Category Archives: Boston LGBT Film Festival

“DRY WIND”— Desire

“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.

“TWILIGHT’S KISS” (“SUK SUK”)— Love Between Two Elders

“SUK SUK”

Love Between Two Elders

Amos Lassen

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.

“BREAKING FAST”— A Gay Muslim Falls In Love

“BREAKING FAST”

A Gay Muslim Falls In Love

Amos Lassen

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.

“LINGUA FRANCA”— An Undocumented Filipino Trans Caregiver

“LINGUA FRANCA”

An Undocumented Filipino Trans Caregiver

Amos Lassen

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. 

“15 YEARS”— Headed for Heartbreak

“15 YEARS”

Headed for Heartbreak

Amos Lassen

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.

“QUEER JAPAN”— The Diversity of the LGBTQ Community

“Queer Japan”

The Diversity of the LGBTQ Community

Amos Lassen

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.

“FIREFLIES”— A New Life

“FIREFLIES”

A New Life

Amos Lassen

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.

“GRIMSEY”— After Breaking Up

 

“Grimsey”

After Breaking Up

Amos Lassen

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.

“FREELANCERS ANONYMOUS”— Her Own Thing

“Freelancers Anonymous”

Her Own Thing

Amos Lassen

Billie (Lisa Cordileone) hates her office job and the only reason she stays at it is because she and girlfriend, Gayle (Natasha Negovanlis) are getting married soon. Then her boss decides to overload her while cutting her hours and benefits so she quits. She is determined to find something better.

As she searches, she meets a group of women who hang around a church hall every day on the pretext of networking for freelance work and Billie think that this is what she s looking for. She convinces the women to pool their talents and create an app that would link prospective employers up with freelance workers.  Billie knows that the idea is not new but sees the value in it.

Gayle stays busy working online to promote her own “Life Is A Cabernet’ wine. She also records audiotapes of soft porn novels. Even though the girls have very little money, Gayle has hired a wedding planner who is arranging a very expensive wedding.

Billie pretends that the new start-up company is paying her a salary but she is actually living off of the funds that by one of the girls gave her for a launch party of the app.  Then when this is discovered, Billie manages to persuade the other girls to continue with the project and suggests saving money, the launch will be at the church Hall on the very same day of her wedding.  All she has to do is keep this from Gayle’s and spend her wedding day running between her marriage ceremony and the investors meeting for the app.

 Spanish Filmmaker Sonia Sebastián has brought together a very fine cast with lots of talent. There are some very good laughs but unfortunately there are too many clichéd stereotypes and a contrived plot. I imagine that it will have an audience.

“1985”— Going Home

“1985”

Going Home

Amos Lassen

Adrian (Cory Michael Smith) is in the opening scene in Yan Ten’s “1985” as he waits for his father Dale (Michael Chiklis) to pick him up at the airport. Adrian is coming back to Texas for the first time in three years. He moved to New York and seldom came home. He has basically ignored his family and their calls aside from the time that his brother Andrew (Aidan Langford) planned to visit him in the big city. Adrian is essentially a ghost yet now he is more visual to his family than to himself since his HIV diagnosis.

His father, Dale, says that he lost weight because of a stomach flu. We never hear the words gay or AIDS in this family and that is because their home is a religious one. Adrian pretends to be having a successful life in New York. He “has” a comfortable ad agency job but the reality is that he’s attended far too many funerals for a man in his twenties and the fact he’s likely going to die soon himself has forced him to go to his hometown to say goodbye. He isn’t alone in his quiet desperation. Dale, a Vietnam vet, doesn’t know how to talk to either Adrian or Andrew, now that the latter has traded in football for drama club. Adrian’s mother (Virginia Madsen) sneaks into his room at night while he’s away. The discontent amongst all of Adrian’s family, as well as Carly (Jamie Chung), a friend from high school who has since moved out of the suburbs herself, is notable because of the way director Tan uses each of the pieces they feel are missing to find the places where they connect, either in a feeling of shared emptiness or the delightful recognition of the person they knew in happier, simpler times. This is what makes “1985” so devastating. The film builds subtly but steadily, with its considerable might being exposed in close-ups, with the full force of the performances of a wonderful cast drawn out by the black-and-white cinematography.

Before you know it, “1985” comes and goes, spanning just a few mostly uneventful days while Andrew is home for Christmas, yet it sticks around far longer in the mind.

Adrian’s conservative family does not know that Adrian is gay, and they certainly don’t know that the AIDS crisis has hit home for their oldest son. Much of “1985” consists of Adrian battling with how much to tell his parents, his brother or even an old girlfriend and Tan emotionally seeks to capture that horrible feeling of when you have a trauma you can’t share with those who love you the most. Prejudices and preconceptions are often more exaggerated than they are in real life. Smith grounds Adrian in an emotional, subtle performance. Of course, a movie about AIDS is not easy to watch and this is one of those. Yet, it is uplifting. I am glad to see that we have not forgotten the epidemic and it is so important that we never forget.