Category Archives: Boston LGBT Film Festival

“MY LIFE WITH JAMES DEAN”— A French Comedy

 

“My Life With James Dean”

A French Comedy

Amos Lassen

“My Life With James Dean” is the story of filmmaker Géraud Champreux (Johnny Rasse) who has been invited to a small Northern seaside town of Le Tréport in the Normandy region of France by the local film curator to screen his latest indie film.  His trip gets off to a bad start when a young boy steals his cell phone and his host Sylvie van Rood (Nathalie Richard) is missing and the only two employees at the cinema claim to know nothing about the special screening.

Géraud checks into the local hotel and he is relieved to find out that they are expecting him, although getting the rather eccentric receptionist to help is not easy.

Back at the cinema, the film has been found and the screening goes ahead playing to an audience of just one little old lady.  What she thinks of the very explicit gay film that Géraud has made is never made as to why they are showing such a graphic film in this provincial place.

Next morning Madame van den Rood appears and is apologetic. It seems that her roller-coast love life with her girlfriend took a turn for the worse. Meanwhile, Balthazar (Mickael Pelissier) the very young cinema projectionist who Géraud had spoken with briefly has declared his undying love for the filmmaker.

Life gets even more complicated when the star of the  film also turns up to explain that his relationship with Géraud is definitely over at about the same time, Géraud learns that Balthazar is jail bait, plus the little old lady who has been seeing the movie every night, is none other than Géraud’s estranged mother. Can it get any crazier?

While the plot is both crazy and silly but it has a wonderful level of warmth throughout that makes it such a pleasure to watch. Writer/director Dominique Choisy’s film is irresistibly bizarre, at times dizzyingly romantic and erotic and at other times intense. It is also a love letter to independent cinema in France n that it is a rare film whose constant twists and turns genuinely surprise and grip you – sometimes in laughter and sometimes by the throat – up until the very last moment on screen.

“BIXA TRAVESTY”— Independence and Strength

“Bixa Travesty”

Independence and Strength

Amos Lassen

“Bixa Travesty” has something to say about the gender binary. This is a documentary about the life and times of Linn da Quebrada, a self-proclaimed “tranny fag” born out of a rough neighborhood of São Paulo. She takes on her personal journey in which she reveals and proclaims her insights on what it means to be a woman thus giving us .a new perspective on the definition of the word.

Her performances are loud, abrasive and unapologetic. Through the use radical self-expression, she obliterates heteronormative constructs of gender and asserts that a woman is not defined by her genitals. While many of the performances have a shock value element that can be rather coarse, directors Claudia Priscilla and Kiko Goifman also give us moments of vulnerability that reveal Quebrada’s softer side. We see these in her intimate moments at home and her artistic exploration during her cancer treatment. Informal talk radio discussions with fellow trans woman Jup do Bairro on gender, femininity and the daily struggles faced by trans women in show us a woman on the brink of a revolution. Through her art and ultimately through herself, Quebrada challenges us to think beyond what we believe we know about gender and to become open to up to the possibility of fluidity in our definitions.

Although a powerful statement for Quebrada and undoubtedly for the trans community, “Bixa Travesty” is difficult to categorize. It is a shocking film and we know that shock value is often at the core of many catalyzing moments of change in many movements, and therefore it’s understandable why this documentary is as abrasive as it is. The danger is that if these moments aren’t adequately countered with enough instances that foster empathy, the effect can be isolative.

“LIAM”— Dealing with Death

“Liam”

Dealing with Death

Amos Lassen

While we are alive, we tend to forget that death is a fact of life. When a young person dies, it is difficult to deal with and if it is someone we live, it is that harder to understand. This is what we face in this brilliant new film by Isidore Bethel. Not long after, Bethel graduated from Harvard, he went to France to study film and it was there that he got word that his best friend from childhood, Liam had been killed by a drunk driver.  He was just 23 years old.

Bethel decided to make a documentary film about Liam in the hopes that this would help him through the grieving process. Bethe; had never come out to his folks and did so as he began to work on the film and his parents were totally accepting. Liam’s parents are important to the film because it is basically through them that Bethel explores his own feelings about their loss of a son and his loss of a friend. Bethel’s own parents also play a huge part in accepting the tragedy. All of the characters now must see their futures dramatically changed by Liam’s death and this also includes Liam’s ex-girlfriend who had remained relatively close even though the pair had split up long before Liam’s death.

It was the loss of Liam that was responsible for Bethel’s examination his own feelings in a very public way which would have been out of character for him before this.  He intimately involves his French boyfriend in this self-examination, and learn that their very public declarations of love to each other, was not enough.

This is a very personal movie and at times I felt like I was being intrusive as I watched. Yet, this is a moving look at feelings and I applaud the director for this chance to know him. I have a feeling that we will be hearing a great deal more from him in the future.

“Liam” had its world premier at this tears Wicked Queer, The Boston LGBT Film Festival.

“M/M”— Where the Real Ends

 

“M/M”

Where the Real Ends

Amos Lassen

Drew Lint is a Canadian filmmaker who is not afraid to push the envelope. “M/M” is his debut feature and it is an edgy experimental thriller that appears to be loosely based on his own life. Matthew (Antoine Lahaie) is a drifting Canadian has moved to Berlin and is settled into a new life. However, he is lonely. One day he meets Mathias (Nicolas Maxim Endlicher), a very good looking German who makes a living as a model for statutes. After their first Grindr exchange, Matthew becomes totally obsessed with the charismatic stranger and starts to stalk him.

This is a metaphysical drama in which there is a blurry line between reality and imagination so we do not really know how much obsession takes place in Matthew’s mind and this is what makes the film so intriguing. Matthias is everything Matthew wants to be.

His intense infatuation takes on a different turn when Matthew starts to copy Matthias in any way he can.  First, he cuts his hair in the identical style, then starts to wear the same clothes, but then after Matthias is hospitalized and in a coma after a near-fatal motorbike accident, Matthew grabs the chance to actually subsume his life.   

Fiction is much weirder than reality, but this is the life that Matthew prefers. Director Lint has said that this film is all about an outsider’s opportunity to embrace any new identity that he feels that he wants, and he has shaped his take on this by being somewhere on the borders between drama,  video art, and music video.  The young talented leads are great to look at and they provide distraction when the plot, despite the infusion of techno music, seems to almost come to a halt at times.

This is an erotic drama that really stretches one’s imagination as well as his patience at times. Matthew’s obsessive power struggle between the two, careens toward brutal passion and violence in a bid for dominance.

This is a film of unique contrasts. We see hot queer bodies entangled together, but against the drab, heavy grey sky of Berlin. We become part of extreme explorations of identity and desire, but with an underlying familiarity. The film is surreal, but completely grounded in truth and naturalism. This is a film that cannot really be spoken about if it has not been seen.

“DIE BEAUTIFUL”— Driven By Dreams

“Die Beautiful”

Driven by Dreams

Amos Lassen

Jun Robles Lana’s “Die Beautiful” is about a man (Paolo Ballesteros) who is driven by his dreams of being able to win a gay pageant. As simple and as familiar its plot is, it embraces itself interestingly to a non-linear narrative that supports to the story and message it wants to express. The film begins with Trisha (the feminine side of Ballesteros) at her funeral, having her makeup adjusted by best friend Barb (Christian Bables).

We do not know the reason for his death and it is a mystery for some of his close friends. But what we learn is that she passed out shortly after winning the beauty pageant, something she had dreamt of since her youth. (yes, the pronouns are confusing).

The back-and-forth between Trisha’s earlier life and his dying state makes for a sense of indulgence and enormity to the overall narrative. Performance-wise, this film is amazing. Paolo Ballesteros gives one of the best acting performances all year so far as does Christian Bables, as Barbs.  Together their chemistry is exceptional and I honestly cannot imagine the film without them.

The film shows us life as a misguided and uncertain series of events to joy. The pursuit to happiness might not happen on the way we expected it to be, but it has already been there when we don’t see it.

There are moments that we least expect to happen and there is death, where beauty wears its strongest suit. I realize that I have not said much but I do hope that it is enough that you will make it a point to see this film.

“ANCHOR AND HOPE”— A Bittersweet Story About Love, Life and Longing

“ANCHOR AND HOPE”

A Bittersweet Story About Love, Life and Longing

Amos Lassen

“Anchor and Hope” is the story of lesbian couple Eva (Oona Chaplin) and Kat (Natalia Tena) whose relationship is put under strain when Kat’s close friend Roger (David Verdaguer) comes to stay. The women live on a houseboat so space is tight. Eva is not best pleased to have the Roger impinging on their space, until she realizes that he can help them have a baby. As the trio embark on a new journey of parenthood, their love and friendship for each other is put to the test.

The film is structured over four chapters with a look at modern love in a fresh way, We watch the three characters as they travel an intense physical and emotional landscape, as the love that binds them together also threatens to tear them apart.

Eva is a 38-year old Salsa teacher desperate to have a child. Her chemistry Kat is totally believable and the way in which she handles her emotions is heart breaking at times. Roger is a serial womanizer who is on a journey of his own as he deals with the prospect of becoming a father. There is also a cameo from Chaplin’s real-life mother Geraldine, who together with Verdaguer, are responsible for the film’s humor.

But what makes this a special film is the screenplay by Carlos Marques-Marcet (who also directed the film) and Jules Nurrish. It takes us on a journey filled with emotions set against a wonderful soundtrack that mixes classics with modern standards. This is a touching film about the things we are prepared to do in the name of love.

The film avoids sweet romanticism as it raises the question not only of what forms today’s families can take, as well as how complicated it is to make decisions when there are two or more people involved. They women talk about having a child without thinking that a decision like this has inescapable consequences for the future, will have major ramifications for these women, because each one has a totally different outlook on life. Family as an institution is questioned here and it is so done without championing of any kind of alternative, free of prejudice and clichés. The director seems to be telling us that the decision to procreate should not be a dramatic one, and that there are no clear answers to the impulses that lie behind parenthood. He doesn’t dramatize the conflict and we see the relationships between his leading trio in a playful atmosphere. “Anchor and Hope” is a small but a very special film.

“Paternal Rites”— A Contemporary Jewish American Family

 

“Paternal Rites”

A Contemporary Jewish American Family

Amos Lassen

Jules Rosskam’s documentary is a “first-person essay on film that examines the aftereffects of physical and sexual abuse in a contemporary Jewish American family, with the filmmaker’s queer and transgender identity at its core”. Filmmaker Rosskam and his partner, Alex, retrace a 1974 road trip taken by Rosskam’s parents and combine photographs, audio recordings, home movies, live action “to evoke the psychoanalytic journey of memory retrieval and trauma recovery”.

This is also a film about the nature of trauma and memory itself: the ways in which trauma works uncannily; the function of speech and narrative in the process of decryption; and the role of film and filmmaking in the practice of healing. In the fall of 2013 filmmaker Jules Rosskam and his partner, Alex, set out to retrace a road trip that Rosskam’s parents, Marilyn and Skip, completed in the fall of 1974 (just prior to his birth and their transition to both suburbia and parenthood. We hear audio diaries that Marilyn and Skip kept during the course of their four-month journey and sees photographs and travelogue footage recorded on Super 8 that is barely perceptible, grainy. Their route included Boston, Mobile, Savannah, Chicago, Portland, Vancouver. 

As we watch, we hear present-day audio interviews between Rosskam and his mother, father, partner, and therapist. The faces of speaking subjects are never seen. Rosskam tries to make sense of conflicting narratives of his childhood, and to find forgiveness for the man who did not protect him. As the director searched for a story about his father, he is confronted with the truth about his brother causing a surprising and shocking conclusion. 

We see images of the American landscape, which tend to haunt the viewer with their banality, and with the layering of still images over live-action footage. There is also the white screen upon which colorful animations are used to “evoke the psychoanalytic process of memory’s retrieval and trauma’s repair.”  

What is really implicit throughout is the filmmaker’s queer and transgender subjectivity, which comes to the surface of the screen when the viewer sees fragments of home movies of his childhood that are amazing in their unremarkable nature and hears audio recordings of contemporary conversations between Rosskam and Alex, who functions as Rosskam’s partner in life as well as in this project. What we really see is how film is able to take us to places we would not ordinarily go.

 

“A PLACE TO BE” (“EN ALGUN LUGAR”)— Love and Immigration

 

“A PLACE TO BE” (“En Algun Lugar”)

Love and Immigration

Amos Lassen

Writer-director Tadeo Garcia brings us a powerful love story set against the controversial U.S. immigration system. Both Abel (Nelson A. Rodriguez), who works in Chicago in social services, and Diego (Andrew L. Saenz), an auto mechanic, have waited a long time for the love they have both wanted. After several meetings by chance, the two finally hook up and quickly fall deeply in love with each other.

However, Diego has a secret: he’s an undocumented immigrant and has tried several times to get American citizenship but has not succeeded. When he learns that his mother is dying, Diego must decide whether or not to take the risk of a trip back to Mexico, knowing that he will possibly not be able to return to America and Abel. He also worries how Abel will react when he learns that he is undocumented.

Abel and Diego discover the power of love during uncertain times. Director Tadeo Garcia chose a loose translation “A Place to Be” for his film since it reflects Diego’s journey to become an American citizen and the director’s his own journey. The film became very timely very quickly.

The film is a look at what being undocumented is like—the pressures and situations undocumented people face. People are in those situations every day, and some people get the wrong idea about the undocumented and have these stereotypes. This is a real community, with people of different backgrounds, different levels of education and it’s a very diverse community.

“TO A MORE PERFECT UNION: U.S. V WINDSOR”— Our Heroines, Our Story

 

“To a More Perfect Union: U.S. v Windsor”

Our Heroines

Amos Lassen

“To A More Perfect Union: U.S. v Windsor” is a feature-length documentary that is a love story, story of marriage and a fight for equality. The film looks at unlikely heroes — octogenarian Edie Windsor and her attorney, Roberta Kaplan, on their journey for justice. Edie had been forced to pay a huge estate tax bill upon the death of her spouse, a woman, because the federal government denied federal benefits to same-sex couples She was deeply offended by this lack of recognition of her more than forty-year relationship with her partner, the love of her life and so she decided to sue the United States government and won. Windsor and Kaplan’s legal and personal journeys are told in their own words and through interviews with others of the legal team, movement activists, legal analysts, well-known supporters and opponents. This is more than the story of this pivotal case in the marriage equality movement and the stories behind it, it is our story, our journey as a people and as a culture.

“A MOMENT IN THE REEDS”— Coming Home

“A Moment in the Reeds”

Coming Home

Amos Lassen

Having moved to Paris for university, Leevi returns to his native Finland for the summer to help his estranged father renovate the family lake house so it can be sold. Tareq, a recent asylum seeker from Syria, has been hired to help with the work, and when Leevi’s father has to return to town on business, the two young men establish a connection and spend a few days discovering one another during the Finnish midsummer. The story of shared youth is the debut film by Finnish director Mikko Makela, and is part of the Finland’s first wave of LGBT films.

Finland has long been known as an open-minded society and it is often envied by other societies around the globe. We see this in Finland’s recent policy of welcoming refugees during the migratory crisis. However, I understand that this is the first Finnish feature film that has been released with a homosexual character in the main role. It is interesting that this year also saw the release of “Tom of Finland” which was Finland’s entry for the 2018 Academy Awards.

Leevi (Janne Puustinen) is studying literature in Paris but returns home for the holidays to see his father, his only remaining relative after the death of his mother, and to help him renovate their isolated holiday cottage, which sits on the edge of a beautiful lake. The incompatibility of Leevi’s bohemian aspirations and his father’s conservatism is immediately obvious and Leevi announces his plans to escape Finnish military service by requesting French nationality upsetting his father.

Leevi is joined by Tareq (Boodi Kabbani), a Syrian architect taking refuge in Finland and who is employed by Leevi’s father to help them renovate the house. Despite the geographical distance that has separated them for the majority of their lives, Tareq’s concerns are very similar to Leevi’s. He comes from a very conservative environment and is a homosexual who can’t find his place in the family home. Through the silences that punctuate their trivial conversations, an intimate relationship gradually develops between Tareq and Leevi during the prolonged absences of Leevi’s father.

Director Makela decided to create the majority of dialogue after filming had commenced thus giving the actors a great deal of freedom, to improvise their conversations in most of the scenes. The film also has a surprising naturalism and simplicity. Leevi and Tareq speak in rough English, which is not their mother tongue and this reflects a modern-day reality that we very rarely see on screen— the use of English as a common language for the international younger generation. The importance of phones and social networks is also presented in a very convincing way as a language that is shared by both young men. 

The film finds its strength and vitality in the portrait of this youth. Here are today’s two young people who, despite their different origins, understand each other, share concerns, worries and the same way of experiencing their sexuality within their families and online.

This is an ambitious film that deals with three important societal issues: the migratory crisis, the father-son relationship problem, and Finnish conservatism. Tareq is polite and educated: he used to be an architect in Syria. He’s the opposite of the prejudiced view that refugees are unschooled and dangerous. He’s the type the immigrant that xenophobes do not want to think about and he’s more intelligent than most bigots. The film succeeds at conveying a message of tolerance and diversity, reminding us discrimination is plain wrong.

The film is a totally believable tale of two men thrown together by chance, forging an instant, deep connection with each other across the space of a few days. There are those who will immediately see the comparison of last year’s beautiful “God’s Own Country” that also dealt with a rural manual worker tasked with working alongside an immigrant. Leevi is

the first human connection Tareq has made since leaving Syria, and possibly the first meaningful connection Leevi has made in his dating life. There is a richness and an affecting tenderness to the relationship between the two and it develops believably; we see a warm companionship that slowly grows into something more.

There’s also a believable awkwardness between the pair’s early encounters. Their speaking English when talking to each other shows the alien nature of communicating in their second language is wonderfully downplayed by both leads; at certain points, their lack of fluency leads them to be more emotionally direct. At other moments, it causes them to underplay their emotions entirely so they don’t say the wrong thing. Both lead performers convey this awkwardness with beautifully, making it all the more thrilling as it slowly develops to intimacy and increased emotional honesty between the two.

The two young men have to deal with the closeted homophobia and xenophobia of Leevi’s dad (Mika Melender), whose quiet prejudice is all the more hurtful as it hides in plain sight – his actions offering an insightful look at the sad reality of how refugees are disregarded by members of Western society. It makes the love shown elsewhere feel all the more powerful in comparison. And yes, this is a tender film but it is also a sexy film.

The screenplay spends so much time slowly developing these characters and their relationship that when they eventually have sex it feels every bit as emotional as it does physical. Every sex scene may seem long but never gratuitous; it feels loving because of the connection shown so believably between the two elsewhere. The mark of two fine acting performances is that even in the physical, passionate moments, they portray emotions every bit as successfully as in the lovelorn dialogue scenes. I predict that this will be one of the most loved LGBT movies of 2018.