This past week brought with it the international stylings of the 21st Fire! International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and that means that many in the the arts crowd from around Europe, the States, Latin American and Asia descended upon the city for what has turned out to be one of the most acclaimed film festivals of its kind.
The opening of the festival commenced with French director Catherine Corsini’s La Belle Saison, which was released across Europe this past week. Set in early Seventies France (countryside and then Paris and then back to the country), the film tells the story of Delphine, daughter of a farmer and thereby a farmhand herself, who finally breaks free from her provincial confines and suddenly is whisked off to a tiny, attic flat in a non-descript part of Paris. Let it be noted that her move to Paris is sudden with nary an explanation as to how she got there or even why. Apparently, the sweet and secretive Delphine is there to study something but we’re never clued into what that is exactly; instead, Corsini dives into the feminist movement of the time, and here is where I got entranced. Watching the defyingly beautiful Cecile de France as Carole, a married and active feminist, it’s beyond easy to see why Delphine is attracted to her. She is at once like a flitting fairy and then a strong Aphrodite, and when suddenly a kiss in a shared bed whilst on retreat leads to confusion and then another kiss that forces Carole to look at her true bisexual nature, the audience are led to believe that a new couple’s star has been born. While the settings and acting of the film is superb, I could not help but find the editing somewhat lacking in giving us th whole picture. A married person accepting their bisexuality doesn’t often happen because of a spat-inducing kiss between two gal pals. There is a more detailed process as I see it, so when I had the opportunity to ask Corsini about that, she stated that the film clearly gives the viewer the hints needed to follow Delphine into her relationship with Carole. There were energetic semblances which harkened back to Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013), although that darn editing process fails to engage the best response from the thirsty audience. Suffice to say, once the film begins, it’s hard to take your eyes off it. ###
I recently read that one in every five or six men in Barcelona is gay, and though I somewhat doubt that statement, I can see why there might be an element of truth to that if it is specifically referring to sexual practices and not admission or identification of sexual preference. That theme runs throughout the film What’s Between Us, a Swiss production that looks at life choices and sexual identification and acceptance when already well into your forties and quite settled in life with kids, home and all in its place. The undoubted stand-out performance comes from the beautiful Ursina Lardi, who gives such a gut-wrenching performance as the wife who must deal with the painful reality in this coming-out narrative. Yet knowing her plight, as well as those of their teen and tween children, you sometimes find your sympathies permitting the understanding of father and lead actor Dominique Jann, who is at once suitably sensitive and yet incredibly fragile. Whoever cast the young actors who play their offspring was right on. This is director Claudia Lorenz’s feature debut, and she also serves with scriptwriting duties for this film. With a powerful breakthrough like this, I really am keen to see what this Swiss teller of tales just might bring to the world of cinema in the near future. ###-1/2
Theo et Hugo Dans Le Méme Bateau (Paris 05:59)…okay woah! The first quarter hour or more of the movie plays more like a snippet of porn rather than the endearing cinema that it is. Though the film starts off slow and soft-core porn, it soon dissolves into a hedonistic, free-for-all sexcapade in the middle of a dark room…read: hardcore-lite gay pornography. When Hugo and Theo realise that there was more than a spark during the sex session, they take off on bikes and the winsome, care free nature of things takes over. It is here where the audience calms its pounding heartbeats (amongst other body parts) and realise that directors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau are taking us on a real-time journey between two men who then hit a wall rather suddenly. There was unprotected sex and one of the boys is HIV positive. Let the drama begin. Actors Geoffrey Couet (Theo) and Francois Nambot (Hugo) are riveting to watch, and not only because we see their bodies so explicitly but because we see two actors who are giving themselves to you because they HAD to do those explicit scenes. It made me wonder…if these so-called stars and Hollywood celebs rolled around in complete, utter nudity and tapped into the bare essence of acting beyond their senses but with their bodies (literally!), would we have deeper performances from them? Just a thought. ###-1/2
Next came my first documentary of the festival, which was the British film Hockney, a fantastic look at the modern art painter and visionary David Hockney. Amidst a bevy of interviews (modern and vintage), director Randall Wright dazzles us with a rather amusing and always engaging look into an artist whom I believe was rather overshadowed by legends like Warhol, Basquiat, Lichtenstein and the like. Interestingly enough, it’s Hockney who has outlived them all and even had a hand in the iTunes/Pod/Pad revolution and the artwork you’ve often seen in their homepage and adverts. As you watch the documentary, which is so impeccably crafted, you are instantly seduced by the way the film is also like a piece of art. Wright has given us a fantastic way of looking at art docs…by fusing biography with aesthetics. So well done! ####
Growing up in an upper-middle class home in South Texas, my connection to the New York City realm of Gossip Girl and the like never crossed paths until I was well into my teenage years. And yet, while I watched the film Those People, I understood every aspect of these young adults’ lives…which tells me that the so-called/wannabe upper crust all gravitate to similar things—literature and cinema, dubious sexual orientations, spending parents’ money, drugs and alcohol and partying. There was a realism with the young, very method-acting cast of mostly newbies that resonated with my older teenage, NYC self. When Jewish cutie Charlie has to come to terms with the fact that he is most definitely in a love triangle that he helped create, with his best mate Sebastian and a professional piano player from Lebanon, he realises that growing up means letting go. Nice film if way too formulaic and sometimes annoyingly New York. ###
Two 4 One could best be described as narrative dramedy for alas, that’s what it is. You could also call it a quality television film getting a wider release as it screens in festivals. The plot revolves around a trans man named Adam and what happens when his ex-girlfriend contacts him about having a baby. While they had broken up over two years ago, before Adam’s transition, that did not change the love that stayed as they remained friends. Then, one thing leads to another, and during the playful home insemination, things happen. What is that exactly? Well, both Miriam and Adam wind up pregnant. Two 4 One is the first feature length film that explores trans male pregnancy, but it also digs into the complexities of love, gender and sexuality, family ties that bind, and especially masculine ideals from a queer and trans perspective. Best TV movie I’ve seen in years. ###
Talk about crying through much of HBO’s doc Suited. The way that director Jason Benjamin and producers Jenni Konner and Lena Dunham (under Sheila Nevins’ mandate, for sure) have wound a human interest story with the trans world and as a documentary is utterly satisfying and, at times, gut-wrenching. The film revolves around Bindle & Keep, a tailoring company whose clientele includes transgender shoppers, several of whom come to the showroom after having trouble finding formal wear that fits. The film introduces several of these clients, including a trans boy whose bah mitzvah is coming up, a man looking for a suit to get married in, and another budding Georgia attorney who simply needs to get a job now that law school is over but his look just doesn’t cut it for the South. The elements of this new reality in these people’s lives really brings a message of gratitude to us, the viewers; gratitude that we live in a world where most anyone can be themselves and hopefully, gratitude that we feel validated in the skin we live in. Great doc. Great film. ####
Now, this next film is set to open wide in Europe throughout the summer and what a stunner it is. The film Tomcat stars Philipp Hochmair as as Andreas and Lukas Turtur as Stefan, a well-off gay couple who live in the outskirts of suburban Vienna and whose relationship is put to the ultimate survival test when Stefan, in a sudden, unexpected outburst of psychopathic anger, kills their pet cat Moses. What the film does whilst leading up to this is make you feel complete gusto for this couple and their classical music-inspired lives. The cat is also impossible to not want to scoop-and-kiss as the director Handi Klauss has gone to great lengths to make empathy and an endearing feeling of understanding resonate with us, the viewing audience. What we sit back and watch is the unfolding elements of a trust-broken relationship and an eerie sense of foreboding that lies awake throughout the rest of the film. There is a reason why Tomcat won The Teddy Award for Best Film at the Berlinale this year. Splendid, if eerie, depiction of true love tested beyond all lengths. ####
Like You Mean It is so L.A. that part of me wanted to not like it from the outset. The semi-autobiographical film stars its director Phillip Karner as Mark, one of two men at a juncture of decision and awareness in their relationship. Mark is a struggling actor living in L.A. with his boyfriend Jonah (Denver Milord), a musician and a guy with a sincere heart of gold. As the challenges of life and ego start pounding at their door, Mark attempts to come to grips with his own depression, his self-centred way of being, and tries to reignite the flame of yore through therapy and even drugs. Peering through the looking glass however, Mark starts to see that he is quite likely the one at fault, but it is too late to salvage things. Cliched to a fault but pleasantly surprised by this indie drama. ###-1/2
Ir goes without saying that an HBO documentary is practically always perfect…and usually pretty moving in its own right. The Greg Louganis doc, Back on Board, takes a no-frills barred look at the Olympic great’s life from his continuing status as the greatest diver to his financial woes and self-acceptance of who he is now in middle age. First thing to note is that the guy looks fantastic, As someone who has lived with HIV for nearly 30 years, any man his age would kill to look that good and be that healthy and have that body in their mid-fifties. Now serving as a US Olympics diving team mentor and sponsor, Louganis has come full circle from where he began, although it has not been easy. This doc takes a look at his history in a dynamic, sometimes all-too-real way, and when you start to peel back the layers, you find a man who had to face the backlash, discrimination and hatred that only a gay man in sports could endure and somehow still come out on top. It is not easy and the way the film depicts his foibles and triumphs makes you proud to have lived in this age where we got to see a fighter back in the game. Kudos! ####
Folks…I have seen the coming of the glory of the new Almodovar. I don’t even know where to begin with Flores de Mazapan, except to say that it is quite likely the best artistically made film of the entire fest. The vivid yet simple imagery, the director/writer’s use of paintings and photography as background for scenes in any locale, the intensity of the actors and actresses cannot be overstated. Artist and actress Nuli Omer plays Hadas, 48, a woman living in a southern Israeli kibbutz who moves to Tel Aviv for a new start after the freakish death of her husband in a terrible car accident. What she does not expect is to find aide and counsel in her transitioning roommate Petel, a girl with a mysterious past. When their bond is formed rather quickly, it is soon put to the test after a series of snafus involve them in a murder, which they are both innocent but still considered responsible for, and this only serves to make their friendship better. Director, screenwriter, musician, fashion designer and video artist, Adam Kalderon, has show us again that he is undoubtedly one of the freshest, most exciting talents on the new Israeli film scene today. An original film is not easy to find, but this is it! ####
Let the Record Show is not only the title of the latest Dexy’s album, it’s also a documentary that throws us back into the hedonistic lifestyle of a New York of yesteryear, when art, fashion, expression, freedom and The City came together in an explosion of aesthetics rarely seen since…and then the AIDS crisis hit in a full-blown manner by 1982 and everything changed. One thing that certainly is noted in Demetrea Dewald’s incredibly art-driven film is how much creativity and greatness was lost during those years, especially between the early Eighties and Nineties. With so much amazing stock footage of the original activists like ActUp and VisualAIDS, and interviews that scathingly rebuke the US administration’s handling of the situation (Ronald Reagan wouldn’t even address the topic by name until 1987, six years after it had started as an epidemic) and call out the pharmaceutical and research companies who were afraid to tackle the subject as it was ‘The Gay Cancer’—it’s hard not to watch the film with some indignation. When a country turns its back on the world and its people, it merely shows how that country is also on its own road to demise in some form. Powerful stuff. ###-1/2
The beauty of the Film Festival, especially in a city or region like Barcelona and Catalunya, is that it attracts so many art and cine lovers from all parts of the globe; after all, who doesn’t want to soak up the rays and the beach love? By jove, it’s still 20 degrees or less in much of Europe surprisingly. Most of these movies are now receiving wider distribution and will be opening in movie theatres (festival opener La Belle Saison is already screening in the province) throughout the summer and autumn. Talk soon and take care!