THE BEST LGBT MOVIES OF 2020—- A PERSONAL LIST BY AMOS LASSEN

THE BEST LGBT MOVIES OF 2020—- A PERSONAL LIST

AMOS LASSEN

Reviews by Amos Lassen

“THE FAMILY TREE”

Life, Family and Friends

Amos Lassen

I have been a huge fan of Panamanian director Jorge Ameer since I first began reviewing and, in fact, one of his films was one of the first I ever reviewed. I am lucky that Ameer gives me an early shot at his films just as he has done with his newest film “The Family Tree”. I have watched Ameer and his films mature, I never know what to expect with an Ameer film—- his range is so wide and diverse. I was truly in the mood for a sensitive film and that is what “The Family Tree” is. It is also the best film he has made as yet. The plot is amazing, the cinematography is lush, the music is sublimely divine and the production as a whole is stunning. However, because of the nature of the plot, I can’t say too much without giving something away and I want everyone to have the same beautiful experience I had watching it.

Roy (Michael Joseph Nelson) is married to Alina (Anais Lucia) in this Christmas story.  They are eager to bring a child into the world but, it is just not happening for them. Victor (Keith Roenke), comes into their lives and changes everything.

The three main characters’ lives become intertwined through a series of events that are unsuspected and strongly brings them together and perhaps bring happiness to Roy and Alina. I could not help being drawn into the emotions of what I was watching.

As the story moves forward, it touches the viewer evoking  emotions especially when we meet Victor, a young workaholic animal rescuer for a local shelter. He is lonely and also an immigrant and he loves the Christmas holidays. When he was a child, Victor made dolls for the holidays, a Panamanian tradition. This year will be really special for him—- he will find love, friendship and especially family.

That Christmas something otherworldly enters the world as part of an old Panamanian tradition and through that Victor learns a great deal as does the audience. I love the inclusion of an old Panamanian tradition that is still practiced today.

Watching what happens on screen reminds us that we cannot let ourselves forget our good memories and how important it is to be with those who we love.

The performances are unforgettable all around. In no way did I expect the sensations that the film delivered and it is with tears of sensitivity in my eyes that I am writing this review. Seeing the beauty of the film reinforces that there is never enough beauty in our lives.

“RIALTO”

Finding Comfort

Amos Lassen

Colm (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), a dock worker, is in his mid-forties, married, with two teenage children. He is still grieving the death of his father, he struggles with his relationship to his own son, whilst at work a recent takeover threatens his job. Unable to share his vulnerability with his wife (Monica Dolan), Colm’s world is falling apart around him. In the midst of this, Colm solicits sex from a young man called Jay (Tom Glynn-Carney). His growing infatuation with Jay has a deep effect on Colm because he finds in Jay what no one else can provide.

Monica is worried because her hubby is going through a rough patch. His domineering father has recently died and, at work, a merger with a Dutch shipping firm looks likely to threaten the job he’s had since leaving school. Colm climbs to the top of the dock’s highest crane to scream his frustrations and is self-medicating with cheap Polish lager. During all of this, Colm decides to begin experimenting with his sexuality for the first time. He picks picking up a 19-year-old hustler, Jay. Their first encounter in a shopping mall men’s room doesn’t go well. Colm’s wallet is missing and this means that Jay knows both his address and place of work and that he can use these for his financial advantage.

What is not clear is whether either man would identify as gay. Both are in loving, if strained, relationships with women, with whom they have children – Colm has two teens roughly Jay’s age, and Jay has a newborn.

Director Peter Mackie Burns gives us a movie about a life in free-fall. The mood is blunt and very realistic, with scenes playing out in half-conversations. At work and home, Colm struggles to connect with the people around him as his lies about the young man who’s been seen visiting his work pile up. With Jay, though, he’s carved a safe space. “There’s no lies between us,” Colm suggests during one of their clandestine hookups.

The camera often hangs back and frames Colm’s unease as he paces his suburban garden or observes the character at distance as he runs between shipping containers from far-off countries that he has  never thought about visiting. The film is most alive during Colm’s nighttime wanderings. At one point, he staggers along the docklands, walking drunkenly into the sea at low-tide, sinking to his knees, totally devastated that the water is too shallow to drown in.

Confrontations that might have generated high drama in other films are either subverted or consigned to off-screen. This is a film that is too quiet and contained to accommodate destabilizing melodramatic moments. “Rialto” is a nuanced journey into emotional containment, belonging and identity. It creates an unlikely safe space in the relationship between a teenage sex worker and a father whose life in spiraling out of control.  Colm’s very existence is of  the fabric of the containers he cares for. The containers are themselves symbolic of a life lived while trapped in emotional seclusion. 

Following the death of his controlling father; a man he could never please. Colm’s life begins to change. His strained family relationships are dealt with while drinking. Meanwhile, the potential risk of becoming controlling like his father was increases his sense of social detachment and crisis. 

Seeking a moment of risk and expression, he arranges a secret rendezvous with a hustler. His intention was to finally allow himself to experience pleasure and purpose. However, the meeting was filled with fear and apprehension and was lost among  apologies and regret. With the young hustler in possession of the wallet. Jay has the opportunity to scam Colm for money, sensing Colm’s secrets. Nonetheless, the relationship between Colm and Jay who he pays for emotional honesty and tentative desire grows. Jay ultimately becomes an unwitting therapist as Colm speaks about his past and present. The secrecy of their encounters that allowed honesty becomes a great risk.

“Rialto” is an intimate character study of a man on the verge of emotional and social collapse. His family and work life collide with the suppressed needs of a life lived in the shadow of others. His need for escape and emotional connection finally finds a voice with a teenage hustler.

Both men’s sexuality is less important than the need for male belonging and attention. Both Colm and Jay’s home lives are equally dysfunctional due to lies and emotional suppression. Colm is internally screaming for escape (despite a loving wife) and Jay wants to be allowed in to the life of his girlfriend and new born daughter. 

The result for both men is a confused relationship of mutual support at a price. The relationship between the two men avoids the need for sexual release against the greater need for unconditional male companionship and love. 

Burns gives us a look at the veneer of a man’s life peeling away from the inner emotional reality. The film’s final scenes never try to conclude the journey started, as secrets are aired between Colm and his own son. Their father/son relationship changed forever with anger. The financial reality of Colm’s relationship with Jay leads both men to separate from their therapeutic relationship of confusion. 

“Rialto” leaves its audience hoping that Colm will find the inner peace that he needs to rebuild his life. However, the reality is that the turmoil of the events proceeding the final scenes have only just begun to play out in Colm’s future.

The film is raw but it never gets too gritty. It just approaches the mark but doesn’t pass it and there are no frills. It ends abruptly and would have been very satisfying to see what would have happened just after the film’s final scenes. However, we understand why it ends as it does. Here is a mid-life crisis brought on by the death of a parent, repressed sexuality and a touch of alcoholism that is beautiful handled and a film achievement.

“SUPERNOVA”

A Film to Anticipate

Amos Lassen

Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) have been together for 20 years and are on vacation travelling across England in a camper van.  Tusker was  diagnosed with young-onset dementia two years ago  and since then their lives have had to change. The time that they have together is now the most important thing for them. However, as the trip progresses, their individual ideas for their future begin to collide, and their plans and aspirations begin to come apart. 

Dementia brings with it unique grief: it blurs conceptions of life and death, self and other. British writer/director  Harry Macqueen introduces us to a couple that is dealing with it in “Supernova”. The film is something of a two-man chamber piece British road movie.

Sixty-something partners Sam and Tusker travel in a cluttered camper van through the north of England, on what is probably their last vacation before Tusker’s health deteriorates, Macqueen’s talky original screenplay promises no surprises and we know that there is only one way this journey can go.

Tusker deliberately left the medication that’s at least supposed to stall his mental decline behind but he had already decided that it really did nothing for his decline. He was once a celebrated novelist who is now struggling to write. He has made peace with his fate and is independently tying up the loose ends of his life during the uncertain amount of time he has left. Sam, a classical pianist has recently put his career aside to care for Tusker, but is unable to approach things quite so pragmatically and holds onto fast-fading delusions that their companionship will see them through the worst. Whether he’s unable to accept the reality more out of defiant love for his life partner of several decades, or his own tremendous fear of being left alone, is the question that “Supernova” explores and it does so with frankness, even when the characters speak around the issue.

Not much happens in “Supernova”. Sam and Tusker chat, cuddle, argue, say a few goodbyes and take in the Lake District scenery.  The drama  comes as the two must gradually drop their defenses of denial and delay, and speak openly and bluntly about what’s best for them individually. They have different answers along the way. There can be no compromise.

Firth and Tucci are brilliant and they complement and reflect each other’s shortness, evasiveness and tenderness in the way that long-term couples do. Old jokes and teases are lovingly brought up between them with loving half-heartedness.

Firth’s Sam is the heart of the film, and beautifully so. His fear, anger and insecurity emerge the more he tries to remain undemonstrative. This could well be his greatest performance.

“DRY WIND”

Desire

Amos Lassen

Desire is the basic theme of  “Dry Wind” (“Vento Seco”) In a  rural mid-western Brazil setting Sandro (Leandro Faria Lelo) follows his monotonous daily routine. Working at a big fertilizer company nearby, his expeditions to the local supermarket, and dips in the pool give us looks at a life with little variety. Only desire seems to make Sandro’s existence bearable. 

Director Daniel Nolasco and his cinematographer Larry Machado let the camera become an observer as it reflects the protagonist’s gaze when not following closely behind The camera lingers on men’s bodies and their crotches, both covered and not. The queer male gaze, as demonstrated here, is a startling and fascinating, but Sandro’s desire is shown in great, elaborate detail that document his sexual encounters both real and imagined with pornographic explicitness.

Nolsaco’s artistic intention is always clear: erotic scenes are juxtaposed with sweeping landscape shots as well as the monotony of work among mountains of dusty grain. Nolasco uses bold colors and neon lights and a memorable soundtrack establish a direct line to giallo films but the narrative tension which runs through the Italian crime thriller genre is missing here. This is a powerful and unabashed representation of homosexuality seen against the backdrop of Brazil’s current political climate. While this film certainly won’t be to everyone’s liking, it has great power.

Between work, swimming and anonymous sex, Sandro lives a rather monotonous life. When Maicon (Rafael Theophilo) emerges from the small town, his life takes a turn.

While the protagonist Sandro s swimming, we see a close-up of the crotch area of ​​the male pool visitors. This is a subtle depiction of sexuality in the film, which otherwise shows sex in a highly explicit form. This scene anticipates one of the most important aspects in Sandro’s self-perception— that desire seems to be everywhere in and with him. He is constantly attracted to male bodies and gets lost in fetish fantasies, although he actually meets with his colleague Ricardo (Allan Jancito Santana) relative to sex in the forest. Nolasco succeeds in a character study in hot Brazil that is full of eroticism.

The numerous sex scenes are relentless and shown with uncompromising closeness and not leaving out any explication. But, these scenes are never an end in themselves; they fit very well into Sandro’s character. Something is always in the air and this becomes clear in pornographic, surreal dream sequences. Since Nolasco shows sexuality with the highest form of intensity and in some cases almost pornography, Sandros’ tension becomes believable. He knows only  tenderness through sex.

There is a tender moment when Maicon sits next to him on a roller coaster ride and holds his hand. The relationship with the mysterious Maicon is an important aspect of the film. Not only does his desire culminate in him, but also the perception of his own masculinity.

“Dry Wind” takes getting used to as it explores desire and identity. The gap, between everyday reality and fantasy certainly tortures Sandro. He is a middle-aged factory safety officer who life seems to be going nowhere. Maicon is a gay beefcake fantasy made flesh, and Sandro is instantly obsessed. So much so that he pursues his unhealthy fixation on the newcomer.

“Dry Wind” contains the single most explicit act of unsimulated fellatio (to “completion”)  and it  is interpreted with a strange gentleness. It makes the sex almost sweet, and rather hot, instead of gratuitous.

“SUBLET”

Re-finding love

Amos Lassen

Eytan Fox, the wonderkid of Israeli LGBTQ cinema brings us his first English language film, “Sublet”. Fifty-something Michael (John Benjamin Hickey) comes to Tel Aviv for a 5-day assignment for the New York Times. Michael is a writer for the paper and is preparing an article about the “real” Tel Aviv behind the touristy hot spots. He sublets an apartment of a young filmmaker, Tomer (Niv Nissim), who makes frequent trips back after Michael moves in.

On one of those visits, Michael learns that Tomer doesn’t have a place to stay that evening and offers him a spot on the couch in exchange for a few guided tours around Tel Aviv. Tomer accepts, and shows Michael the modern world of Israeli LGBTQ culture. Both men are gay, yet at different points in their lives. Michael is in a long-term relationship with a partner back in New York while Tomer eschews the idea of faithful exclusivity. The two men take turns learning from each other— Tomer gains a touch of maturity and perspective and Michael rediscovers a touch of his youthful daring and impulsivity.

Fox wrote and directed the picture. Having lived in Tel Aviv for many years (before the blossoming of gay culture there), I was glad that Fox give his film a distinct sense of place when it is not shot in Tomer’s apartment. When we are not inside, we see beaches, clubs, and streets that give Tel Aviv its nature. Tomer does not have much of a personality aside from as a “trick” who is filled with angst, and Michael comes across as past-his-prime non-adventurer. What these two opposites share has all been done before and while there is conflict, it is just not new. But Michael does have a bit of trauma that he manages to overcome because of Tomer’s prodding and there are surprises.

Michael is nudged back to life by Tomer.  He finds Tel Aviv to be “full of contradictions, chaotic and intense, but at the same time completely laid-back.” With this, he also describes Tomer with whom he has formed a surprising bond. We might have thought we were going to see a May-December affair but Fox and co-writer Itay Segal have something quieter in mind and they successfully balance underlying melancholy with a light mood and this is what makes the film so good. I am aware that until now I have been a bit hard in writing about the film but it does not only save itself, it becomes quite enjoyable. This is also a love letter to Tel Aviv and its street life. Older gay men will enjoy the film’s treatment of acquired wisdom and the introspection of aging

In the opening scenes Michael is established  as a slightly uptight, pensive man, with a bit of gray at the temples yet still handsome. We sense sadness which he later shares with us. Tomer is spontaneous as opposed to Michael being uptight and organized.

The film comes to us in five chapters representing five days and they follow the connection between the two men who move from being strangers. Through Skype calls with his husband David (Peter Spears) in New York, we learn that Michael is hesitant to continue with their plan to become parents and is irritated when he finds out David has begun plans for surrogacy without consulting him. Tomer admits that he Googled Michael and asks about his well-reviewed first publication, a chronicle of New York City in the AIDS years of the late ’80s and early ’90s when Michael lost his first boyfriend to the disease.

While at the beach, Michael admits that sex has become infrequent in his marriage, while sexual Tomer laughs at the idea of monogamous commitment. His free-spirit side comes into play on the third day after they attend an experimental dance recital and he’s high. He finds a hot local guy (Tamir Ginsburg) on a hookup app and the conflicting signals of curiosity, arousal, reserve and despondency come to the fore when Michael considers the invitation to participate play.  He feels awkward the next morning and tries to leave early, but Tomer stops him by insisting he comes to dinner with his mother Malka (Miki Kam) on the kibbutz where she raised him. That entire fourth day sequence has some of the film’s most affecting scenes (the quiet train ride the two men share, a dinner during which Malka draws Michael out on why he is sad.

Hickey gives a beautiful performance, showing suppressed feelings while also relaying the embarrassment of a man who is not used to talking about himself. Tomer begins to see him differently.

The sexual tension is understated through most of the film so that the drama is more about the effect on both men of their encounter that frees up what was in denial or held back by fear. The screenplay incorporates background about the Israeli-Palestinian divide through Tomer’s dancer friend Daria (Lihi Kornowski) and her relationship with her Arab boyfriend; Michael’s ambivalence toward his Jewishness; the challenges of being an alternative artist in Israel; and the temptation of a more liberal, cosmopolitan life outside of Israel.

“Sublet” is thoughtful queer melodrama that is satisfying, with the way it looks at the mutually beneficial intersection of two radically different lives. The interplay between the two leads is excellent and captures many moments of relaxed intimacy. Fox once again gives us an insider’s view of being gay in Israel  and shows how welcoming Tel Aviv is.

“Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves” (“Torka aldrig tårar utan handskar”)

In Sweden

Amos Lassen

While there’s a tendency in English-speaking countries to only ever consider how certain events affected us, of course they often affect other places too. That’s very true of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. In terms of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, we rarely hear about countries aside from the United States. Most documentaries and films tend to concentrate on what happened in this country. The three-part mini-series Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves” takes us to Stockholm, Sweden in the early 80

Rasmus (Adam Palsson) is a young man comes to Stockholm to check out the bright lights. Staying with his aunt he soon immerses himself in the gay world, meeting other people and having fun. He meets Benjamin (Adam Lundgren), who comes from a very strict family of Jehovah’s Witnesses when he knocks on the door of one of Rasmus’ gay friends, hoping to spread the word of his religion. Rasmus immediately sees that Ben is gay, something the young man thought nobody could see. Ben slowly begins to open up and eventually starts a relationship with Rasmus.

Things are not perfect though. Benjamin just wants a simple monogamous relationship and has no intention of coming out to his parents while Rasmus feels people should be out and proud, and he also wants to have sex with other people too. Then they hear about a “gay plague” and people around them start getting sick. From the very beginning we sense that this is not an easy film and the title comes from a line of dialogue in the first few minutes where a nurse is informed not to touch AIDS patients without full-on safety gear. Throughout the film,  we move between the young men figuring out their lives amid the promise of early 80s Stockholm gay scene and Rasmus lying in a hospital bed suffering the effects of AIDS.

The film uses quite an effective structure, contrasting the hope and possibility of gay people in a society that’s slowly becoming more accepting of different sexualities, with the devastating impact the AIDS virus has. The three hour-long episodes are helped enormously by some great performances. Adam Palsson is excellent as the brash Rasmus but this is Adam Lundgren’s movie— he is the heart of it all. The supporting cast is excellent as is the recreation of 1980’s life. There is a nice specificity both in its visual style and how it shows an intimate knowledge of the areas of Stockholm that were popular with gay people in the early 80s, including the place where the bars were to where people went cruising.

It’s not always an easy watch since the film doesn’t shy away from the horrible reality of the end stages of AIDS. However that’s as it should be. For those who weren’t around at the time, it’s easy to think the AIDS crisis was a bad thing without realizing what it was actually like for those living through it. As we see here, these were people still somewhat dislocated from society and often estranged from their own biological families. They had built their identity and new families amongst one another and then had to watch those closest to them dying ugly, agonizing deaths and often wondering if/when the same would happen to them. They also knew that if it had primarily been happening to straight people, the reaction would have been a full scale emergency rather than it becoming a political football and ignored by many.

 

“Don’t Ever Wipe Tears” was a bit of a sensation when it first aired in Sweden in 2012, and there was even talk of it being recut into a film for distribution in other countries which is finally happening.

 

“AND THEN WE DANCED” 

Furtive Feelings

Amos Lassen

Levan Akin’s film, “And Then We Danced” looks at gay desire in a Georgian dance ensemble. Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) has been training Georgian dance together with his girlfriend (Ana Javakishvili) for years. When a new dancer, Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) ,comes to train, things begin to change Merab realizes that he’s falling in love with the newcomer thus opening a new world of passion, confusion and danger for him. This is not a new story but the setting is fresh. Akin director explores his family’s Georgian roots and delivers a touching romance  and a sincere, compelling and damning portrait of Georgia’s attitudes toward machismo. We see that it is up to the individual to survive.

The boys of the National Georgian Ensemble are taught that softness is a dangerous affliction— to have soft limbs is to be weak and to lose muscular strength is to fail. This is rooted in military moves and Middle Age holiday celebrations and it fills the mind and body of Merab, a sensitive and headstrong student at the academy. He’s talented but somewhat frustrated by the cultural structures inhibiting his livelihood. He is still mostly in control of his ambition until a rival dancer joins the academy and brings a technical and sensual threat.

Irakli’s arrival upends Merab’s pretensions of hardened performance almost instantly. It’s no mystery where this sensuous coming-of-ager will lead for these young men. They are two people who are simultaneously repressed and inspired by the muscles of their bodies in movement as they for new bends as they perfect their craft.

Dance sets the stage for a story of growing desire and it is framed by the danger of a conservative culture that still reminds its people that marriage is between a man and a woman, as it has been since Adam and Eve.

Akin has filmed his dancers in golden light and this gives elegance to these periods of clumsy yearning. The precise steps of Georgian dance lend discipline to lustful impulses, and introduce a new barrier to get around. Self-destruction is certainly within reach for these guys and their restless hearts. As they train,  the softness of a first romance is quite strong.

This is a story about sexual expression, financial struggles, familial and what happens when everything becomes too stressful for the young men who are looked disdainfully by those who fear their sexual orientation. While dramatically slow, the film seems always ready “to burst with raw, emotionally gripping nuance about homophobia coupled with extrinsic issues” but it never does.

The acting is uniformly excellent with a truly gorgeous performance by Gelbakhiani as Merab. He delivers his lines with age-appropriate realism, elegance and is a complete charm to watch. Iraki (Valishvili), his competitor and lover wonderfully deals with the pressure exerted on him by the dance academy. Coach Aliko tells them that Georgian dance is supposed to represent masculinity as we come to understand, and we wait to see how the fantastically directed sequences of duets would come to correlate with Merab’s sexual freedom. However, the film splits the focus into his tough relationship with brother David (Giorgi Tsereteli).

We see and hear a one-o- one conversation between the two that is heartfelt and a deconstruction of toxic masculinity through the guise of sibling spats. The relationship between Merab and Irakli is so painfully rushed that we don’t get the time to appreciate how the struggle of being a queer adolescent in the marginalized climate is very dangerous.  In “And Then We Danced”, Swedish-Georgian filmmaker Levan Akin calls upon language for a story specific to a culture and a world he loves, but universal in its impact.

Merab’s world his thrown into chaos as Irakli goes from being his greatest rival to the object of his heart’s desire. The unexpected and unique joy of ‘And Then We Danced’ is not what it is telling, but how it is being told. When placed within the context of Georgian tradition and national identity (neither of which support homosexuality), this familiar setup comes to life with relevance and a new texture. We, the viewers, become as wrapped up in a journey of discovery as Merab. We immerse ourselves in Georgian culture, and we are with him in every step that he takes to find his way in this world he loves but cannot accommodate him. The very familiar story of a young gay man finding himself becomes new and celebratory again. We enjoy seeing his naked male form reaching for what he longs for, the painful confusion of reading any possible signs, the physical agony he endures and the emotional torment and the joy he feels when “skin touches skin and lip touches lip.”

The film moves past its familiar narrative from a potential love story to a statement on the importance, of self-expression. We see Merab’s self-discipline start to loosen as he discovers the fears and desires he never knew he had. He feels his confusion and longing and pain and desire and steps outside of himself to discover who he really is— a brother, a lover, an artist and as a man. His relationship with Irakli brings forth Merab’s deeper understanding of his art and his relationship with it where traditional boundaries do not. Director Levan uses the affair with Irakli as a catalyst for Merab’s personal and artistic awakening, and in this, he offers something refreshing and deeply powerful to LBGTQ  film: a statement on the need to know one’s self and to be allowed to be whatever is found. The pain of Merab’s journey along with his with quiet moments of sorrow and loss that, because of his awareness of his own body, manifest physically in his entire body. His pain makes his victories all the greater and his art more necessary. Defiance here is  a demand to be seen and be heard, and this is part of Merab.

”WELCOME TO CHECHNYA”

Unimaginable Peril

Amos Lassen

“Welcome to Chechnya” follows a group of activists who risk unimaginable peril to confront the ongoing anti-LGBTQ pogrom in the repressive and closed Russian republic of Chechnya.

Since 2017, Chechnya’s tyrannical leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has brought about a depraved operation to “cleanse the blood” of LGBTQ Chechens He oversees a government-directed campaign to detain, torture and execute them. Activists take matters into their own hands. In his new documentary, David France uses a remarkable approach to anonymity to expose this and to tell the story of an extraordinary group of people who confront evil every day of their lives.

We see a small group of activists working to remove LGBTQ citizens out of Russia through a series of safe houses, government partnerships around the world, and lots of risky travel plans. Each of these escapees’ faces has been CGI-modified to look different and that shows how scary and intense this cleansing is for Chechens. We follow a few of these citizens as they are forced to stay inside, keep low profiles, and move quickly when told that the time has come. The documentary never calms down and we, in the audience, are not allowed to relax.

Everyone in the film shows courage and asks us to do the same. We see the imprisonment of mostly young LGBTQ citizens, and the film is horrific and almost unwatchable at times. There are clips of unnecessary violence towards these random citizens throughout the film, and even if we close our eyes, we still hear the brutality.

In some places, the world continues to be awful for those that are different and this documentary make us feel frustrated for not knowing about these stories earlier. At the same time, the film is a call-to-action to listen to others, to be informed, and to contribute to causes that matter. This is a difficult film to watch but its message of intolerance and bravery is so very important.

Director France aligns himself with the men and women trying to free the people who now fear for their lives and asks the truly terrifying question of if we don’t stop it there, how far can this kind of behavior spread? 

We are taken into the safe houses with the young men and women trying to travel the “Rainbow Railroad” to Canada. We see the detailed process that it takes to rescue these young men and women, whose identities are protected by a new technology that basically gives them a face and voice on film that’s not their own. The film is intercut with horrifying footage of hate crimes against gay people in the region that are impossible to forget— this is a matter of life and death.

When terrorism was growing from Chechnya in the early 2000s, Putin responded by installing a pro-Russia  regime, with Kadyrov  at its head. In return for his loyalty, Putin gave him free rein to run his country how he wanted  and thus began a growing cult of personality. This lack of accountability has allowed and even helped “a brutal anti-gay purge of enforced disappearances, torture, and extra-judicial killings in the corrupt, ultra-conservative, and predominantly Muslim republic.”

Details of the purge, have leaked out even with the regime’s effective silencing methods. France now brings them to wider attention in his film that is filled with suspense, as we are taken into the perilous escape route out of Chechnya \and into hiding with some who flee. We get a taste of the fear that a regime known for carrying out hits far beyond its own borders can engender. The documentary stuns us with what Putin and his “pals” cannot seem to see: that it is people, and their undeserved suffering, have precisely everything to do with these inhuman policies.

We see that David Isteev and Olga Baranova, activists of the Russian LGBT Network, a non-governmental rights organization, help those at risk in their attempts to  escape. They have no prior experience in how to hide people in danger, or how to obtain the necessary paperwork for them, they work to meet such urgent need, taking in around 25 people per month to their secret shelter in Moscow, a city that, despite its own poor human rights record, is safe in comparison to Grozny.  They risk their own lives on missions, and fighting to keep stress at bay. Their work makes them targets of death threats.

Getting to a safe house outside Chechnya is no way the end of their ordeal. By leaving, they arrive at zero, with little chance to speak their own language, resume their professions, or talk to relatives. Their ties to all they have known are severed. They carry the stigma of “a shame so strong it has to be washed away by blood” stays with them through  a lifetime of socialization and violent reinforcement. The trauma of what they go through never leaves them. The dislocation and claustrophobia can be too much to bear. Canada has taken in 44 of the 151 survivors that the Russian LGBT Network has helped out of Chechnya, Trump’s administration has not agreed to take in even one.

“The repression within Chechnya is so brutal, and the hand of Kadyrov’s henchmen so global in its reach, that scarcely any of those persecuted are willing to go public about their experiences in the purge, which it is suspected has even claimed a prominent pop star who disappeared in Grozny in 2017 while on a brief visit from Moscow.

We see grainy mobile footage of homophobic attacks with eyewitness evidence of a fraction of atrocities in a nation that, its leader declares, has no gay people — and insists that if it did, their families would kill them before any state intervention. 

Isteev and Olga Baranova have sacrificied everything they have to save LGBT youths in Chechnya and they are truly inspiring. Their work in this documentary is a wake-up call for the world to do much more.

Welcome To Chechnya starts with Isteev on the phone. He is the crisis response coordinator for the Russian LGBT Network. He always seems to be on the phone. Anya, a lesbian girl in Chechnya, is calling. Her uncle knows that she’s gay and is blackmailing her to have sex with him or he will tell her dad. Knowing that an almost certain death awaits her either way, Anya’s only hope lies with Isteev to get her out of the country.

Isteev’s job is to help bring gays and lesbians facing persecution to safety. He is aided by Baranova, the founding director of the Moscow Community Center for LGBT+ Initiatives, who has set up a safe house in Moscow for these youths to stay before they are taken out of Russia. Through fly-on-the-wall-footage of these tense breakouts as well as face-to-face interviews with Isteev and Baranova, the film informs and inspires..

Grisha (not his real name) is an ethnic Russian who was detained while working in Chechnya. He was deeply surprised by the way he was treated, considering the previous friendliness of the locals towards him. He was allowed out of the region by the authorities because he was not Chechen but he fears for his life, as well as the lives of his family and boyfriend.

France has done an amazing job of laying out the context of the gay purge before we go with him on a journey that involves border crossings, emotional reunions and incredible resilience in the face of evil. All of this takes place against a backdrop of institutional failure that comes from the autonomous region and goes right up to the head of state himself.

In 2017 during a drug raid in Chechnya, authorities found explicitly gay photographs and texts on a man’s phone. This was the beginning. They tortured him until he gave up his friends and this began a purge that has caused hundreds of men and women to be detained, tortured, and given back to their families to die.

Vladimir Putin is not directly responsible for what is happening in Chechnya but the Kremlin’s lack of condemnation, coupled with refusing to open an official investigation, gives Kadyrov the freedom to continue his campaign of terror. Kadyrov is a useful pawn in Chechnya, maintaining stability in a region that has gone to war with Russia twice in the past thirty years. Now with reports of institutionally-sanctioned homophobic violence spreading throughout the Russian south, there is a great fear that it could pop up in other regions of Russia, with the Kremlin doing nothing to help.

David France sees the issue as a global one. As refugees wait for visas, they bounce off the walls. In one particularly distressing scene, one slits his wrists out of frustration. While LGBT organizations worldwide are ready to help work on this issue together, it requires government intervention through international condemnation, funding and humanitarian visa allocation.

“Welcome to Chechnya” is grim, especially footage intercepted by activists showing brutal beatdowns and rapes. Nonetheless, even with the difficulties these people face, France captures the intimacy and beauty of gay love by showing Grisha and his boyfriend, Bogdan playing by the beach and caressing each other in the bath. It’s a beautiful, loving and tender reminder of the fight is all about.

France’s film has is “a true masterwork of LGBT empathy, working both as a devastating portrait of hate as well as a rallying call to arms” and one of the best and most important documentaries of the year.

“UNCLE FRANK”

Coming Out in the Deep South

Amos Lassen

“Uncle Frank” takes us on a heartbreaking journey full of ups and downs. It is a coming-of-age story that shows that even the people who we adore aren’t infallible and cannot run away from our past.

Uncle Frank’s (Paul Bettany) story is told from the perspective of his niece,Beth (Sophia Lillis). Both Paul and Frank are the outliers of their Southern family with Beth having aspirations beyond her family and her hometown while Frank already having moved on years before and became a college professor in New York City. This is what brought uncle and niece together. brought them together. Beth worshipped Frank, but there is more going on below the surface. Frank couldn’t run away from his past forever as we see when tragedy forced him to finally face it.

Bettany gives a brilliant performance as Frank. He is charming and also vulnerable. We feel the pain and then the sense of relief when it was lifted from his shoulders. Director Alan Ball’s film is the story ofa gay man struggling to come out to his family also feels and even though it is dated, it is still quite a film.

Set in the Deep South in 1969, Betsy Bledsoe lives a largely sheltered existence in Creekville. Her thoughtful Uncle Frank has moved to New York and he advises her  to love her own desires. Frank doesn’t go home much because  his family is God-fearing, do what your father says type and ruled over by the homophobic Daddy Mac (Stephen Root) and Frank is gay.

By 1973, Betsy who is now known as Beth goes to New York where she quickly learns that Uncle Frank has been less than honest about his domestic arrangements with her mother and father (Judy Greer and Steve Zahn) and is living with his long-term Saudi Arabian boyfriend Wally (Peter Macdissi). When there’s a death in the family, a road trip back home is imminent. Frank, is not happy about returning, especially when Wally decides to come along. Then Frank begins being be haunted by flashbacks to his childhood that are driving him to drink.

This is a period piece that exploits both closeted sexuality and alcoholism. “Uncle Frank,” unfortunately is filled with so many clichés that anything that is genuine is smothered. While the film is deeply frustrating, the cast makes it a fascinating watch.

 

 

THE BEST LGBT BOOKS OF 2020—- A PERSONAL LIST

THE BEST LGBT BOOKS OF 2020—- A PERSONAL LIST

AMOS LASSEN

Reviews by Amos Lassen

Books, Movies and Judaica and Random Thoughts About Whatever

 

MY BOOK OF THE YEAR

 

Shayne, Alan. “The Rain May Pass”, Rand Smith,  September 15, 2020.

Simply Beautiful

Amos Lassen

It is not often that a book pulls me so quickly that I stop everything else and read it in one sitting. Such is the case with Alan Shayne’s “The Rain May Pass”. It is a sincere and beautifully written coming-of-age memoir. Beginning his story in the 1940s Brookline, Massachusetts, Shayne shares his teen years with us. This is the story of young Alan discovering his sexuality and coming to terms with it. We meet young Alan as he is preparing to spend the summer working in his grandmother’s shop on Cape Cod. This was to be a summer like none other— it was then that Shayne discovered he is. It was the summer before World War II and his parents decided that he had to go to the Cape and way from the city.

He grew up as a Jewish boy on the East Coast and like so many teens, he was quite sure that his parents did not understand him and that his older brother ignores him. He was dealing with his sexuality even though he has no comprehension of what it means and really has no idea of how to face it. That summer, he met Roger who was a good deal older than him and who initiated him into the world of gay sex. The two met by chance and while Alan was pretty sure of his sexual orientation, it took Roger for him to act on it.

There ws something about Roger, his first love, that gave Alan the strength to accept himself and to later continue his quest to become an actor and have an entertainment career. While that summer heralded his beginning with Roger, it also come to be the end of the two’s relationship. Roger enlisted in the service and Alan got a part in summer stock. Even though Roger had cone a few times to Brookline, he and Alan had no more intimate moments. Alan carried Roger with him for a long time and it was only when he became successful on the stage that he was able to let go of his unrequited love for the older guy.

We read of Alan’s relationship with his family as well and all of its dysfunctions. His parents really did not understand him nor did they know how to let go. His grandmother was no help either and they shared a non-relationship even though Shayne hoped that there would have been. Through Shayne, we see what it is to become a man.

I felt I was smiling as I read but there were also times that had me wiping tears from my eyes. The prose is simple yet lyrical and the short chapters give us Alan Shayne’s character in various incidents. We read from his perspective yet we also get the perspectives of the other characters.

I absolutely love this book and I loved being on Alan Shayne’s journey through his young years. I actually felt, at times, that I was right there beside him. Reading of his accepting himself was a real treat. Authenticity and honesty jump out from the pages.

FICTION:

Washington, Bryan. “Memorial”, Riverhead Books, 2020.

Love, Family, Anger and Grief

Amos Lassen

Bryan Washington’s “Memorial” is a funny and profound story about family in all its forms, becoming who you’re supposed to be, and the limits of love.

Two young guys, Benson and Mike live together in Houston. Mike is a Japanese American chef at a Mexican restaurant and Benson’s a Black day care teacher. They have been together for years but now they’re not sure why they’re still a couple. They love each other but something seems to be missing. 

Mike finds out his estranged father is dying in Osaka just as his Japanese mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Texas for a visit. Mike flies to Japan to say goodbye. There he undergoes a transformation as he learns the truth about his family and his past. Back in Texas, Mitsuko and Benson are stuck living together as unconventional roommates in a strange domestic situation that means more to each of them than they ever could have thought. Benson begins to push outwards, realizing he might just know what he wants out of life. Both men will change in ways that will either make them stronger together, or ruin everything they’ve ever known.

This is a beautiful book that had me turning pages as quickly as possible. I fell in love with both the characters and Washington’s beautiful prose. This is a fresh look at the American family as well as a way to deal with grief and loss and forgivingness.

The characters are complex and wonderfully drawn and I cared about each of them as I reconsidered my thoughts about love, and family, and anger, and grief. We have humor alongside intimacy, sadness and sensuality.

Washington shows us how we live while we act and do and what we feel must be a part of our lives. It is really “about everything that matters in life: love, loss, community and communion.”

.Mitsuko and Benson, even in their initial awkwardness come together through their mutual love for Mike and through tight dialogue.  Washington also wonderfully shares the complexities of Houston and the personalities there making the city another character in the novel.

Reardon, Robin. “On The Precipice” (Trailblazer Book 3), IAM Books, 2020.

Ready for Love

Amos Lassen

Nathan Bartlett is looking for someone he can love but even more than that he wants to find someone who he can trust— “he’s ready to love and be loved.” His past has not been glorious. He has lost his parents,  his older brother Neil, and the grandmother who’d raised him. The only family he has left is his sister Nina. His relationships have gonenowhere and he is emotionally spent. It seems that his life has been one of following trails that lead nowhere and he has decided that the time has come for him to strike out and make his own trails. He decides to climb mountains in memory of Neil This takes him to Drew, a man in a wheelchair who had an accident on a mountain and will never hike again. It is here that Nathan finds himself on a precipice and knowing that only trust will help him now. 

“On The Precipice” is the third and final volume of her “Trailblazer” series and it is the most intimate of the three. Nathan faces the decision of becoming involved with a man who will never walk again. He knows that they will have problems and huge differences and that he must grow both mentally and personally and that the both of them must face their pasts before true love can bloom. Nathan knows that this will not be easy. He knows what he wants from life— to be able to climb mountains and to work as a counselor in a drug addiction setting. More than both of these, he wants to be in love. What he does not know is whether Drew is the right man for him—at least, not at first.

Drew experienced a spinal cord injury while saving a child’s life on a dangerous mountain trail and is in a wheelchair and is now unable to hike and climb as he loved to do. He is still learning to deal with this even though he has been able to be independent and active. Yet, there are still problems and issues that he must face. At the same time, Nathan understands that the help he has been able to give to addicts who he has volunteered to help is also good for him. He probes his inner self to deal with what he has suffered with the loss of his family knowing that he will not be able to love anyone else until he can love himself.

Robin Reardon’s prose is gorgeous and the way she handles what the two men deal with is amazing. I have loved Reardon’s writing since I reviewed her first book years ago. Here  I especially love that she provides discussion questions and a reading group guide and a foreword by Stevie M. Jonak, a wheelchair user who I understand was a consultant on the book as well. A special surprise is the playlist of songs to listen to while reading.

Robin Reardon always surprises with her originality and her emotional writing. I am sad to see the series end but if I know Robin, there is still much more to come and I anxiously await to read whatever she writes.

White, Edmund.  “A Saint from Texas”,  Bloomsbury, 2020.

Twin Sisters

Amos Lassen

Almost every summer, I look forward to reading something new from Edmund White and it is always a highlight of my literary experiences. This summer was no different with “A Saint from Texas”, White’s new novel that tells the storyof twin sisters, one set for Parisian nobility and the other moving toward Catholic sainthood. 

Yvette and Yvonne Crawford are twin sisters who were born on an East Texas prairie. Their destinies turned out to be dramatic and we are with them as they follow them.  Each girl has secrets and dreams which will take them  from Texas and from each other. As the years pass, Yvonne becomes a member of the elite of Parisian society while Yvette enters to a lifetime of worship and service in Jericó, Colombia. Even though, they are separated,  and live very different lives, they share the bonds of family and the past. 

Beginning in the 1950s and taking us to the recent past, these two Texas women’s lives are bound together even though they are very different from each other. From the newly rich of Dallas, the society of Paris and Colombian convent, we see the lines of class and sexuality.

Edmund White explores love, sex and family over 50 years bringing the non-believer and the totally-committed to God together and we share their lives. Yvette and Yvonne are finely-drawn characters and we sense White’s sympathy for them. He explores sin and envy, in-depth, through them.

This is a story about us as well. As the sisters find themselves through losing themselves, so do we. We have human love and divine love alongside of passion and sin and desire. As the novel moves forward, secrets come to the fore and revelations explode on the pages It is White’s wit and irony that makes “A Saint from Texas” so wonderfully readable.

The storyis told from Yvonne’s perspective  and as she tells about her life (through letters to her sister), she also tells the story of  Yvette. Yvonne went to Paris in college and married a Baron there. Yvette converts to Catholicism and becomes a nun.

In a world of morally corrupt and unlikeable characters, Yvette is able to maintain some decency even with the difficult life she has led. Her timidity and self-effacing and both sisters ultimately become being sex-obsessed. Since they are from a very homophobic part of Texas, we would expect them to be bothered by desires for other women but they are not.

I thought that this was going to be quite a light read so I was surprised  that it is much more than that.  Collections of stories make up the plot and as I hinted, the characters are strange. Each sister searches for her own sense of perfection and we see that faith drives Yvette while Yvonne is by status. They both mature when they realize that there is no such thing as perfection. This is, in effect, a comedy of manners and I was totally and completely drawn into it— so much so that I read it from cover-to-cover in a single day. Since I am a huge Edmund White fan, this is not surprising. The clashes between cultures are hilarious while, at the same time, explore the characters. There were moments that my feelings toward the twins bordered upon love and disdain. Their experimentations with them themselves teach them about who they are.

There is a lot to think about as we read making this an intellectual experience to a degree. While the pace, at first, seems swift do not be surprised if you find yourself stopping to think several times. We root for the sisters as they face societal demands of conformity and subservient women.

Taub, Yermiyahu Ahron. “Beloved Comrades: A Novel in Stories”, Anaphora Literary Press, 2020.

Three Generations

Amos Lassen

Several years ago I discovered the poetry of Yermiyahu Taub and it was such a rewarding experience that I immediately became  a fan. I eagerly await each book he publishes and find myself reading as quickly as possible but feeling down afterwards because the experience is over and I have to wait for him to write another book. I often immediately reread his work to better savor the beauty of his words and plot just as I did here. I am sure that his relevance for me is because we share the same communities— Jewish and queer.

In “Beloved Comrades”, Taub brings us the story of three generations and the Orthodox Jewish community. A new synagogue provides a place for the three generations that we meet here. Told in chapters that come together to form a novel, we meet unforgettable characters that many of us are all too familiar with but that are also brought to us in new ways.

Arnold is co-owner of a car service with a reserved seat at his Yeshivah.  However, he often finds that his seat is taken by others and so he does the logical thing—-he decides to create his own synagogue where everyone is welcome. There is to be no rabbi and Arnold is clearly running the show. He wants the synagogue to be a community of friends (comrades) and he names it with a name that reminds one of socialism. He sets the goal of helping his members forget their memories of exclusion and heartbreak and he wants his house of worship to be a haven for those who feel different and marginalized where everyone enjoys being treated kindly or as Taub says with  “kindness just short of pity.”

We do not meet complete characters at first. Rather, Taub has the plot develop through the course of their stories and we see that they share pasts filled with secrets and shame. He builds his characters through his beautiful prose thus pulling us in and making us feel that we are gaining new friends. Along with the character development, we also get physical descriptions that emerge with the development of the interior descriptions.

The issues introduced are intense and complex yet Taub writes with a compassion that we do not often find in books that deal with such Orthodox Jewish ideas. I could actually envision my father grimacing at the idea of a  young Jewish boy’s realizing his feelings for his black, Muslim friend. Yet when another member of the community learns of this, she keeps it to herself. I was reminded of when I was working at my synagogue in New Orleans when we had an application for a new membership and I was asked to interview the person who was a transsexual and wanted to chant Torah at a Shabbat service.

Each of the stories here is a tour-de-force and the reader is left with the question of “What would I do?” in difficult cases. At first, it all sounds quite depressing but let me assure you that there is great happiness to be found here. It might seem easy to put minor events in our lives behind us, but we see here that this is not always the case and as small as these incidents might seem to be, they are indeed part of our identities and reemerge when least expected and they hurt.

The novel focuses on Jewish Americans and themes of love, friendship, community, faith, sexuality and social justice. While the book is about Jews, the themes are universal and is relevant to all people regardless of religion, ethnicity, background and nationality.  By presenting his characters’ private lives, Taub shows us the differences in public and personal and the effects they have on  who we are.  The Jewish experience we have here is a reflection of the human experience we all share.

Taub conveniently provides a glossary of the Aramaic, Hebrew, and Yiddish words in his “sensitive novel about a religious community’s relationships and its wide spectrum of dreams, hopes, and desires.” (“Foreword Clarion Reviews”)

Schneiderman, Jason. “Hold Me Tight”, Red Hen, 2020.

Risk and Vulnerability

Amos Lassen

I have long been a fan of Jason Schneiderman’s poetry and I love every new book of his that comes out, However, I was not prepared for the vulnerability that I found here. That is not a bad thing, far from it. It is a good thing because it meant the poet has descended from above and feels what so many of us feel.

“Hold Me Tight” is composed of five poetic sequences and looks at life in today’s world of technology, violence and anxiety. He explores selfhood and where life is going. The collection opens with “Anger”, a long poem about finding peace and the struggle it takes. Having just recently done some deep research on anger for a class I will be teaching on anger in the Hebrew Bible, I dove right in and realized that this is an extremely personal poem about an issue we all deal with from time-to-time. Using his own life as a basis, we see the universality of anger and no one is exempt from being angry.

“And I realized

That I’ve never

experienced anger

I only know rage.”

This is the conclusion he reaches after Schneiderman asked everyone how anger works and  after trying to find a definition of what anger is. Can we differentiate between anger and rage?

“What it’s like to want

Everyone else to suffer

As much as you

Are suffering,”

This is a question I leave for you to decide after reading “Anger”. Schneidermann looks for a definition for the anger he feels only to discover that it also has another name.

Next we have a series of parables about wolves used metaphorically to look at political conflicts, emotions and relationships that all seemed to have the perpetrator and the victim, “the predators and prey”. “Wolf loves Fox, which wolves don’t do… which makes all the other wolves hate him”. I reread that line over and over thinking how perfectly this applies to loving someone that society sees as unfit for me. 

“All the wolves are named Wolf, 

which usually works fine, but now that 

Wolf loves Fox, they need a name to drive him 

from them.

”… “Foxbutreallywolf [sic] says

…“I had to know you would give everything up 

for me”. (Thinking to myself, “WOW!”. I have never heard it put that way before).

A group of ten poems about Chris Burden and his movement from the personal, self-inflicted violence of his early work to the larger questions of political violence of his later work.

“The submarines are undeniably beautiful,

suspended from the ceiling in a field…

‘Oh god, look at all that destruction we’ve

unleashed on the world!” But really,

Those are some beautiful submarines”.

We then shift to a group of poems about technology and art that looks at how technologies extend the possibilities of the human body and this alters what it means to be human.

“O newest of new words

Welcome to my mouth!

Are we open to dealing with the new especially when we see the tremendous amount of change in our lives?

“Because we die, because

We can more easily calculate

The number of possibilities

Than actually look at them.”

 In the fifth and final sequence, Schneiderman creates a series of “last things” where finality gives meaning to the people and things in question. That old humanism is here as is the holding, accepting and loving of the changes in the way we live and think.

“The last baby is only the last baby for a year or so”.

 Schneiderman’s project invokes a kind of old fashioned humanism, embracing the ruptures in our contemporary ways of living and thinking.

Risk and vulnerability abound in the entire collection. I was reminded that the line from the Book of Ecclesiastes , “there is nothing new under the sun” is only temporary especially when we realize that the germ for something new comes from the old and what is new is only temporarily so.  There were times that I read that I felt that I was actually conversing with Schneidermann (and maybe one day I will get that opportunity). Everything he says is grounded in the reality in which we live. There are surprises here in that we are surprised to see how we feel in words. It takes a brave man to do that.  

I must admit that I did not arrive at what I say here after a singular reading. I kept returning to the poems hoping that the conversation between the poet and myself was still in progress. We can chat about every line of verse and every completed poem and to me, that is what great literature is. Schneidermann’s poems will stay with me for a very long time and the fact that I am having flashbacks as I write this is proof of that. I love “Hold Me Tight”.

NON FICTION:

 

Warren, Rosanna. “Max Jacob: A Life in Art and Letters”, W.W. Norton, 2020.

An Enigma of a  Man 

Amos Lassen

We have heard the name of Max Jacob in our college careers but many of us know little about him. As a graduate student, I researched Jacob as I studied about the beginnings of the Cubist movement but it was not until I read Rosanna Warren’s study that I really learned about the man.

Jacob was a Jewish homosexual poet who has been unfortunately relegated to the sidelines of early twentieth century French history. He was “Pablo Picasso’s initiator into French culture, Guillaume Apollinaire’s guide out of the haze of symbolism, and Jean Cocteau’s loyal friend.” While Picasso was reinventing painting, Jacob helped to reinvent poetry through “compressed, hard-edged prose poems and synapse-skipping verse lyrics, the product of a complex amalgamation of Jewish, Breton, Parisian, and Roman Catholic influences.”

His life was part of bohemian Paris from the turn of the twentieth century through World War II. In this study we are taken back to Picasso’s studio in Montmartre, where Cubism was born and we meet the artists on the left bank where Max would often “hold court.” We read of the artists who shaped the Modernist movement and of his complex understanding of faith, art, and sexuality. In 1909, he saw a vision of Christ in his room in Montmartre, and in 1915 he converted formally from Judaism to Catholicism. Picasso was named as his godfather. In later life, Jacob spent time in both Paris and the monastery of Benoit-sur-Loire. In February 1944, he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Drancy, where he dies a few days afterwards.

We see Jacob as a man, an artist and a poet. I learned so much of what I had always wondered about the man.

Gambone, Philip. “As Far As I Can Tell: Finding My Father In World War II”, Rattling Good Yarns, 2020.

Searching for His Father

Amos Lassen

 Philip Gambone, a gay man takes us into his life as he thinks about why he never told his father the reason why he was rejected from the draft during the Vietnam War. His father, never talked about what he did as a soldier in the Second World War. There was something missing between father and son and that sense of mystery is the backbone of “As Far As I Can Tell”. I remember having dinner with writer Gambone when I first moved to Boston some nine years and he told me about the book he was planning to write. I am amazed at how much time has passed since the day we sat in Zaftig’s Restaurant in Brookline, Massachusetts and had this conversation. That book is here now, the result of seven years of Gambone’s thoughts about who his father was. We see his dad as a quiet man and we read how Gambone relived his father’s journey while at the same time dealing with the emotions that came upon him as he explored his and his father’s lives. It challenges the reader as well since we feel some of the same emotions as we read how a father saw history and human civilization colored by war. I found it impossible not to be moved by what I read.

Gambone combines family memoir, travelogue and meditations on war to bring us his story and we learn what is was to really feel war as it is being fought. Through chronicling his father’s army service, Gambone learns about his father and what the two men shared and what held them apart. We cross time and place as we read how the author came to forgive both his father and himself. Written in gorgeous prose, many of us are taken into a world that we have lived but do not talk about. For Gambone, connection emerges— we are all not that fortunate yet watching how he reaches that point is filled with beauty and grace. I felt that this is a book that the author had to write in order to be at peace with himself and this makes it a courageous look at how we live. Our pasts never leave them and by facing them, we come out stronger and often better people. It is difficult to explore what we do not know, especially in our own families and Gambone dares to do that and succeeds wonderfully. We do not often have to be caged by the ideas of what is expected of us and by reading this, we see how to break free of that constraint. It is not easy but the rewards are great. Literature is meant to make us think and Gambone gives us a great deal to think about.

Gevisser, Mark. “The Pink Line: Journeys Across the World’s Queer Frontiers”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux , 2020.

Sexuality and Gender as Uniting and Dividing Forces

Amos Lassen

Mark Gevisser’s “The Pink Line: Journeys Across the World’s Queer Frontiers” looks at how the issues of sexuality and gender identity divide and unite the world today. He explores how the human rights frontier around sexual orientation and gender identity has come to divide―and describe―the world in a new way over the first two decades of the twenty-first century. Until now, no social movement has brought change so quickly and with such mixed results. Same-sex marriage and gender transition is celebrated in some parts of the world while at the same time,  laws are being strengthened to criminalize homosexuality and gender nonconformity in other Parts.  Gevisser maintains that a pink line has been drawn across the world. He takes us to see it.

In various chapters, Gevisser looks at culture wars, folklore, gender ideology, and geopolitics, Gevisser provides sensitive and the LGBTQ people that he’s met on the Pink Line’s frontiers across nine countries. Among them are a trans Malawian refugee  who was granted asylum in South Africa and a gay Ugandan refugee now stuck in Nairobi; a lesbian couple who started a gay café in Cairo after the Arab Spring, a trans woman who is fighting for custody of her child in Moscow, and a community of kothis―“women’s hearts in men’s bodies”who maintain a temple in an Indian fishing village. Here are the new aspects of LGBTQ culture. While things are better for so many in our community, reading this we realize how much has yet to be done. The situations we read of and the people we meet in this work considers distant and recent LGBT history and progress across the world. Here is the evolution of LGBT life and culture on a global scale.  

The essential perspective on the gay, lesbian, and transgender communities worldwide takes us to places that many of us have not thought of before reading this. “None of us are free until all of us are free” becomes even more real here. Gevisser’s research is stunning as is his knowledge of global queer life is an important way pf learning about who we are. Looking at sexuality and identity around the globe and there are no limits to the people spoken of here, we have those with and without privilege, come from all races and nationalities and we see both the universal aspects of queer culture as well as local.  

“The Pink Line” is “a global geography of queer struggle, a wide-ranging, open-hearted, beautifully told account of the radically various state of LGBTQ rights in the world” that challenges us to act for the good of all. There are still places “where so-called ‘traditional values’ are being mobilized by states to combat trans, queer and feminist social movements.”

Gevisser introduces us to hisconcept of a ‘pink line’: “the difference between the wish of queer individuals for autonomy, versus the increased manipulations of gay and trans identities to shore up power systems.” This is a disturbing, transformative and educative read that is so very necessary. It is hard to understand what others experience if we are not aware of the places where this happens.

Atshan, Sa’ed. “Queer Palestine and the Empire of Critique”, Stanford University Press; 2020.

Freedom and Homophobia

Amos Lassen

I have long worried about the Palestinian LGBT community and even though I am a citizen of Israel, I fear for my gay brothers and sisters who are just miles away. Their issues have become major points of concern globally regarding queer politics.  They have to fight the patriarchy and imperialism of their homeland yet have to deal with  an “empire of critique” from Israeli and Palestinian institutions, Western academics, journalists and filmmakers, and even fellow activists.

Within their rights movement is an emphasis on anti-imperialism above the constant struggle against homophobia. In “Queer Palestine and the Empire of Critique”,  writer Sa’ed Atshan asks how transnational progressive social movements can balance struggles for liberation along more than one axis. With him leading us, we look at critical junctures in the history of Palestinian LGBTQ activism that show the “queer Palestinian spirit of agency, defiance, and creativity” as they face tremendous pressures and forces that work to constrict it. Atshan explores the necessity of connecting the struggles for Palestinian freedom with the struggle against homophobia.

We have not had a study ofqueer Palestinian activism that allows us to see and to understand the complicated and complex intersections of selfhood, activism, and belonging. By using the limits of the binary of East/West and self/other through detailed empirical analysis and powerful theoretical interventions, we find here important information of  Middle East studies, queer studies, and anthropology.

Today’s climate in academia tends to make radicalism  and schisms synonymous and we really need a way to look at Queer Palestine. Through American scholarship the critique of empire has become the empire of critique. We are called to  introspect, reflect and reject the theories of “cultural authenticity.”

By bringing together ethnography and personal experience, Sa’ed Atshan gives us new ways to think about the challenges and trajectory of the Palestinian LGBTQ movement. The struggle for justice and freedom against empire and homophobia are indivisible and we must see it that way.

Doty, Mark. “What Is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life”,W.W. Norton, 2020,

Biography, Criticism and Memoir

Amos Lassen

Writer Mark Doty brings together biography, criticism, and memoir as he explores his personal quest for Walt Whitman. He says that he has always felt haunted by “Walt Whitman’s bold, perennially new American voice, and by his equally radical claims about body and soul and what it means to be a self.” In “What Is the Grass”, Doty traces “the resonances between his own experience” and Whitman’s life and work. Whitman asks “What is it then between us?”. Doty searches for an answer, both externally and internally. He meditates on desire, love, and the poet’s enduring work which is a radical experience of transformation and enlightenment, queer sexuality, and an obsession with death and the love for a great city and the character of American speech. Through close readings with personal memoir and illuminated by wonder, Doty shows the power of Whitman’s presence in his life and in the American imagination. What we have is a conversation across time and space, a look at the “astonishment” that Doty finds in Whitman, and his attempt to understand Whitman’s vision of human possibility.

I believe that many gay men have read all or parts of ‘Leaves of Grass’ looking for the lines, that speak to me as a gay male. I understood that such lines of poetry were there and I wanted to know what another gay male, a poet felt about desire. Doty proves that he can give a scholarly look at the work and then write about in ways we can all understand. He delves into the meaning he sees of various passages that Whitman is not afraid to write about and thereby expose.  Doty covers “the etymology of words used and the newness of their use in his collection, the edits he makes over time, the typeset of his words, the quiet, blank spaces, his innovations, and the movement and placement of various passages in different editions.”

Doty sees Whitman as a man both of his time, and out of his time. He further explores Whitman’s family, his readings, his mentors, his motivations, his influence on writers who came after him, and his drives. He writes of Whitman’s genius and how that genius changed the face of American poetry as well as that of the world.  

I once met Mark Doty when he was the guest of the Little Rock, Arkansas library system. Here was a man who inspired me with his poems and who never hid his sexuality. The transparency of his writings show him as both a strong and weak person (like all of us). I was very proud to shake his hand.

As he looks at various passages from Whitman, he says he feels Whitman is speaking directly to him and to the rest of us. Whitman is present in all of our lives and we see that in how his poetry remains relevant through the ages. What Doty captures so beautifully is Whitman’s genius.

Reading Doty, we learn how to read Whitman closely as he shows us how the poems reflect incidents in his own life and those of his  contemporaries. Doty’s own ruminations on art, queerness, humanism, and the American experience are woven into Whitman’s life and vice versa.

Doty’s life and words are on a par with Whitman’s. He examines Whitman’s life, work, worldview, and his cosmic theology. As he does, he takes us into his own life in candid episodes. Language comes alive and we see meaning and purpose in the world. What the two poets share the most is faith in language. Doty’s relationship with Whitman is intimate in its “reality and in all that it imagines”.

“What is the Grass” is a sublime read that is fully of grace and intimacy. It made me feel alive again while being quarantined and I was reawaken to the power of language and the beauty of words.

“WHITE RIOT”— Rock Against Racism

“WHITE RIOT”

Rock Against Racism

Amos Lassen

 Rubikah Shah’s “White Riot” looks at Rock Against Racism movement and tales us through its history. We understand RAR members’ motivation for starting the organization in ways that makes it relevant. We trace the movement’s rise from a fanzine to its organization of an all-star gig in Victoria Park that featured X-Ray Spex, Steel Pulse, The Clash and the Tom Robinson Band. We see the concert not only capturing political schisms at the heart of punk, but common British attitudes of the time.

Through interviews with RAR staff and musicians we get a look at the era that brought about the rise of RAR. Support, whether aesthetic or ideological, of the far right is questioned here, with the hesitance of Sham 69’s Jimmy Pursey stand that might alienate right-leaning fans a source of dramatic conflict.

The film makes its points with clarity giving us a viewing experience that’s both energetic and a call to action. We see how a group of punk rock loving folks took a stance against the anti-immigrant nationalist wave that threatened to flood the United Kingdom. 

RAR founder Red Saunders states early on in the film that the late 1970s were volatile in UK. The economy was ruined and those suffering the most were looking for someone to blame. It was the perfect time for the far-right political party National Front to lay the groundwork for racial division. 

Fueled by the anti-immigrant sentiment coming from members of parliament such as Enoch Powell, the National Front frequently pushed their “we’ll put white people first” rhetoric in the media. They sold their far-right papers in front of schools, and worked the streets recruiting youth from struggling working-class families. However, it was musicians such as David Bowie, Rod Stewart and Eric Clapton who aligned themselves with fascist views that allowed hatred to take place. Clapton even went as far as openly asking fans at his 1976 Birmingham concert to vote for Powell.

Seeing Clapton promoting a white nationalist agenda while having a successful career based on music that came out of Black culture was hypocritic soSaunders decided to create Rock Against Racism to organize the “rank and file against the racist poison in music.” It began with a small team that included typesetter Roger “Dub” Huddle, office manager Irate Kate, photographer Syd Tune and graphic designer Ruth “Pink Heart” Gregory. The group turned their love of music into grassroots action and began publishing the music magazine “Temporary Hoarding” to speak against racism and organized local concerts that featured Black and white musicians on the lineup together.

Rock Against Racism embraced diversity, regardless of whether it occurred in a magazine or at a punk show and was vital to dismantling bigotry and xenophobia. The racism of the UK at the time was predominantly a white problem. Immigrants and people of color may have been burdened with it, facing countless acts of violence and frequent police harassment, but it was white people who needed to be part of the solution and not just the cause. This is what Saunders and his fellow RAR members knew from the outset. 

The film not draws parallels to what was occurring in the UK with the apartheid era in South Africa and also touches on the tools and systems that allow racism to thrive today. We see that the media is frequently complicit in giving those who hark in anti-immigrant speech a platform and it is a rite of passage that is not available to those who espouse anti-white doctrines. 

“White Riot” is a reminder that individuals, and not governments officials, are the real instruments for change. Shah’s film reinforces the importance of putting aside one’s own uneasiness for a much bigger cause. 

Rock Against Racism used its platform to bring attention to anti-immigrant politics, question conventional views of sexuality and challenged musicians who used fascism as a tool for financial gains and while it may have existed on the fringes, it achieved more through its underground creativity than could have been thought. 

The film is filled with energy bringing together music, politics, animation, interviews and history and it will please those unfamiliar with the punk scene and those looking for stories of average people challenging the status quo.

Shah’s film stresses the power that is within each individual to evoke change. Music may have been the vessel here but it was the message of being vigilant against racism that united them all. It just takes a few individuals willing to rise to the challenge for others to follow.

“RAINING IN THE MOUNTAIN”— A Power Struggle

 “Raining in the Mountain”

A Power Struggle

Amos Lassen

Set in a remote Buddhist monastery in 16th Century China, “Raining in the Mountain” is about a power struggle that ensues when Tripitaki, the Abbot of the Three Treasures Temple announces his retirement. He invites three outsiders to advise him on the critical choice of appointing his successor: Esquire Wen, a wealthy patron of the monastery, General Wang, commander-in-chief of the local military, and Wu Wai, a respected lay Buddhist master. Within the monastery, there are several disciples who aspire to the position of Abbot and they begin to collude individually with Esquire Wen and General Wang. However, t these two invited advisers have come with seditious intent, scheming to obtain the priceless scroll housed in the monastery: to get the scriptural text of “The Mahayana Sutra, ” hand-copied by Tripitaka. Meanwhile, convicted criminal Chiu Ming has arrived at the monastery to atone as a monk. He is assigned to guard the scroll at the house of scriptures, and encounters thieving rivals White Fox who poses as Esquire Wen’s concubine and General Wang’s fearsome Lieutenant Chang, who originally framed Chiu Ming for the crime he did not commit.

The scroll is stored at the Three Treasures Temple, whose abbot is retiring, and has asked Esquire Wen (Suen Yuet) to help him choose a successor. Coveting the scroll, Wen has two plans – firstly, the abbot’s second disciple Hui Wan (Lu Chan) has agreed to give it to him if chosen, but the woman he introduces as his concubine is actually White Fox (Hsu Feng), a master thief. Wen isn’t the only friend advising the abbot, though – General Wang Chi (Feng Tien) seems to have a similar deal with first disciple Hui Tung (Shih Jun), and his aide Chang Chen is a former policeman who once arrested White Fox. Then there’s lay expert Wu Wai (Wu Chia-hsiang), who travels with an entourage of beautiful women, and convict Chiu Ming (Tung Lam), who has paid a special fine to enter the monastery and become a monk at just this time.

The opening of King Hu’s film tracks a party of three on a journey through a range of natural landscapes and weathers. Their determined progression makes them look like pilgrims – an impression which appears to be confirmed by their destination of the ‘Three Treasures’ temple in Ming Dynasty China (the Bulguksa temple complex in South Korea was used as the film’s shooting location).

Even after they have reached the outer gates, their journey is far from over, as they are slowly escorted by the monk Hui Ssu (Paul Chin Pei) through the vast precinct and introduced into the otherworldly serenity of the monastery’s environs. This prologue is a kind of initiation.

To enter this holy place is also to corrupt it, and “Raining in the Mountain” is about this interpenetration and the transcendental, in a transient world where everything is always in motion. The ‘three treasures’ on which the temple was founded and for which it was named – “the Buddha, the Dharma and the Samgha [the monastic community]” are decidedly of a spiritual rather worldly kind, but locked away in the temple’s Scripture Hall is a fourth treasure: the transcription of the Mahayana Sutra said to have been handwritten by the famous Tang Dynasty monk Xuanzang (Tripitaka) himself.

The shifting value of the scroll is one of the film’s central themes. The district’s governor General Wang (Tien Feng) also considers it “a priceless treasure”, and also hopes to steal it via the underhanded operation of his lieutenant, the law officer (and ex-con) Chang Cheng (Chen Hui-lou). Yet even though White Fox scorns the monastery’s simple food, and deems the temple a “dump”, she considers the sutra nothing more than a “ragged old scroll”.

This perspective which brings her into an unexpected alignment with the monastery’s wise old Abbot (Kim Chang-Gean) and with the Abbot’s equally wise lay advisor Master Wu Wai (Wu Chia-hsiang), who comments, “The old scroll has no real value.”

the Abbot has invited representatives of worldly wealth and power, to assist him in choosing a successor. Asked by Wu Wai if he has any criteria, the Abbot responds: “I have none. It doesn’t matter whether he is a monk or a layman, so long as he is enlightened.” That last proviso, of course, is harder to fulfil than it sounds.

“Raining in the Mountain” is more about content than form and places “true value” in a text’s meaning rather than in its materiality.

 

“I’M MOSHANTY. DO YOU LOVE ME?”— A NEW DOCUMENTARY

“I’m Moshanty. Do You Love Me?”

A New Documentary

Amos Lassen

One of the world’s most dangerous places to be a woman is Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Because of violence and discrimination, transgender persons are usually homeless, unemployed, denied education and medical care and they live under a great possible threat of robbery and murder.

However, there is one transgender woman who is loved by nearly every there and she is The recording artist and legendary entertainer Moses Moshanty Tau who is a national hero and a beacon to the transgender community of the entire South Pacific. This movie was filmed over a weekend in the fall of 2017 and including her last live performances.

It is both an introduction and a musical tribute to the career of “the transgender activist with a mother’s heart, teeth of gold and the voice of a coronet.” We hear her journey from a tiny village to a mis-gendered public figure at the top of the South Pacific music industry. In her final interview, Moshanty shares her personal truth and her life with us

“MISCONCEPTIONS”— A  Look at Surrogacy

“MISCONCEPTIONS”

A  Look at Surrogacy

Amos Lassen

In “Misconceptions”, a religiously conservative woman receives a message from God telling her to act as a surrogate mother and carry a child for a couple of married gay men, a doctor and an African-American choreographer in Boston.

Dogma and drama come together with compassion that is gracefully balanced. Highlighting diversity, this is a powerful film that shows that in order to survive
we must learn, respect, and allow
the differing of views, of nations, and understand that by not doing so, there is little hope.

The characters are real and their relationships are very deep. We see character growth and actual issues that can occur in marriages.

While the main characters are gay, this film is not about being gay. The story, the acting and the direction are sensitive and moving leaving us in tears when it is over. Here is a look at the differences between a Southern religious family and a sophisticated gay couple from Boston. We are taken into the worlds of philosophical, sociological and legal entanglements that result from scientific discoveries and create new and different life situations.

 

“WELCOME TO THE CIRCLE”— A Cult Film

“WELCOME TO THE CIRCLE”

A Cult Film

Amos Lassen

David Fowler’s “Welcome to the Circle is an excellent cult film that takes down the viewer’s grip on reality. The words,  “Welcome to the circle” recur throughout the film and  are addressed to anybody finding their way into an isolated woodland community whose few residents – Rebekah (Cindy Busby), Lotus Cloud (Heather Doerksen), Sky (Andrea Brooks) and Mathew (Michael Rogers) – are clearly members of a cult.

After their tent is attacked during the night by what appears to be a bear, the injured Greg (Matthew MacCaull) and his young daughter Samantha (Taylor Dianne Robinson) end up being welcomed to the Circle but Greg is quick to pick up on the place’s strangeness and worries for his daughter’s safety. The warning signs are everywhere but leaving the Circle will prove a lot harder than entering it.

Greg’s panicky efforts to escape lead to a different story in which former Circle member Grady (Ben Cotton) leads an attempt to infiltrate the Circle and rescue Rebekah for deprogramming. Helped by Rebekah’s husband James (Matt Bellefleur) and their friend Gabriella (Hilary Jardine), Grady returns to the place that he once fled to face the part of himself that he abandoned there.

This is not just a film about a cult; it also invites the viewer to be initiated into its own illogical mind. The film quickly releases its grip on reality as it confounds insider and outsider perspectives on a cult’s workings. We take a disorienting trip through locations that we are repeatedly told are a mere ‘façade’ (and whose interconnections make no sense), in search of meaning that cannot exist. This heady confusion represents something akin to the experience of being trapped in a cult, with no clue.

 

“TWO OF US” (‘Deux’)— Neighbors and Lovers

“TWO OF US” (‘Deux’)

Neighbors and Lovers

Amos Lassen

Nina (Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) are neighbors who have been secret lovers for decades but then a sudden change pulls them apart in Filippo Meneghetti’s “Two of Us”.

There are many real-life cases in towns all over the world  where people in those communities are unaware that what passes for friendship is actually a long-term committed gay relationship. This film is a variation on that. It is a gentle love story and then takes a series of unpredictable turns as the clandestine life partners are separated by unfortunate circumstance. The story transitions from tender romance into extreme sorrow and incorporates mordant humor and unexpected quasi-thriller elements. It is a depiction of the sexual and emotional vitality of women at an age too often neutered or hidden on screen.

Set in an unnamed town in the South of France, the movie opens with two young girls playing hide and seek in the tree-lined park that runs along a river bank. Moving forward we see that Berlin transplant Nina and widowed grandmother Madeleine live on the top floor of an old apartment building, their flats facing each other across a small landing. Nina spends every night with Mado (as she affectionately calls her lover of many decades) and then discreetly slips back to her own place whenever visitors are expected. Mado is planning to sell up and relocate with Nina to Rome where they met in the 1960s.

But at a birthday dinner during which Mado plans to break the news to her divorced daughter Anne (Lea Drucker) and son Frederic (Jerome Varanfrain), she freezes up and is unable to tell them. Her adult children remain convinced that their late father was the love of Madeleine’s life. When Nina inadvertently learns of Mado’s hesitation through a chance encounter, she loses her temper on the street. She says that she’s tired of excuses and that the only person still uptight about a pair of old is Mado. But then Mado has a stoke.

The scenes that follow are shown almost entirely from Nina’s devastated point of view. Nina’s guilt over the anger she feels, eats away at her, while at the same time, she deals with the heartsickness of sudden separation. She sneaks around, monitoring the situation through the peephole in her door and using all she has to steal time with the woman she loves. This meant becoming involved in a battle of wills with Mado’s caregiver Muriel (Muriel Benazeraf), who’s not only threatened by Nina’s encroachment on her professional job, but she is also uncomfortable about the evidence of a loving relationship between the two women. hilarious.

The greater obstacle, however, is Anne who seems certain she has always been close enough with her mother to share everything. At first, Anne is grateful for Nina’s concern and her offers to help out with Mado’s care. But when the truth emerges, Anne goes into furious denial, followed by her brother, the hostile Frederic. Nina recklessly gets around their roadblocks but heroic as well.

 Sukowa and Chevallier bring to life an unforgettable lesbian couple whose sexual flame still burns and whose mutual devotion is thrilling.

Meneghetti knows precisely what to do with the camera, using tight close-ups to give us the full benefit of the central pair’s comfortable joy in each other’s gaze and complicity l. They know how lucky they are to have found each other. Something as basic as the way their feet move as they dance together says a great deal. The film touches on everything from keeping up appearances and family dynamics between parents and adult children to a critique of retirement homes. Nina and Mado’s loving intimacy is gorgeous. The ending is neither melodramatic nor mawkish and does not shy away from the fact that Nina and Mado’s best years are behind them. We watch them come to terms with living out their lives in love and dignity.

“SONG WITHOUT A NAME”— A Personal Look at Peru

“SONG WITHOUT A NAME”

A Personal Look at Peru

Amos Lassen

Director Melina León weaves events and references from throughout Peru’s tumultuous 1980s into a film that shows the era’s political and economic anxieties through a personal lens. In Song Without a Name”, we  follow Georgina and Leo, who move from the mountains to Lima to give their unborn child a better chance at life. Immediately after the child’s birth, however, the baby disappears and no authority in the city is interested in helping.

The film’s black-and-white visuals are its most striking quality. We get the viewpoints of each character and are totally immersed into their world and struggles.

Pamela Mendoza gives a haunting performance as Georgina and it emphasizes her almost complete solitude in the strange place. We watch has as she walks through Lima’s streets, exhausted by her pregnancy and then by the loss of her child and are reminded of the humanity that is lost in upheavals. As the journalist Pedro (Tommy Parraga) is a measured, sympathetic presence. .

 

 

Stonewalled by a byzantine and indifferent legal system, Georgina approaches Pedro Compos, who uncovers a web of fake clinics and abductions – suggesting a rotting corruption deep within Peruvian society. Set in 1988, Peru is amid political violence and turmoil.

The film has won 30 international awards including “Best Film” at the Lima Latin American Film Festival and “Best Film by an Emerging Director” at the Munich Film Festival, the festival favorite period piece has garnered raves around the world.  It is Peru’s entry for the 2020 Academy Awards.

It all begins when Georgina wakes up in the early hours of the morning to walk with her husband, Leo (Lucio Rojas), into Lima from their shack in a coastal shantytown on the outskirts of the city. Because she has few alternatives, her late-stage pregnancy doesn’t deter her as she sits in the street selling potatoes to passersby. When she hears a health clinic’s radio ad offering care to pregnant women, it sounds like a miracle. But once Georgina gives birth to her daughter, the clinic takes the child off for some supposed medical tests. In an instant, her life is upended.

 

 

The only person who lends Georgina a sympathetic ear is Pedro, who, as a gay man, understands what it means to be an outsider, though he initially tries to pass her story off to someone else, as he’s reporting on a paramilitary death squad whose handiwork he sees early in the film. Just when we think that León is going to take the film into conventional investigative thriller, it explores loss and pain on an intimate and personal scale. We  see this through the despair on people’s faces and through the formal touches that reflect it.

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The characters have to move on from the kidnapping without truly wanting to because they need to eat and pay rent. We see Georgina’s devastation in one long take where the mother is taken out of the clinic but continues pleading and crying, unseen, from the other side of the door. She is determined not to go away, and the scene fades to black with painful slowness and she seems to be prolonging the transition through force of will.

 

 

BONUS FEATURES

 

·       Video Introduction by director Melina León

·       Bonus Short Film — Sin Cielo (Directed by Jianna Maarten Saada | United States | Spanish with English subtitles | 25 minutes) — Teens pursue love in a Mexican border town where violence may be inescapable.

  

PROGRAM INFORMATION

 

Type: DVD/Digital (iTunes, Amazon, Vudu)

Running Time: 103 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Screen

Audio: 5.1 Surround Sound/2.0 Stereo

Language: Spanish and Quechua with English subtitles

 

About Film Movement

 

Founded in 2002, Film Movement is a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films based in New York City. It has released more than 250 feature films and shorts culled from prestigious film festivals worldwide including the Oscar-nominated films Theeb (2016) and Corpus Christi (2020). Film Movement’s theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign art house titles. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. In 2015, Film Movement launched its reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Peter Greenaway, Bille August, Marleen Gorris, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, King Hu, Sergio Corbucci, Ettore Scola and Luchino Visconti. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com. Visit www.filmmovementplus.com for more information about Film Movement Plus, the new subscription streaming service from Film Movement.

 

“WHERE I BELONG”—- Finding a Place

“WHERE I BELONG”

Finding a Place

Amos Lassen

Writer-Director Fritz Urschitz’s “Where I Belong” is his feature-length film debut  and is set when

Hitler consolidated power and the politics of the Third Reich drove thousands into exile. After being forced to leave Austria, Rosemarie Kohschitz (Natalie Press) and her ailing father Friedrich (Matthias Habich) went to England but unfortunately, when the war was over, the world they knew had changed forever. In the ‘50s they live together in a shabby English house and hard-working Rosemarie struggles to make ends meet by working in a garment shop. She studies typing and dictation classes in the evening in hopes of landing a better job. At home she is her father’s little Austrian daughter and all that he has left.

 

Friedrich tries to reclaim the estate that was taken from them in the war and Rosemarie’s life is split between evenings in the dance hall with her friends, work and the life with her father. Change comes for them both, however, when Anton arrives. He is a charming but married man in his 40’s who was Friedrich’s old charge from the days in an internment camp. With him come feelings of love, loss and longing.

 

Getting ahead in England is very difficult— they are little more than second-class citizens, and the relationship between daughter and father is not as fluid as it would be desired. Anton hides some parts of his life from Rosemarie.

 

Director Fritz Urschitz, creates the “mood” that he surely wanted, something like “this is life, either take it or leave it”, and soberly points out the relationships between the different characters, their love and her pain, and the joy of motherhood. But it’s a bit too light..

Hitler consolidated power, the politics of the Third Reich drove thousands into exile. After being forced to leave Austria, Rosemarie Kohschitz (Natalie Press) and her ailing father Friedrich (Matthias Habich) settled in England; unfortunately, when the war ended, the world they knew had changed forever, so the ‘50s finds the pair living together in a shabby English house, with the hard-working Rosemarie struggling to make ends meet by working in a garment shop and taking typing & dictation classes in the evening in hopes of landing a better job. When she gets home though, she becomes her father’s little Austrian daughter– she is all aging and embittered émigré has left.

 

While Friedrich tries in vain to reclaim the estate that was taken from them in the war, Rosemarie’s life is split between evenings in the dance hall with her friends and the grueling routine of her work and the life with her father. Change comes for them both, however, when Anton, a charming but married man in his 40’s — and Friedrich’s old charge from the days in an internment camp — arrives and triggers love, loss and longing in this intense period drama nominated for “Best Actress” and “Best Costume Design” at the Austrian Film Awards.

 

Rosemary is a young Austrian who lives with her father in England, both of whom fled their country during the Nazi occupation. Getting ahead there is not easy, they are little more than second-class citizens, and the relationship between daughter and father is not as fluid as it would be desired. While working and attending typing classes, she meets Anton, a man she likes, but who hides some parts of his life from her.

 

Laconic film, which languidly runs with sad music to tell the gray life of Rosemary and the difficulties of the environment in which it unfolds. Its director and screenwriter, the unknown Fritz Urschitz, creates the “mood” that he surely wanted, something like “this is life, either take it or leave it”, and soberly points out the relationships between the different characters, their love and her pain, and the joy of motherhood. But it’s all too light, there’s little room for genuinely genuine emotions.