FOUR LGBT FILMS AT THIS YEAR’S (2020) BOSTON JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
The 2020 Boston Film Festival will virtually screen four LGBT films. Each of these is reviewed elsewhere at reviewsbyamoslassen.com
FOUR LGBT FILMS AT THIS YEAR’S (2020) BOSTON JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
The 2020 Boston Film Festival will virtually screen four LGBT films. Each of these is reviewed elsewhere at reviewsbyamoslassen.com
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.
“Tahara” begins as a narrative of two best friends Carrie Lowstein (Madeline Grey DeFreece) and Hannah Rosen (Rachel Sennott) as they are in the midst of adolescent self-discovery. Director Olivia Peace explores the coming together of female friendships, sexual identity and rejection through the polarity of these two characters. “Tahara” looks at each defining moment through the demise of the girl’s friendship. Set over the course of one day and during a classmate’s funeral, what Carrie wanted to believe was a bond is turns out to be Hannah’s manipulation as a tool for her own gain.It takes place in the synagogue during a funeral and grief class held after, the characters’ grief for the loss of Samantha Goldstein to suicide, the film examines the “real” issues in their life. The funeral is simply a location for the teenagers to carry out their sexual agendas and use the tragedy as a platform for their moral campaign.
Carrie is frustrated with Hannah’s insistent pursuit of one out of the two guys in their grief class (the second guy being completely high on pot brownies the whole time) during what is supposed to be a time of reflection. Carrie and Hannah end up on a couch in the Synagogue’s bathroom where Hannah brags about her sexual resume and Carrie shares her minor experiences. So that she can validate her own skills, Hannah pressures Carrie into kissing her as “practice.” Hannah’s intention is self-serving, but the moment engulfs Carrie, and we learn that who was once her childhood friend is and has always been her quest through her as a black, Jewish and queer teen.
Hannah is quite sneaky when it comes to catching any and all opportunity to seduce her male suitor. When identifying Carrie’s feelings and her crush’s coincidental interest in Carrie, Hannah sets a trap in the Synagogue’s library to bring about a three-way. Hannah wields Carrie’s affection and loyalty to finally hook up with the mildly attractive dunce she had been after this whole time. This ended in a love triangle of rejection with each of them leaving hurt and confused but most of all, Carrie feels the consequences.
“Tahara” looks at the potential of toxicity in friendships that take place early in life and favors the idea of disconnecting from these bonds no matter the time invested in Carrie’s childhood. The film sheds light on the imbalanced sense of self-identity both teenagers and adults face, and the role that those closest to them have in changing things.
Coming of age so often feels inauthentic, especially when it’s stylized. Here, the teenagers talk like teenagers — they don’t always agree, they tease one another lovingly, and they examine their own insecurities. They complain about how their school tries to make them confront grief, and they lash out about their feelings. They’re young and they’re still finding out more about themselves, and Hannah doesn’t even want to approach how she feels, even if Carrie has confronted her.
Here is the queer Jewish experience boldly expressed at a young age. The film’s title refers to a Jewish ritual act of purifying the body after death. Not only is this discussed in a classroom scene, but the death of a classmate is what purifies the relationship to the simplest shared feelings for the two girls. “Tahara” is completely about the girls and not the power structures surrounding them. They question their faith and how it tells them to grieve, but as a setting and not as a conflict.
Love Between Two Elders
We do not get many films about elderly LGBTQ+ lives and loves, Now director Ray Yeung’s new film Suk Suk (Uncle·Uncle) brings us a love story between two elderly men. One is 70, and the other is 65 and they have been hiding their sexuality for decades and respectively leading model family lives. Their story is heart-felt and tender yet it is a struggle over the cowardice and shame it caused within traditional family dynamics in Hong Kong. We see elderly gay men’s sexual desires and tender sex scenes and we see them cruising in bathhouses and gay nursing homes. It is the fear and neglect with which we face old-age and that makes getting older feel so harrowing. We also see that ageing is natural, beautiful, and to be embraced.
Pak (Tai Bo), a 70-year-old taxi driver who refuses to retire and leads a double life. When away from his wife (Patra Au), he cruises the men’s toilets in Hong Kong. He meets Hoi (Ben Yuen), a 65-year-old retired father in a park and they begin a clandestine romance. Both men are connected to their families for different reasons but they think about a future together that will not hurt the ones that they love.
‘Suk Suk’ is a gorgeous portrait of two gay men in Hong Kong who true love as they near the end of their “dutiful” lives. The two men exercise caution and concern about how their families will probably react and we see the cultural and societal pressures that both men feel and holds them back from total commitment. Pak is married to a wife from whom he no longer feels passion and Hoi’s born-again Christian son continually reminds him of the virtuous way to raise a family.
Unlike other closeted gay romances (where the main characters dare not reveal their feelings, we, together with Pak and Hoi how their lives could be together. Beautifully pulling other nuanced strands like, ‘Suk Suk’ is a true gem that delivers both With candor and compassion, the film looks at retirement, gay rights and faith as-opposed-to religion. The performances from Tai Bo as the initially indifferent cruiser Pak, and Ben Yuen as the more soulful romantic Hoi are beautiful.
The two men attempt some form of happiness late in life as they deal with self-acceptance, companionship and isolation. Director Yeung hasa keen eye for the social dynamics and their impact us and how they are responded to them and he also looks at simple pleasures, basic generosity and the safety net that is family.
After washing his taxi, nearly retired Pak walks to a nearby park and goes into its public bathroom. He has recently decided to start cruising and acknowledging, at least to himself, that he’s gay for the first time in his life. Finding no one there for him, he walks into the park where he sees Hoi sitting on a bench. He tries an aggressive pickup, but Hoi shuts him down and tells him that they get to know each other. They eventually begin a friendship and then a romance but because they are both closeted, it is secret.
Yeung never harps and we see that the supporting characters and events provide a context for the men’s relationship. Pak’s pregnant daughter Fong (Wong Hiu-yee) has a struggling fiancée and Pak helps out by lending out his cab rent-free. Hoi’s biggest fear is his Christian fundamentalist son Wan (Lo Chun-yip) finding out about the relationship and losing his family for it. Both men are adoring grandfathers who constantly have to to balance living authentically and living alone. Yeung fills the film with little details that add to the story in understated ways and make it easy to empathize with Pak and Hoi.
The best moments are the quiet ones— Pak and Hoi sitting by the harbor; Fong’s admission that she was sure she was the less favored child; and Pak’s expression during his first visit to a gay sauna. The movie is beautifully honest in its small tragedies and very sharp in its criticism of ongoing discrimination.
A Gay Muslim Falls In Love
Writer/director Mike Mosallam’s first feature film, “Breaking Fast” is a queer romantic comedy and a look at what it is to be a gay Arab in West Hollywood. We see that love rules. The movie begins on the evening before Ramadan . We meet Mo (Haaz Sleiman) who is entertaining his family at his home where they are preparing the meal, His boyfriend is still in the closet and tells Mo that he needs to break up because his family has begun to suspect he is gay. Unlike Mo’s liberal family, the boyfriend’s family is ultra-conservative and the knowledge that he is gay could have fatal consequences.
We then skip forward a year and another Ramadan is beginning. Mo has not recovered from his broken heart, but is persuaded to go to the birthday of his best friend Sam (Ami El Gamal). At the party, he meets Kal (Michael Cassidy), an all-American jock who is very good-looking and not only speaks Arabic (his father is in the military stationed in Jordan) but the two men have a few things in common.
Kal invites himself to join Mo in his nightly Iftars, the traditional meal eaten by Muslims during Ramadan after sunset, but since Mo is extremely religious he also insists on abstaining from anything approaching sexual relations during the holiday. As Mo tries to work his feelings about Kal and think about their new friendship could be going, he gets a text from his ex who married a woman to get away from family but they have already separated, and now he thinks he wants to come back to Mo and pick up where they had left off.
Mo has reached a state of peace with being a gay Muslim but his rigidity about his faith, doesn’t sit too well with everyone. Sam is also an Arab and not the least bit religious and will let nothing get in the way of making out with his American boyfriend. Mo however feels that during the present political climate even West Hollywood is not an easy place for gay Arabs to live.
Mosallam adapted this from his short film of the same name and he has great empathy with the topic and there is a real authenticity to the screenplay. The performances of his two lead actors are excellent.
Mosallam intends telling a story that speaks to the nuances of daily life and treats religious, sexual, gender identity as seen in the way individuals interact with the world. He most definitely succeeds.
An Undocumented Filipino Trans Caregiver
Isobel Sandoval’s “Lingua Franca” is a semi-autobiographical film that she directed, wrote, produced, edited and starred in the film all by herself.
The focus is on Olivia, a trans caregiver trying to find her way to a green card, exploring relevant themes but in a fairly unengaging way. Olivia’s relationship with Alex (Eamon Farren) dominates the picture at the expense of its message. Sandoval’s performance is clearly inexperienced but Farren certainly does the best he can with the material. The problem is simply that it just is not that interesting. It’s not new. We’ve seen it done better in many other films and this is not what the film should be focusing on.
Sandoval has forgotten character. Olivia has little depth. Aside from the fact that she is trans, a caregiver and an illegal immigrant, it’s really quite difficult to understand who Olivia is. She never really feels like a person— just a prop. It’s very hard to care about Olivia’s plight without decent character development, and she has none.
There are some interesting themes in “Lingua Franca” and they are occasionally well-explored, but the film’s lack of any real character development and unintentional focus on its central love story mean it the film does not know where it is going. Sandoval’s work is greatly flawed, and one can’t help but feel this picture may have been a tad more successful in more experienced hands. It is one of those tales of the moment that seem like they can never end well.
Olivia looks after Olga an elderly Russian Jewish women (Lynn Cohen) in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. The irony of the situation is that Olga and her late husband came to the United States themselves some decades ago in very similar circumstances as Olivia’s
Besides her work, Olivia leads a solitary life and is stuck scrimping and saving to send money home to her mother in the Philippines. She is also trying to pay off Matthew, a friend of a friend who has agreed to marry her so she can finally get a Green Card.
When Matthew tells here he is no longer free and returns her money, Olivia is faced with the reality of the possibilities of being deported. The ICE authorities have been forced by the Administration to step up their raids to discover illegal immigrants, and she feels like they are closing in.
Alex, Olga’s drifter grandson is just out of rehab and has been given shelter in her house on the condition he helps look after her. However he’s a recovering alcoholic prone to relapses who has trouble hanging on to his job in his uncle’s slaughterhouse, much less caring for Olga.
Like Olivia, Alex is also very much a loner , and now living under the same roof, they can hardly avoid eventually drifting together. However, Alex does not know that Olivia is a trans woman.
While this is not the story of Sandoval’s own life, she is in a position to relate to it personally and so adds a real sense of authenticity to it. It’s a very downbeat drama that seems to deliberately avoid giving any sign of optimism and hope, yet somehow Sandoval draws us in and keeps us interested and invested until the very end.
To find out what happens when Alex learns Olivia is trans, you will have to see the film. I can say that the two of them are on different paths in their life.
Sandoval uses her own experiences to tell this story. She is a transgender woman of color and an immigrant and these influence iher worldview in a way that others probably won’t be able to see.
Headed for Heartbreak
Israeli director Yuval Hadadi’s feature film debut “15 Years” is the compelling story of an outwardly successful gay couple in Tel Aviv who seem to have all that makes for a good life but who are nevertheless destined for heartbreak. Yet while the film is about a gay couple, it is actually about life— the choices and mistakes that we make, how we live and how we learn to either accept ourselves or not.
Yoav (Oded Leopold) and Dan (Udi Persi) are at home celebrating their 15th Anniversary with their closest friends. Yoav seems disturbed when the conversation turns to swapping stories about other couples’ newly acquired babies. He becomes even more upset when he learns that his best gal pal Alma (Ruti Asarsai) is also pregnant and that people assume that he is the donor.
Yoav does not like children and this is probably because of his own unhappy childhood. He will not go to visit his elderly father who is dying in nursing home. Yoav sees himself as an alpha male and usually nothing bothers him. He is used to controlling simply everything. When one of his major architect projects gets in trouble along wth the failure of his relationship at home, he is pushed over the edge even though we see this coming.
Yoav’s partner Dan is a community lawyer who sees that Yoav is unravelling and wants no help. The film looks at the characters accepting their sexuality and is also about the difficulties of adjusting as couple in contemporary life. What the two men face is not unlike what many couples have to deal with and not just because they are a gay couple.
Each of the three actors gives a fine performance and this is probably because the script develops the characters so well. Yuval Hadadi has made a film of which he can be proud.
I lived in Israel for many years and those years were very crucial to the acceptance of the LGBTQ community there. Even though Yoav and Dan have to deal with important issues, I was fascinated to see how far the gay community has come. But then again, I would not say that this is a gay film—it is a human film and all of us will find something to identify with. While watching Yoav, Dan and Alma attempt to find ways to deal with what they were facing, I was reminded of my own relationship when I lived in Israel. While we did not have to deal with the idea of having children, the pressures of society did not help us to establish a firm basis for a “marriage”. Like Yoav and Dan, we, after many years, decided to go our separate ways. The love we shared is still there but we are just not able to share it in ways that we wanted to.
The Diversity of the LGBTQ Community
Graham Kolbein’s “Queer Japan” gives us a look at how traditional Japanese society is slowly embracing the queer community and it shares the stories of a few of the more outrageous and larger than life characters in the community.
The documentary begins with Kolbein’s investigation of Tokyo which now has an LGBTQ district with more bars/clubs/stores than any other major city. It is also more diverse than most too with not just an impressive number of lesbian bars, which are closing everywhere else around the globe. There are also some specialized venues that cater for people on the extreme ends of the queer spectrum.
Some of what you will see here includes a scene with a self-identifying female performance artist with a major rubber fetish who constructed a giant rubber pig from which rubber clad piglets came out and sucked on her breasts in the most surreal manner. Gengorh Tagame, the famous manga artist gives a fascinating interview explaining how he explored his own love of sado-masochism by starting “G Men”, one of the first ‘hentai’ anime and manga pornographic explicit gay magazines in Japan. He combines that with “My Brother’s Husband”, an all-ages manga series that teaches young kids about being gay.
Tagame co-founded “G men” with the publisher of “Badi”, a more generic gay magazine that began in 1994 but hasceased being published this year, while “GMen” keeps getting stronger.
From Kyoto, we see an interview with Simone Fukayuko, a very famous drag queen who totally ignored the four muscle near naked men behind her who were touching each other up. Her legendary party “Diamonds Are Forever” that has been growing stronger and has the most diverse crowd.
We see that the queer scene in Japan is wonderfully healthy even with several negative aspects. Aya Kamikaya is the sole elected transgender politician and sponsored the law which was amended to insist that any person who wish to officially register another gender must have their reproductive organs removed first. Japan has also seen the resurgence of a racist Far Right movement that has the LGBTQ community in its sights too.
A New Life
Directed by Bani Khoshnoudi and set in the port of Veracruz, “Fireflies” tells us the story of young Rami (Arash Marandi), who flees from Iran and travels on a cargo ship bound for Mexico.
He will face a new language and a new culture. He. meets Leti and Guillermo and they create a strong bond that helps him in his new life. What the director is trying to do is to with current issues in order to insure the relevance of the film today.
He makes us feel like Rami who is a vulnerable character, lonely and far from home, with barriers that he will have to be overcome. And to this end, “Fireflies” works wonderfully,
Marandi’s performance, achieves empathy with the public and causes us to fight his battles with him. This is a film with a clear and powerful message.
After Breaking Up
After breaking up with Norberto who ran away to Iceland, Bruno wants to find him. Arnau, a local tour guide in Reykjavik, helps in his search. Their trip will become a grieving process until they reach the remote island of Grimsey.
The film is set in the gorgeously austere Icelandic landscape, embodying the end of the relationship. This is truly a romantic story and as Bruno searched for Norberto, he also searches within himself.
“Grimsey” is the feature debut of both directors, Richard Garcia and Raul Portero who also star in the film.
The power of the film is in bucking some LGBT stereotypes by telling a universal story without seeking the normalization of his characters.