Posts Tagged ‘Gay interest’

Casa Susanna (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir/Wri: Sebastian Lifshitz | France, Doc 97′

In the open scenes of this well made gay interest film an American broadcaster talks to four dolled up women who turn out to be men. Shock horror probe. But that was back in the Sixties, Nowadays cross-dressing is par for the course thanks to ‘Full Personality Expression’ that allows people to wear whatever they want, wherever they go.

Back in the 1950s and ‘60s this underground network of transgender women and cross-dressing men were forced to find refuge at a modest house in the Catskills region of New York. Known as Casa Susanna, the house provided a safe place to live for a few days as they had always dreamed—dressed as women – without fear of being incarcerated or institutionalised for doing so. Told through the memories of those whose visits to the house would change their lives, the film looks back at a secret world where the persecuted and frightened found freedom, acceptance and, often, the courage to live their lives out of the shadows. 

Award-winning documentarian Sebastian Lipshitz enlivens his expose with wonderful photos of New York in the 1960s along with archive footage of Danish cross-dresser Christine Jorgensen, who became an overnight celebrity, and others who joined in. Another woman remembers her father paying visits to the Casa where he enjoyed wearing women’s clothing and only felt comfortable wearing a female nightie in bed. And although the doc slightly overstays its welcome in driving home the point repetitively, it certainly provides a unique and valuable insight for those interested or affected by the issues concerned. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 31 AUGUST – 1 SEPTEMBER 2022

 

Firebird (2021) Bfi Flare 2021

Dir: Peeter Rebane | Cast: Tom Prior, Nicholas Woodeson, Diana Pozharskaya, Oleg Zagorordnii | US Drama 107′

Firebird runs along similar lines to the recent South African services drama Moffie, this version inspired by late Russian actor Sergey Fetisov’s memoir and set in the Soviet Air Force during the Cold War.

Screening as part of the Hearts strand of this year’s Bfi Flare Festival, the lavishly mounted feature debut draws on the director’s own experience of growing up in Soviet occupied Estonia, yet fails to mine the incendiary potential of a dramatic episode in European history.

Tom Prior co-wrote the script and stars as the unsettled soldier Sergey who is drafted into the services but really has dreams of being an actor. He soon gets involved in an illicit love triangle with a dashing fighter pilot Roman (Oleg Zagorodnii) who invites him to see Stravinsky’s Firebird at the opera. But Roman is also kindling a desire for his female comrade Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya) amid the high octane backdrop of a Soviet Air Force Base.

A friendship across the ranks soon sparks into an amorous escapade involving all three comrades in arms, once again highlighting the risks of love affairs in the time of war, this one spiced up by its forbidden nature, punishable by five years in a hard labour camp. The men’s interest in photography is brought to life by the vibrant aesthetic of Mait Maekivi’s colour-drenched camerawork.

Firebird certainly looks impressive with its authentic settings and lush production values but the film never quite generates enough heat to make us care for its underwritten characters who remain cartoonish and rather glib throughout, Luisa hardly getting a look in as a staid and sketchy also-ran in this so-called menage a trois.

Clearly Prior – so affective in Kingsman – has been brought in to lend star power but here joins the rest of cast of rather robotic stormtroopers bringing to mind Kraftwerk’s heroes rather than real people who we can empathise with in their tortured love lives. MT

FIREBIRD is premiering at BFi Flare

 

 

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.

Pain and Glory (2019) **** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir: Pedro Almodovar | Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas | Drama, Spain 117’

Pedro Almodóvar has never won the coveted Palme d’Or but here he gets another chance to prove his impressive talents at portraying with probing insight and humanity a variety of tortured characters both male and female. Pain and Glory is a uniquely piquant and personal portrait that takes us into his own heart through the story of another struggling filmmaker. Once again, as we enjoyed in Julieta, this is a confident and passionate affair resonating with the work of many great auteurs before him, Fellini springs to mind, and the film is seductively set to a score by Alberto Iglesias. But this is one of his most subtle almost sensitive works to date that feels convincingly honest and spontaneous, while quailing away from theatricality it is elegant and self-assured. Maybe the Spanish director has finally let down his guard and bared his soul in this rather delicate drama. It follows one Salvador Mallo (his longtime collaborator Antonio Banderas who plays his alter ego with feeling) a filmmaker who has lost his way and now reflects mournfully on his past in lonely solitude as the present quietly collapses around him. And we feel for his quiet pain in every scene as the narrative unfolds in the context of other minor stories. Finally the fourth wall is broken and we discover the truth, in rather an abrupt finale. Mallo opines “a great actor is not the one who cries, but the one who knows how to contain his tears”. Pedro Almodovar has finally come home, but ironically Banderas wins the award. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 14-25 MAY 2019 |Winner Best Actor for Antonio Banderas

 

 

 

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

 

Sebastiane (1976) ** Home Ent release

Dir: Derek Jarman, Paul Humfress | Score: Brian Eno | UK Drama 86′

Derek Jarman aimed to dignify his voyeuristic gay romp on the beach by basing it on the legend of a martyred Catholic saint 17,000 years ago. His Sebastiane is a lowly Roman soldier exiled due to his religious beliefs to a remote Sardinian outpost along with a small platoon of buff but bored fellow combatants, and he falls foul of his gay commander’s advances, and eventually the rest of the men. Jarman tries elevate Sebastiane to almost Christ-like proportions yet there is nothing in the story, as he tells it, that is remotely worthy of such. Religious beliefs aside, Sebastiane rejects his suitor simple because he doesn’t find him appealing.

Back in the 1970s this was ground-breaking stuff, as gay porn – or any other kind of porn – was almost not-existent: the opening scene at Emperor Diocletian’s Christmas party sees the all male revellers rocking massive phalluses and festive masks; then beachside in Sardinia with full erections, lots of slow-mo snogging and close-ups of naked bottoms and rippling muscles. They certainly must have had fun on that shoot which was filmed naturalistically in three and a half weeks by a professional crew and largely non-pro cast. Brian Eno’s minimalist sound design now feels rather dated, as does the gay subject matter, but it’s easy to criticise in hindsight because the world has obviously moved on, and Peter Middleton’s photography and Jarman’s mise en scene still remain spectacular and evocative. Shame then, about the slim narrative. Sebastiane flopped at the box office all over Europe, and lost the Stones’ their money.

Yet there are important themes at play in this remarkable piece of independent filmmaking: religious intolerance is of course the most important one; but there is also submissiveness versus domination; the role of the outsider and the underdog. And Jarman sees Sebastiane as the eternal victim of society. Quite why the dialogue is in Latin is an anomaly. Ordinary soldiers would speak Italian, as Latin was spoken only by scholars and dignitaries at that time. Is this another attempt to elevate the characters, or simply to make them sound more exotic and alluring?

Nowadays Sebastiane might be criticised for animal cruelty: at one point the soldiers chase down a small piglet, taunting and butchering it savagely with sticks. There are also racist taunts mocking Jews and Christians alike. But it is the storyline that is the least adventurous aspect of the feature, with Jarman overplaying the voyeurism at the expense of telling us a fascinating and little known tale about another man who suffered for his religious conviction. A missed opportunity despite its artistic merit. MT

SEBASTIANE IS ON BLURAY AND ITUNES FROM 18 MARCH 2019

 

 

 

Sauvage (2018) ***

Dir.: Camille Vidal-Naquet; Cast: Felix Maritaud, Eric Bernard, Marie Seux, Philippe Ohrel; France 2018, 99 min.

Felix Maritaud blazes through this stunning sortie into the life of young rent boys in Strasbourg, focusing on their aimless, dangerous and lonely lives. The harsh psychological realism is complimented by explicit sexual encounters, which often border on the abusive.

He plays Leo a rent boy in his early twenty who lives purely for the moment, using drugs, clients, petty crime and lots of day-dreaming to get through each day. That changes when he meets Ahd (Reinard), a fellow male prostitute and falls in love with him. Leo is not worried that Ahd is actually looking for a ‘sugar-daddy’ long term, and asks Leo to do the same: “That’s the best that can happen to us”. But Leo is stubborn, chasing Ahd down and endangering his relationship with an older man. After being sexually assaulted by two others who cheat him out of his money to boot, Ahd does Leo a last favour, beating up one of them and stealing his money, which he shares with Leo. But all the stress has taken its toll on Leo’s health, and a female physician (Seux), one of the few women in the feature, consoles him with maternal affection. This scene stands out in contrast to the film’s opener, when Leo is examined by a ‘doctor’, who turns out to be a client working for the IRS, who enjoys the role play. After Ahd has left for Benidorm with his lover, Leo finally follows his advice- after a particularly brutal (off-screen) encounter with a client known for his sadistic tendencies. His middle-class ‘protector’ Claude (Ohrel) wants to take him to Montreal for a new start in life – but does Leo really wants to be saved?

Leo shows all the symptoms of emotional regression due to neglect: he is a doleful child looking for love in all the wrong places, because society has marginalised him. Sauvage is not just about sex: it also shows the tenderness in a gay relationship, particularly when Leo goes with a man old enough to be his father: Leo cuddles him, both men getting more out of the encounter than penetration alone would have provided. But Leo is already a very fragmented character: he spends hours alone in the woods near the male gang’s pick-up place, and then over-compensates with hectic behaviour at parties and in dance clubs. His day dreams of emotional security are shattered in reality – and he has himself to blame. Solitude is his way back into childhood, while his waking hours are a nightmare of humiliation and deception. Leo doesn’t know how to connect these two selves, and the lack of concurrent identity makes him alien to himself.

SAUVAGE is an impressive first feature for writer and director Camille Vidal-Naquet. DoP Jacques Girault contrasts Leo’s dual existence with nightmarish images of the time spent with his clients, the aimless wandering in the streets, and the haven of tranquillity in the sunny woods. Vidal-Naquet is always non-judgemental, avoiding sentimentality at all costs. The result is a rather melancholic walk on the wild side. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 1 MARCH 2019 NATIONWIDE

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