim budget, while Abrantes and Schmidt demonstrate much tact in disguising their lack of resources, largely through well-timed cut-aways and well-chosen remote settings.

Strong images, however, can only go so far. PALACES has a forced surrealism to it, employing a kind of Lynchian, associational incongruity rather than concrete historical storytelling. No bad thing, perhaps, but the persistent artificiality rapidly wears thin. The deliberately wooden acting; the belaboured longueurs between lines of dialogue; the sudden dissolve from images of adolescent girls in high heels to a slow-motion sequence cut to a distorted adagio version of Alphaville’s “Forever Young”…  Such reappropriation and exaggeration of mainstream conventions has in the past been a legitimate political practice, but caught so knowingly between the appreciable (and insufferable) strains of INLAND EMPIRE and the jejune kitsch of SPRING BREAKERS, Abrantes and Schmidt seem to be sniggering at the thought of upsetting the status quo rather than making a wholehearted commitment to doing so.

Irksome dialogue is revealing of these limitations more than anything. In the opening scene, the grandmother – who sits in the stands as the girls stretch on the pitch for a soccer match – remarks, “The country has changed but we are the same.” Such on-the-nose symbolism is embarrassing. In the flashback, just before one of our seventh-graders cops a lustful kiss from her inheritance solicitor, the two Moorish priests masturbate one another while two Lisboan knights look on in awe of their intelligence and sensitivity.

More droll dialogue provokes us. Watching the Moorish priests masturbate one another (in such a stylised, symmetrically framed manner that its provocation is removed from any kind of historical context), one of the knights says, “show me your little piglet… Give me shelter, little puppy.” Upon being rejected, the knight remarks: “Those soft little faces are going to pay.”

To suggest systematised political oppression stems primarily from psychological shortcomings – that is, from the oppressors’ feelings of horror towards their own ‘forbidden desires’ – is surely a limited (if not entirely refutable) outlook. Sadly, then, while the political agency of surrealism stems from its legitimate emphasis upon those basic human desires that in class society are suppressed and driven underground (or within), the provocateurs seem on this occasion to be late to the party. Michael Pattison

AV FESTIVAL RUNS THROUGHOUT THE NORTHEAST OF ENGLAND DURING MARCH 2014

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Boys on Film 11 – We Are Animals Now on DVD VOD

84e040bcadc723713d42a52df4d598f3BOYS ON FILM is an ongoing DVD series offering a selection of daring and diverse LGBT drama shorts from all over the World. These pithy and poignant peeks attempt to challenge and explore sexuality from differing points of view.  The eleventh bumper edition is particularly interesting on trans-generational relationships. THREE SUMMERS: a daring and unlikely love story emerges when a divorced woman gets to know a teenage boy developing over the course of three years (Denmark, 28min);  the groundbreaking issue of physical disability is tackled in FOR DORIAN: that deals sensitively with the nascent sexuality of a Down’s Syndrome boy, seen from the perspective of his father  (Canada, 16min) and LITTLE MAN; a physiological drama that centres on 30 year-old Elliot and his track record of emotional avoidance and uneasy relationships with his older brother and the strange man next door (by award-winning Israeli director Eldar Rapaport (AUGUST).

OUT ON DVD FROM 10 MARCH 2014

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Interior. Leather Bar (2013)

Directors: James Franco/Travis Mathews    Writer: Travis Mathews

Cast: Val Lauren, Christian Patrick, Brenden Gregory, Brad Roberge

60mins  US     Docu-fiction

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INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR was inspired by William Friedkin’s original drama CRUISING (1980) that saw Al Pacino’s rookie policeman ‘going underground’ in search of a gay serial killer in New York.  In order to pacify the censors, Friedkin cut 40 minutes of salacious footage from CRUISING and this has never been seen in a public screening.  So this experimental collaboration between Franco and Mathews attempts to re-imagine the missing footage with a  look at how male gay sexuality is portrayed in film.  The resulting docu-fiction outing mixes reality with fantasy in contemporary LA.  The piece has a loose and laid-back vibe to it as Franco tries to coax his lead and friend (the very heterosexual) Val Lauren, into a gay bar to help him in his mission to scope out the full spectrum of gay behaviour from cruising to sex within a committed relationship. His reactions to overt gay males all butched-up to the nines in leather bondage gear  are revealing as he states after the first day’s filming “I’m not the same guy as I was this morning”.

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Naturally Val Lauren is rather back-footed by the whole project and this comes across in spades, as is intended by Franco. The two engage in endless banter and displacement chat about his role as a straight man entering such a premises in the 1980s. He seems uneasy about it all and chats to his girlfriend on the mobile, for re-assurance.  Allegedly this dialogue is scripted but it has such an authentic feel to it that one can’t help thinking that most of it was ‘ad lib’.  The essentially waffly dialogue is intercut with stylishly ‘re-created’ scenes of how Franco imagines the lost 40 minutes of original film footage may have played out back then and offers a provocative and erotically-charged twist to the proceedings with some ‘no-holds-barred encounters between cruisers and a couple who are in committed relationship.

At just 60 minutes this latest Franco outing is not long enough to merit a full theatrical release but nevertheless merits a watch if it comes to a film festival or one-off screening near you. MT

SHOWING AT HACKNEY PICTUREHOUSE AND GREENWICH PICTUREHOUSE ON 9TH DECEMBER AND ICA ON 15TH DECEMBER 2013

DVD ON SALE 9TH DECEMBER WITH EXTRAS: FEAST OF STEPHEN – A SHORT FILM BY JAMES FRANCO

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Derek Jarman Retrospective at the BFI February – March 2014

DEREK JARMAN

Two events are celebrating Derek Jarman in London in 2014. “Pandemonium” Exhibition at Somerset House, WC2 and a Retrospective at the BFI 5.2. – 31.3.)

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Derek Jarman died twenty years ago at the age of 52 but was undoubtedly the most innovative director of the British cinema in the second half of the 20th century and arguably the greatest visionary since Michael Powell. His films are always the opposite of the traditional English ‘masterpieces’ featuring the heroes of the past – he turned the glorious history into a macabre sideshow. And he was obsessed with death, from the very beginning. And death never comes easy to Jarman’s heroes: SEBASTIANE, the title hero of his first feature (co-directed by Paul Humfress in 1976), dies a slow, agonising death, bound to face the penetrating arrows of his torturers. Needless to say, that for Jarman, Sebastiane was not a Christian martyr, but a gay anti-hero. Ten years later it is the turn of another title hero, the painter CARAVAGGIO to die a horrible fever death in black and blue. The youthful hero in THE LAST OF ENGLAND (1987) dies a small, dirty little death. And death rules the WAR REQUIEM (1988), this time in glowing pink. Laurence Olivier in a wheelchair, as a war hero in his last film role. And in between shots of bombing raids by Jarman’s pilot-father, which he took with his camera in WWII.

Edward_II_1 copyIn EDWARD II (1991) the title hero perishes with a red hot poker in his rectum – in the arms of his tender murderer, whilst Annie Lennox sings Cole Porter’s “Every time we say goodbye, we die a little”. Jarman always re-mastered the originals of the classics into something demonic, obscene and really evil: He transformed the magic island from Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST (1979)  into an labyrinth of terror, and the Sonnets of the Bard into a witch’s Sabbath in THE ANGELIC CONVERSATIONS (1985). And he shows contemporary England – JUBILEE (1977 and the aptly titled THE LAST OF ENGLAND – as an island out of hell – just the opposite of what Margaret Thatcher, with her ideas of a strong, back-to-the-Empire orientated country, had in mind. And Jarman’s own death, foretold with BLUE a year before he died, blind from the medications which did not cure Aids, but a peaceful BLUE nevertheless: a final work without pictures, just words. It is the viewer, who projects his pictures on this film – not uncommon for Jarman’s work, since he was always more interested in the creative process than the result: “The end-product is not important, it is only the witness of a creative process”.

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Jarman studied painting at the Slade School in London, but his interest in stage design made him collaborate with the Royal Ballet and the ENO.  His first work for the cinema was the Production Design  for Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS (1970). Then he wandered around London with his ‘Super 8” camera – home movies, but also first documents of the gay community. The difference between fiction and documentation did not exist for Jarman. “Life is Art”, the title of a documentary about Jarman by Andy Klimpton (they met first in the early 80s) is by far the best description of Jarman’s life and work. His garden and wooden cottage near Dungeness was his last refuge, much more than a hobby. Four years after being diagnosed with aids in 1986 THE GARDEN shows a gay couple, being seemingly senseless tortured and murdered, whilst a Madonna (Tilda Swinton) is harassed by paparazzis, Jesus looks on painfully and Judas’ death is exploited as an advertisement for credit cards.

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THE LAST OF ENGLAND is perhaps the best example of Jarman’s work, because it is as personal as it is political. The ‘home movie’ fragments, which his father and grandfather shot, show the small world from which Derek was going to escape. We see innocence, but it is only superficial – the “Kodak” family always smiles. But behind the smiles is the soldier father, who repressed his children. When we see little Derek playing ball, the innocence is undercut by the security fences, and we also hear the noise of the war planes in background. Cut to the scenes in Brixton, where police and demonstrators show a new meaning of war: the total civil war. It is a dark portrait of a nation rotting away. If one thinks of an equivalent in literature, one would choose  Baudrillard’s “Kool killer”. The apocalypse is already here, it is happening before our very eyes. The present as future, Science Fiction as the new reality. As proven in JUBILEE, where Elizabeth I asks her court magician to show her the future of her domain, 400 years on, during the reign of Elizabeth II.

Derek_Jarman_Portrait_1 copyIn DEREK (2008) a homage to Jarman, by Isaac Julien and Bernhard Rose, Jarman’s muse, the actress Tilda Swinton (‘Caravaggio’, The last of England’, War Requiem’, ‘The Garden’, Edward II’ and ‘Blue’) reads her ‘letter’ to Jarman ‘in the sky’. She misses his contra-poison to the disco-light of a culture where everything is for sale. And: “Derek, this is what made you a real artist – you worked from your ‘soup kitchen’, which was your life” And in this ‘soup kitchen’ the private, the intimate and the public life touched each other, present and history. Jarman never wanted to build borders between these spheres. Like the painter Caravaggio, who painted a Madonna like a prostitute, and holy men as rent boys.

Derek Jarman was not only a leading figure of the independent British film but also of the gay movement. He fought energetically against Thatcher’s anti-gay policies, like the Paragraph 28, which forbade any information in schools about homosexuality. He was a creative figure, a dreamer, an eccentric and a militant poet with his brush and his Super 8 camera. He was a minimalist too, his WITTGENSTEIN (1993) was shot against a black background. And it is no accident, that the philosopher Wittgenstein, one of Jarman’s heroes, said “that philosophy ought to be written as if it was poetry.” Derek Jarman’s films were always poems, close to the heart. AS

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DEREK JARMAN RETROSPECTIVE AT THE BFI, SOUTHBANK, LONDON SE1 UNTIL MARCH 31, 2014

A Map for Love (2012) DVD

Director: Fernandez Constanza

Cast: Andrea Moro, Francisca Bernardi, Francisco Pizarro, Mariana Prat

81min   Drama   Chile

A subtle and sophisticated story of emerging lesbian love and generational conflict that navigates choppy waters, exploring the relationship of three woman: a mother, her daughter and girlfriend, embarking on a sailing trip on the Chilean coast.

Using water and the shifting weather patterns as a barometer for the myriad emotions that emerge during the trip is a clever metaphor for confusion, calm and conciliation in this immersive debut feature from writer and director Fernandez Constanza.

Roberta (Andrea Moro) wants to develop her relationship with her actress girlfriend Javiera (Francisca Bernardi) but is concerned about her conservative mother Ana’s (Mariana Prat) approval.  As the three get to know each other more deeply during the holiday, initial awkwardness gives way to a raw intensity as intimacy develops and sins of the past emerge to complicate matters.  Set against a backdrop of  stunning seascapes and scenery in Santiago de Chile, the trio are gradually divested of artifice; personalities and thoughts laid bare to the elements.

Rich and full of interesting insight and dramatic punch, this is a film worthy of its subject-matter and should appeal to both LGBT audiences and the art house crowd.    MT

A MAY FOR LOVE IS AVAILABLE ON DVD  from 10 FEBRUARY 2014  RRP £14.99

Free Fall (2013) | DVD

Director: Stephan Lacant

Writers: Stephan Lacant, Karsten Dahlem

Cast: Hanno Koffler, Max Riemelt, Attila Borlan, Katherina Schuttler, Stephanie Schonfeld, Maren Kroymann, Luis Lamprecht

100min  Gay-themed Drama   German with English subtitles

In Stephen Lacant’s gay-themed drama Free Fall, the Police Academy is a hotbed of young, fit trainees all preparing to serve their country.  One of them is Marc (Hanno Koffler) who is blessed with a great sex life, a girlfriend Bettina (Katharina Schuttler) with a baby on the way and the support of his parents, who understand the rigours of Police life.  Into this seemingly perfect state of affairs, drops Kay (Max Riemelt) a fellow recruit who has heart set on Marc and pursues him hotly despite Marc’s hostile protests to the contrary. Why then does Marc fall for the temptations of a gay fling with a fellow recruit, who also has a girlfriend?

Writers Stephan Lacant and Karsten Dahlem tackle this intricate story with skill and aplomb, creating a stylish and thoughtful drama set in the lush forests of Southern Germany.  Free Fall is a tense and tight-lipped affair that sees Marc’s burgeoning homosexuality slowly take light like a smouldering bonfire. It gives the impression (quite convincingly) that if it weren’t for social conditioning, any one of us is open to any sexual persuasion, given the right opportunity and chemistry.  Kay offers such a persuasive possibility and such an exciting contrast to Marc’s staid and quotidian lifestyle with Bettina,  that this whole premise becomes entirely plausible.  But without this opportunity, would Marc have discovered his nascent desire for same sex satisfaction?

Stephan Lacant presents his case with alarming simplicity but is never judgemental. As Marc becomes increasingly  inventive in his love-making with Bettina, his boring stereotype of a dull marriage rears its ugly head. And as his homosexuality develops Marc emerges as the more interesting character, where Bettina becomes clingy, oppressive and needy.  His parents are predictably one-dimensional and disappointed once Marc’s secret emerges and even his work colleagues are suspicious and mean-spirited in the middle class area of Baden-Wurttemberg.  Free Fall, is a metaphor for straight-laced lives and uniformity in a society where the only rewards come out of sticking to the mainstream, toeing the line and keeping up with the Jones’s. Instead of trying to understand Marc’s complex response to his sexual unconformity, Bettina is hostile and unyielding: “Are you gay? – then if not, what are you Marc?” As Marc, Hanno Koffler’s performance is disarmingly moving and exultant by turns.

Free Fall has the feel of Flying Skyscrapers, shot through with the same resonating sensibility and aqua-tinted aesthetic. Visually it may lack the inventive creativeness of Skyscrapers but evokes a far greater sense of loss, delusion and shame, particular through the characterisation of Marc.  Stefan Lacant has made a film that tackles some important issues and does so with engaging insight, making even mainstream audiences prick up their ears. MT

FREE FALL IS OUT ON DVD FROM 27 JANUARY 2014. AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER THROUGH AMAZON.CO.UK

 

Ten Favourite Films of 2013

Vic+Flo Saw a Bear - Berlinale 2013TEN: Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (dir: Denis Côté)

By turns humorous and horrifying, Côté’s brutal tale of two ex-con lovers relocating to the Quebec countryside is an utterly gripping play with genre and audience expectations. Perfectly paced, the storytelling is elliptical and cryptic – a tactic which is bound to frustrate some, but which left me on the edge of my seat, genuinely excited to find out what would come next.

The-Last-of-the-Unjust-002 copyNINE:  The Last of the Unjust (dir: Claude Lanzmann)

Comprising of an extended interview with Benjamin Murmelstein, the last surviving ‘Jewish Elder’ of the ghetto camp at Theresienstadt, Lanzmann’s probing and penetrating technique proves that sometimes a simple approach is the most effective. This is oral testimony, but one that raises philosophical questions relating to Hannah Arendt’s theory of the banality of evil – not only in its discussion of Arendt and Eichmann, but also through its presentation of Murmelstein himself.

EIGHT: From Tehran to London (dir: Mania Akbari)

From Tehran to London is an incomplete portrait of a disintegrating marriage complicated by extramarital (bi)sexual relationships: fearing arrest, Akbari fled Iran halfway through filming, later editing the footage in London – a fact which can’t help but give the film (which is dedicated to ‘all filmmakers in Iran who have served a prison sentence and to all those who are still in prison’) an extra sense of poignancy. But beyond this, the film is also a rich tapestry of details and symbolism, all enhanced by excellent blocking and photography.

Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in Behind the CandelabraSEVEN; Behind the Candelabra (dir: Steven Soderbergh) 

Soderbergh’s tender and terrifying biopic of Liberace may probe themes of power, ego and image, but never to the extent that they overshadow its simple portrait of complex human relations. Exuberantly directed and superbly acted, Behind the Candelabra may have been originally made for television, but it deserves every bit of the big-screen success it seems to have enjoyed.

under_1 copySIX: Under the Skin (dir: Jonathan Glazer) 

The long over-due follow up to Glazer’s stupendous Birth (2004), the opening sequence of Under the Skin would seem to confirm the British director as the heir apparent to Stanley Kubrick. If the later improvised scenes filmed with hidden cameras perhaps fail to live up to this promise, Glazer undoubtedly achieves his aim of studying the world through an alien lens: Under the Skin is not only a uniquely haunting experience, it is also the work of a truly visionary director.

FIVE: Historic Centre (dir: Pedro Costa, Manoel de Oliveira, Víctor Erice, Aki Kaurismaki 

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Historic Centre is the rarest of things: a portmanteau film that actually works. Here, two light comic tales (by Kaurismäki and de Oliveira) surround two much richer, deeper works (by Costa, and Erice), rendering the whole with a surprising level of coherent contrast. Though Erice’s section, comprised of interviews with former workers of a now-defunct textile factory, has both an emotional and a philosophical weight to it, it’s Costa’s dense exploration of the legacy of the 1974 Portuguese revolution that steals the show. Tantalisingly, it’s said to be a section from a longer work Costa is currently working on.

Museum HoursFOUR: Museum Hours (dir: Jem Cohen)

Museum Hours may be this year’s most magical cinematic meditation. Set in and around Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Art Museum, the film ponders the relationship between the museum’s artworks and the lives that live on around them. Heightened by Cohen’s breezy and unhurried experimental style, Museum Hours is simply a delight to behold.

THREE: 36 (dir: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit) 

36 takes its name from the number of scenes in the film. As these 36 single-shot scenes progress, a melancholy mood unfolds amongst a transcendent study of memory and history in the digital age. 36 is, significantly, the number of frames found on a roll of 35mm film, and the 36 moments captured here, which detail a location scout’s struggle to restore a year’s worth of digital photographs from a crashed hard drive, build a tender, thoughtful and beautiful study of loss and looking.

BeforeTWO: Before Midnight (dir: Richard Linklater) 

Though it may lack some of the magic of its predecessors (Before Sunrise and Before Sunset), watching Before Midnight still feels like spending time with much-missed old friends. It’s testament to the enduring charm of Celine and Jesse, as inhabited by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, that a 14-minute scene in which the characters do nothing but talk as they drive through the Greek countryside remains one of the most enjoyable cinematic scenes of the year.

Ida-003 copyONE: Ida (dir: Paweł Pawlikowski)

Stunningly shot in glorious full-frame black and white, Ida is this year’s best looking film. But more than that, Pawlikowski’s return to his native Poland is also a searing examination into life, death, religion and history (both personal and political). It’s the type of profoundly artistic work too rarely seen since the passing of Bergman, Bresson, and their generation – and it is, without a doubt, an unbridled masterpiece.

CHOSEN BY ALEX BARRETT

Tomasz Wasilewski – Filmmaker

Tomasz Wasilewski copyAs the opening credits of Floating Skyscrapers begin to unfold, the sound of water seeps onto the soundtrack, placing us audibly within the enclosed world of an indoor swimming pool. But embedded within the sounds of the waves, another noise becomes discernible: someone is, it would seem, undergoing an act of sexual pleasure. The credits make way, and the sounds continue over a symmetrical widescreen image of the swimming pools’ changing room doors, all closed. Whatever is happening, whatever we are hearing, is taking place inside these doors. But this is not for us to see. Instead, we go to our protagonist, Kuba, as he jogs along, the camera following in a fit of motion. Later, he will go to a party with his girlfriend Sylwia, and there he will meet a young man, Michal, with whom he will develop a love affair. It’s a striking set up for what has been dubbed Poland’s first LGBT film. 

Prior to the film’s release, Alex Barrett spoke to director Tomasz Wasilewski. 

Could you please describe Floating Skyscrapers in your own words? 

It’s a film about love, about finding one’s place in modern reality, about looking for one’s own self and fighting for it, which is never easy.

Can you say something about how the idea for the film originated? AWE_6720 copy

The first stimulus to write the story was a bus station in Warsaw. This place interested me and inspired [me] greatly as a filmmaker, and this is why most of the story took place there. Initially, it was a story about a fifty-year-old woman who worked at the station. The plot focused on her relationship with her daughter and the relationship between the daughter and another girl. I worked on the script for a long time and so it changed a lot. Each new version brought new characters and new solutions and finally, Floating Skyscrapers became a film about a guy, a swimmer who falls in love with another man.

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The characters in the film come across as being very nuanced. How much of this was written into the script, and how much came from the performances? 

It was already written into the script. This is how I construct my characters. Of course, a script is just a story on paper and actors are necessary to make it real. On the set I lead them in such a way that, so to speak, they play it inwards. I like it when actors are very emotional but hide their emotions and feelings all the time. They’re torn apart by them. Thanks to this, they are dramatic characters and such characters interest me most in the cinema. Playing with nuances, this is it!

Could you talk a little more about your approach to working with the actors, and how you direct them? 

Rehearsals for the movie lasted five months. It was very important to me that the actors understand their characters very thoroughly. I wanted them to know their soul and their emotions. For me, human truth is most important in a movie, the truth of the character. When it’s present, the viewer can identify with the characters even when they’re very different to him. I always ask actors not to play their characters but to become them.

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The relationship between Kuba and Sylwia is very messy, and I don’t think we see that kind of reality in cinema very often. Were you deliberately trying to show something not seen in other films, or just doing what felt right for the story? 

I always search for truth in movies. This is what’s most important to me. I never reflect on making a film in a specific way that is supposed to elicit a specific reaction. You can’t make auteur films like this. Characters are made of their emotions, of what they feel inside. This is what directs them and it is this internal state of being broken that is responsible for their decisions. There are no easy and simple situations in life, so there shouldn’t be any in a film either. All in all, a film is life.

During the first ten minutes of Floating Skyscrapers, Michal talks about films and Kuba watches one. Was Floating Skyscrapers intended as a comment on cinema in any way? 

When Kuba and Michał meet for the first time, Michał is talking about The Kid with a Bike, a film by the Dardenne brothers. Personally, I love this movie. When I was constructing this scene, I had just watched it. Of course, the film made a huge impression on me. I like films by the Dardenne brothers in general. It’s my way of paying tribute to them.

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Who else were you influenced by when making the film? 

I love the movies of Urlich Seidl, Michael Haneke, Darren Aronofsky and Steve McQueen. There are many directors whose work I respect – Sophia Coppola, David Fincher, Andrey Zvyagintsev. I watch a lot of movies and often go to the theatre, but I can’t determine how much the works of others influence my own works. I think there aren’t any direct inspirations. I make films my own way, intuitively.

There’s a lot of motion in the film: driving, running, swimming. It seems almost like the characters want to escape – and yet they never really do. Could you talk about what these passages of motion symbolised for you? 

This is exactly what it’s like with us – people. Very often we find ourselves in situations from which we want to escape but we don’t do this. A film needs to be as close to life as possible and characters in it similar to real people. Internally, we’re very complex, often broken and full of contradictions. And it’s the same in the case of the characters in Floating Skyscrapers. Does this carry any symbolic meaning? I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it. I work intuitively. I assume that if something moves me it will also move the viewers. I’m fascinated by characters who are lost, internally broken, who’ve reached a turning point in life. For me as a filmmaker, they’re most important, and such characters are full of contradictions. On the one hand, they want to escape and on the other, stay. Isn’t this what’s most beautiful in human nature?

AWE_6986 copy The film is beautifully shot. Can you talk about how you construct your images? 

I worked on it together with the cameraman, Kuba Kijowski. I asked him to use as many master shots and flat frame shots and as much fluorescent light as possible. These are the things I like in the film language. Besides, I chose places that were mostly built of concrete. During colour grading, Kuba was looking for an appropriate colour for the film and he decided that everything should be in silver. I think it was a brilliant idea. In addition to this, many images are in the colour of water, which is the natural environment for the protagonist. I attach a lot of weight to images in a film. They can’t be random and neither can be the places in which they’re shot.

Floating Skyscrapers has been called the first Polish LGBT film. Why do you think it has taken this long for it to happen, and why now? What’s changed?  

It was difficult, even very difficult, to find money for the film. The producers found a great number of private persons who started functioning as co-producers. It changed slightly after the world premiere at Tribeca IFF in NYC and also when we won East of the West Competition in Karlovy Vary International Film Festival – then we found additional funding. In Floating Skyscrapers, the way in which the homosexual character is portrayed is new. Until now this was quite foreign to the Polish or even post-communist countries cinematography. Homosexual characters were usually in the background and depicted in a mocking way. Floating Skyscrapers portrays [the character] Kuba most of all as a human being; ok, he’s homosexual but it’s not what’s most important about him. Kuba is a son and a swimmer, he has his own dreams and he’s got a girlfriend. His homosexuality is not the most important thing, although it pushes him towards some decisions and sometimes determines his life.

FLOATING SKYSCRAPERS IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6TH DECEMBER 2013 NATIONWIDE

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Floating Skyscrapers (2013)

Director/Writer: Thomas Wasilewski

Cast: Mateusz Banasiuk, Katarzyna Herman, Marta Nieradkiewicz, Bartosz Gelner

93min   Polish with English subtitles   Drama

Floating_Skyscrapers-002 copyLast year’s Kinoteka revealed a sparkling array of erotically-charged films from the new wave of Polish filmmakers. In this follow up to In The Bedroom, Thomas Wasilewski  offers us another affecting drama. Expertly-filmed and well-written it also stars In The Bedroom’s Katarzyna Herman.

The central character in Floating Skyscrapers has a dilemma: is he heterosexual, gay or just a highly-sexed bi?  Played with emotional and physical gusto by Mateusz Banasiuk, Kuba is a professional swimmer whose honed physique and competitive-edge belies his shaky sexual identity.

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Living with his mother, Ewa (Katarzyna Herman) and girlfriend Sylwia (Marta Nieradkiewicz), makes matters worse as the two women compete for his attention when he is not poolside. It’s clear that his sporting prowess does little to curb his sexual appetite which is further stimulated by the athletic bodies of his fellow swimmers until he’s drawn to  the charismatic Michal (Bartosz Gelner) who he meets one evening with Ewa. The men’s attraction becomes palpable during unspoken gestures and eye-contact during dinner and Ewa picks up on this. Ewa is dismayed the two have met not least because her sexual relationship  with Kuba is adversely affected as the unresolved tension in Kuba slowly becomes apparent.

Gelner and  Banasiuk give utterly convincing performances as they gradually become closer, beautifully filmed by cinematographer Kuba Kijowski in neutral tones of  silvery beige and acqua echoing the water motif.  A judicious use of silence  accentuates the tension throughout.  Michal is an interesting character, appearing more urbane and sensitive as a counterpoint to Kuba’s tough macho quality that gradually melts away as the narrative unfolds. Katarzyna Herman’s turn as Ewa evokes a subtle and deep-understanding of her son. Thomas Wasilewski is a promising filmmaker and storyteller with an excellent vision for both creative widescreen visuals and for detailed camerawork marking him out as an exciting talent in modern Polish cinema.  MT

FLOATING SKYSCRAPERS IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6TH DECEMBER.  READ ALEX BARRETT’S INTERVIEW WITH THE DIRECTOR.

Kill Your Darlings (2013) | BFI FLARE 20-30 March 2015

Dir: John Krokidas; Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane de Haan, Ben Foster, Jennifer Jason Leigh

USA 2013, 104 min. Drama

The first feature film of scriptwriter John Krokidas (Being John Malkovich) takes Daniel Radcliffe in the role of young Allen Ginsberg to Columbia University in the autumn of 1943. There he meets future stars of the literary anti-establishment like Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), Lucien Carr (Dane de Haan) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster). Ginsberg, the shy Jewish boy, suffering from the breakup of his parent’s marriage, falls madly in love with Carr, who is still seeing his ex-lover David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), who a year ago saved his life in Chicago when Carr tried to commit suicide.

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The fading College running back Kerouac (who could now imagine him playing American football!) is also part of the group, though he seems the only heterosexual in the posse of rebels. The lads get up to pranks, some more serious than others, but a certain bookish tranquility holds sway until Carr kills Kammerer sadisticly, without an apparent motive. Thanks to Ginsberg, who finds an escape route for him in  an old law book (if attacked by an homosexual, the straight man can claim self-defence), Carr gets off with 18 month in prison, but rejects Ginsberg, who is heart broken.

Krokadis film is uneven, too often episodically, and its straight linear narrative and mostly conventional aesthetics make the end product much less than it could have been. Radclliffe excels in the frank sex scenes and it is the ensemble acting, which saves the film in the end. Dane de Haan’s Carr is particularly menacing, the boy-man with the face of an angel, who can’t stand any rejection, and plays off all his lovers against each other. Like a little vampire, he sucks all the good out of people; his golden looks masking his exploitative nature. Surprisingly, the real Carr stayed with one publishing house until his death in 2005: twice married with two children.

In spite of its shortcomings, KILL YOUR DARLINGS delivers some fascinating background about the cradle of the Un-American dream. AS

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KILL YOUR DARLINGS IS screening during BFI FLARE 20-30 March 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In The Name Of – W IMIE (2013) Berlinale 2013

Director: Malgoska Szumowska   Writers: Malgoska Szumowska and Michal Englert
Cast: Andrzej Chyra, Mateusz Kosciukieiwcz, Lukasz Simlat, Maja Ostaszewska

Malgoska Szumowska’s second outing after the acclaimed Elles centres on Adam, a celibate Catholic priest who works with delinquent teenagers in a village in rural Poland.

As Adam, Andrzej Chyra is well cast and generates a profound benevolence and warmth that’s the nearest feeling to true goodness that one can possibly imagine. He embodies unselfishness, empathy and kindness but also commands respect and authority  in a really moving performance.  Michal Englert’s soft summery visuals heavily mingled with striking imagery from Christ’s Passion render the hazy bucolic setting in a powerful yet soothing way as Adam’s calming presence gradually deepens into something more heavy and unsettling.

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Despite sharing a resonating chemistry with one of the inmates Lukasz, a young simple country lad, Adam rejects his advances and also those of Ewa a blonde alcoholic, stating that he’s already spoken for (by Jesus).  But he also experiences moments of despair, repression and lonliness in this moving portrait of confused emotions and abstinence and the journey towards self-discovery and self-acceptance.

With its atmospheric soundtrack this is an absorbing and emotional drama that echoes Brokeback Mountain in its intense and delicate subject-matter. MT

IN THE NAME OF is on general release from 27TH September 2013 AT THE CURZON SOHO AND THE ODEON PANTON STREET.

IN THE NAME OF WON THE TEDDY AWARD AT BERLINALE IN 2013

 

 

 

Circumstance (2012)

Director Maryam Keshavarz

Cast: Nikohl Bosheri, Sarah Kazemy

105mins  Drama

Circ4Politics and sapphic desire go hand in hand in this coming of age drama from Iranian director, Maryam Keshavarz.  It starts off as a fairly formulaic affair focusing on a group of friends kicking against the system of contemporary Iran but soon edges towards a strikingly sensual and provocative story of forbidden love between two lesbians.

Atafeh (Nikohl Bosheri) and Shireen Sarah Kazemy) are clearly in love. Both coming from enlightened backgrounds of affluent Tehran society, Shireen’s parents were victims of the strict regime, Atefeh’s are a professional couple.  Thirty years ago they would have had the glamorous lifestyle of young Westerners but that was pre-revolution and nowadays they could be arrested for holding hands. But when Atafeh’s brother Mehran (Rezo Sixo Safai) turns fundamentalist as a throw-back from addiction and starts laying down shariah law with predictable consequences for all concerned, the picture becomes darker.

Strong images of female discrimination drive the narrative forward and the girls are subtle and convincing as friends and lovers but the standout performance comes from Rezo in his slow and and sinister transformation from sensitive musician to controlling religious bigot.

Meredith Taylor ©

DVD release on 24th September 2012.

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Hors Les Murs (2012) Beyond The Walls

Director: Daniel Lambert         Writer: Daniel Lambert

Matila Malliarakis, Guillaume Gouix, David Salles, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin

98mins   French with English subtitles   Drama

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The recent batch of gay films has become more romantic and less sexually explicit in tone (Keep The Lights On, Weekend) and this fine example and directorial debut from Belgian writer, Daniel Lambert, tugs at the heartstrings like any classic love story. The thrust here is on the heady mix of power over tender vulnerability and makes appealing viewing for art house  audiences although it’s not quite mainstream fare.

Paulo (Matila Malliarakis) is living with his girlfriend Anka but their sex life has pretty much ground to a halt. When he meets Illr (Guillaume Gouix) the chemistry is palpable and he is immediately seduced by Illr’s forcefully masculine approach.  Exasperated by the lack of bedroom action, Anka throws Paulo out forcing him to move in with Illr despite a certain reluctance on Illr’s part. The two begin a convincing and passionate relationship in which Paulo very much forces the pace for commitment. As the dynamic between them reaches considerable depth and complexity the narrative develops with a well-crafted and involving plot line and authentic characterisations.

An atmospheric music selection from Canada’s Valleys band sets just the right tone for this bittersweet affair and Matthieu Poirot-Delpech’s sensual and distinctive widescreen visuals give poignancy to this indie drama marking Lambert out as a filmmaker with a promising future. MT

BEYOND THE WALLS IS ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 26TH AUGUST 2013

Keep The Lights On

Director/Screenplay:  Ira Sachs    Prod:   Lucas Joaquin

Cast: Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth, Julianne Nicholson,

102min      US   Drama (Gay Interest)

Based in the early nineties Manhattan, this torrid drama has Thure Lindhardt as Erik, a wounded documentary filmmaker looking for casual sex on the rebound from a broken relationship and Zachary Booth as Paul, a lawyer he meets through chat lines.  The sex is great but Paul has a girlfriend and doesn’t want to get involved.  But the affair continues and becomes complicated because these two are incompatible emotionally and there are issues of sex and drug addiction.

Based on a true life experience, Ira Sachs directs with a heartfelt emotion that’s compelling, raw and full of pain.  This is a tough and effecting indie drama with a grainy look and good performances, a great deal of sexual activity that feels real and an authenticity that makes the ten-year affair seem totally natural.  Keep the Lights On also touches on wider issues for the gay community at that time such as the burgeoning AIDs crisis and the work of artists Avery Willard and Arthur Russell. MT

Keep The Lights On releases in cinemas across London from Friday, 2nd November 2012 at Curzon, ICA, Hackney Picturehouse and Ritzy, Cineworld Glasgow and Cardiff.

 

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