Category Archives: GLBT Film

“PERMANENT GREEN LIGHT”— A French Teen

“PERMANENT GREEN LIGHT”

A French Teen

Amos Lassen

“Permanent Green Light” is a new feature film from co-directors Dennis Cooper and Zac Farley and it is as subversive as Cooper’s most dangerous works of fiction yet without any of the overtly shocking Cooper staples such as killing sprees, cannibalism, and necrophilia or extreme fetishists. It is about Roman (Benjamin Sulpice), a detached French teen who wants to blow himself up in public, not as a grand ideological gesture or to put an end to his suffering, but for the sheer spectacle of it. Cooper’s fiction tends to portray pretty, troubled young guys and the predators who want to harm them As a teen, Cooper was inspired by the work of the Marquis de Sade, and wanting to tap into the dysfunctional family dynamics, reckless drug taking and so he set about writing with an absolute “purity of intent”. His fascination for sexual violence fills his prose, allowing him to explore thoughts and feelings others would never dare to.

Cooper’s novels have a novel way of dealing with sex, as do his cinematic versions of his work. “Permanent Green Light” has a foreboding sense of suburban ennui. His character here just wants to disappear. The film introduces the notion that a person who wants to explode but doesn’t want to die, and above all doesn’t want anyone thinking he has died when he blows himself up in public. It is like searching for the ultimate magic trick that’s completely implausible yet very ephemeral. Roman is the ultimate magician, because he wants to create a total spectacle, which requires complete commitment, whether that is his disappearance or his death.

In this film, none of the characters are objectified or preyed on by older, predatory types. In fact, none appear to even remotely think about sex except one guy lusting after Roman. We are very aware of the film’s deep respect for the complexities and desires that are part of the teenage experience. If Roman was 35 years old, the audience would think that he has mental problems because he is past adolescence and is supposed to be an adult. Roman’s quest is set in that weird teenage period, which is quite scary, volatile and confusing to people, because that’s when anything is possible. Because of the nature of the film, I am limited to what I can say without writing spoilers so I will stop here and leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.

“PORCUPINE LAKE”— On The Verge of Adulthood

“Porcupine Lake”

On the Verge of Adulthood

Amos Lassen

Porcupine Lake is a story of the secret life of girls set in Northern Ontario during one hot and hazy summer when adulthood has not yet arrived and childhood is ending quickly.

Director Ingrid Veninger’s coming of age story is set during a summer on the Canadian countryside when two young girls are approaching adulthood. As we know, the early stages of puberty are among the most turbulent periods of anybody’s life and come with intensified emotions. Veninger deliberately makes the very nature of the relationship between her two central characters open to interpretation; they’re either struggling with their newfound sexuality for the first time, or are friends with disparate life paths who form an intense bond due to the alienation of the beginning of their teenage years.

Bea (Charlotte Salisbury) is a young girl from Toronto who is spending the summer with her parents in remote Northern Ontario, where they own a diner. At night she is alone at home reading instead of making friends and her parents are concerned about her loneliness. Then she meets Kate (Lucinda Armstrong Hall), a local girl with a depressing home life that causes her to believe she’s adopted. Both feel disenfranchised by their surroundings, and instantly become fast friends and their bond becomes stronger as the summer goes on.

Bea acts as both an audience surrogate, and a catalyst to anchor the characters around her. She’s timid and totally believable. Kate is dealing with aggressive, indifferent siblings and a parental figure that seemingly couldn’t care less about her presence.

Whether or not this about an intense friendship, or a relationship between two confused young girls, “Porcupine Lake” is an impressive drama about two characters caught between childhood and a forever elusive emotional maturity. It has heartfelt and achingly real performances and is quite delightful.

“DUCK BUTTER”— The Stages of a Relationship

“DUCK BUTTER”

The Stages of a Relationship

Amos Lassen

“Duck Butter “ is about Naima (Alia Shawkat) and Sergeo (Laia Costa) who begin a passionate affair that reflects all the various stages of a relationship. Naima is an actress trying to make the transition from commercials to indies and gets a bit part in a film by Mark and Jay Duplass—an opportunity she blows by being uncooperative on set. Later, while drinking at a bar, she harangues a trio of middle-aged women about global warming. One of the performers, Sergeo, interrupts Naima’s diatribe and asks her to dance and then they go back to Sergeo’s place. By the way, the expression “Duck Butter” is a crude Spanish term for vaginal discharge and it is up to you to see how it befits this film that is an earnest, genuine attempt to show the familiar hardships of a relationship, specifically one between two women. It’s with sincerity and formal banality Director Miguel Areta approaches his subject with both sincerity and banality and shoots the film in handheld medium shots with very little regard for composition or framing. In this way, he allows the actresses to be the center of attention.

The film’s sex scenes feel intimate and real and we see that the director respects his subjects and his actresses, shooting the sex scenes simply and unglamorously. It’s an honest portrait of sex with its complications and messy qualities and we hear women speaking openly and casually about their orgasms.

Even though the women have just met, they want to spend 24 hours together and that means sex every hour, doing everything together, and no sleep. This is a very intimate, radical idea based on the belief that we waste our best moments in a relationship getting comfortable with someone, and letting feelings build up. If we have it all at once, would it be any different?

We are never quite sure if this film is a satire or a self-indictment but we are sure that this is quite a free-spirited film. Shawkat and Costa have clear chemistry, and individually they create curious, challenging characters. Together, they provide a subtle picture of a bond that can work whether they’ve known each for a few hours or even a few years.

“Duck Butter” is easy to understand if you consider Naima’s anxieties (and her fighting them) as the film’s primary interest, instead of anything revelatory about relationships. As she faces her emotional fears, Naima certainly has a strong counterpart with the more liberated Sergio, who uses singing, painting, and anything else to make sure she is heard. There is an unshakable theme here about two artistic women trying to find their voices.

“THE BREEDING”— An Obsession

“The Breeding”

An Obsession

Amos Lassen

Daniel Armando’s erotic thriller “The Breeding” about a young artist whose obsession with a taboo fetish leads to life altering consequences is not a usual gay themed film and it is hard to decide whether its eroticism or its thriller aspects define it more. Dane Harrington Joseph wrote the screenplay about obsession and race relations.

I watch a lot of LGBTQ films and I must say that “The Breeding” pushes the envelope about as far as it can go. This is an edgy film that dares to go where others are not ready to do so, In fact this film embraces it’s going farther and is perhaps a sigh of things to come.

Set in Harlem, sex-positive queer cartoonist Thomas (Marcus Bellamy) gets his inspiration from his erotic adventures that his partner and boyfriend Amadi (David J. Cork) knows nothing about. While involved in a chance restroom encounter with Lee (Joe MacDougall), a recently divorced financier, Thomas becomes curious about exploring the taboo fetish of race play.

However when the game becomes too real, actions that will forever change the trajectory of these men’s lives come into play. While I cannot say too much about the plot, I can say that this is a film that is loaded with drama, sex, and suspense and is “a raw examination of sexuality and cultural identity for the post-Obama era.”

“LAST DANCE”— A Way to Grieve

“Last Dance”

A Way to Grieve

Amos Lassen

Director Brian Pelletier’s “Last Dance” is a sensitive and beautiful film about dealing with the death of a lover. We each deal with grief in our own way and here we see a dancer expressing how he feels with his lover’s death.

The film has no dialogue but it needs none. Dancers Tom Difeo and Jonathan Breton show their feelings through movement. Be prepared to be affected.

“AGONY”— A Split-Narrative Character Study

“Agony”
A Split-Narrative Character Study
Amos Lassen

When a young woman is murdered and her body dismembered and dumped across Vienna, two suspects emerge without a clear motive: Christian, a law student who sells concessions part-time at a movie theatre, and Alex, an image-obsessed rapper/boxer. “Agony” is a split-narrative character study, comparing two distinct male millennial personalities whose stories are unconnected and do not overlap aside from their both living in Vienna. The viewer is presented with questions of machismo and sexual identity. The film is based on the true story of a shocking murder.


A film student tells the story of two young men in Vienna who are not quite comfortable with their emotions. One escapes into martial arts and angry rap songs. The other looks strangely introverted until he stabs his new girlfriend in bed and immediately distributes their dismembered body in the garbage containers across the city.

This is a perfidious horror film that is atmospherically dense. Filmmaker David Clay Diaz brings us a very special film that follows the lives of two young men who could hardly be more different from a purely superficial point of view. Christian (Samuel Schneider) is an always accurate and remarkably reserved law student. By contrast, Alex (Alexander Srtschin) has just completed his military service and is now into pseudo Gangsta rap, Thai boxing, protein drinks disco. Diaz juxtaposes alternates scenes with the two protagonists with hard cuts and long fades in an initially almost clumsy but effective way. (Christian in the lecture hall. Alex in the solarium. Christian playing the timpani. Alex boxing. Christian with his girlfriend. Alex rapping about his ex).


We begin to wonder if there is a relationship between the two men and we soon understand that both suffer from their lives without real reasons. They both seem to be under pressure but we do not know where this came from. Diaz spreads things with great clarity, but without any further explanation to the viewer, who can think about what he sees.
Alex is a thug and does not want to be anything else while Christian is desperately trying to build up a façade, behind which is a vacuum. Both Christian and Alex suffer from emotional hypothermia, and it is difficult to decide what proportion their environment contributes to this and what they themselves project into their environment. They are both ticking time bombs.
They react to the expectations of their fellow human beings. One is the son of a policeman and seemingly gay, striving to preserve a handsome appearance, the other is almost crushed by the expectations of his milieu and has great fears of failure, so he appears unapproachable and callous. In the end, one of the two will have committed a murder.


Diaz suggests to his audience first two separate worlds, which could hardly be more contradictory from the different milieus. As the film progresses, the director links the seemingly insignificant, fleeting and inconspicuous moments to an increasingly unpleasant character portrait of two lost, helpless souls. More than that I cannot say except that the images are likely to haunt the viewer hours after the film’s ending.

“RETABLO”— A Peruvian Coming-of-Age Story

“Retablo”

A Peruvian Coming-of-Age Story

Amos Lassen

Filmmaker Álvaro Delgado-Aparicio L. takes us to Peru where the beautiful landscape hides an intolerant and ugly undercurrent. The people that live in the rural villages of Peru are seen as having reactionary and religiously motivated attitudes towards same sex relationships. This is something fourteen-year-old Segundo (Junior Béjar Roca) finds out the hard way.

Segundo is training to follow in the footsteps of his artisan father Noe, (Amiel Cayo), a man whose artfully crafted story-boxes have earned him the undying respect of numerous Peruvian mountain communities. He may be a father to Segundo, but the townsfolk all unanimously refer to him as “maestro” or “master” without a lick of irony. On the drive to a community celebration, thanking the father and son team for a story-box they made, Segundo witnesses his dad in the midst of a sexual act with another man and his entire world falls Segundo is going through puberty in a toxically masculine landscape, where his father is the only role model worth looking up to. He slowly begins to realize that he has more in common with his dad than initially realized and this something which is going to cause considerable trouble.

The film is a visual feast. Álvaro Delgado-Aparicio L. and cinematographer Mario Bassino use long takes throughout the entire film, mainly focusing on characters staring in to the distance before we see what they see. From the beginning we are made aware of the father’s considerable attention to detail and the long shots evidence this. In the second half the focus is on Segundo’s coming to terms with the life altering sex act he saw and it’s here this motif changes. We see his gaze struggle to permanently fix in any direction like it did before thus giving the suggestion that he is trying to ignore a reality he can’t alter.

This is an emotionally brutal tale of self-realization that depicts the terror of a closeted life for people of different generations and it is haunting. The relationship between 14-year-old Segundo and his artisan father is the main point. They are isolated in the rural mountains of Peru and pass their time creating retablos of important families in the nearby city. The first ten minutes of this film are a study in mutual father-son love as both males hone their craft.

The delivery of the retablos that hint at the film’s conflict. The son first notices his father getting carried away with the celebrations in town and coming home drunk. Then he witnesses something that he can never forget and fractures within his close-knit family and society erupt and threaten to destabilize everything the boy knows.

Just the intricate artwork of the retablos and the insights into a Peruvian cultural tradition make this film worthy of seeing alone but then there is also the dynamic relationship between father and son artisans that that is going to face very difficult times.

“JUST FRIENDS”— Sweet

“JUST FRIENDS” (“Gewoon Vrienden”)

Sweet

Amos Lassen

There is something very sweet about “Just Friends” but that is about all it is—just a sweet little film and very basically the boy-gets-boy, boy-loses-boy story is quite usual. In one scene, for example, two very fit and muscular gay boys are in a diner, and a puny little homophobic kid starts calling them faggots. While one of the boys to deal with this, the other runs away. The ‘boys’ are in their mid-20s and still live with their mothers who have a great deal to say about their sons. The mothers are racists but do not have problems with their sons being gay.

Director, Ellen Smit tries hard and she and her writer had the chance to make a substantial film about race and homosexuality but something happened and we get more of a thwarted lovers story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“REINVENTING MARVIN”— Changes

“Reinventing Marvin”

 Changes

Amos Lassen

Director Anne Fontaine skillfully shares the moving journey and quest for identity of a young boy who is very different from his oppressive milieu. We are taken on an existential journey that starts as “a radical experience of exile” because “the poor, sad, gay child is totally out of place, is a stranger in his own home, within his own family.” The boy is Marvin Bijoux (played at age 14 by Jules Porier and then by Finnegan Oldfield as a young man) who has an immense amount in common with the adolescent protagonist of Edouard Louis’s shocking autobiographical novel and one of my favorite books of late, ‘The End of Eddy’, the bestseller from 2014 that was the trigger for the script written by Anne Fontaine and Pierre Trividic. They have deviated from the original by imagining his escape into a world that is larger than the small village he was born in.

Marvin lives in the Vosges Mountains, in a very humble social class where culture is non-existent and human interactions are rare and brusque when they occur. Marvin eats chips for dinner before switching on the television; his father (Grégory Gadebois) is constantly tinkering about while mostly thinking about his next drink, and Marvin, a delicate, sensitive and shy adolescent lives in a universe of “brutes” and who has been nicknamed “the skeleton” by his mother (Catherine Salée). Marvin shares a room with his younger brother and his older stepbrother. He is subjected to violent homophobic harassment at school, which makes him question his sexual identity even more when he finds out that his family is also asking questions of their own (“Why does he embarrass us like this with his faggot ways?”) and that for his father, homosexuality is “something degenerate, like a kind of mental illness.” 

Marvin, nonetheless, finds a way out in the form of an improvisation course at school and the well-meaning support of the school principal (Catherine Mouchet). Selected in an audition for the theatre course at Epinal High School, he leaves his family and goes to boarding school. This is a turning point that will be followed by three other propitious meetings a few years later: with Abel (Vincent Macaigne), professor at the centre for  dramatic arts in Nancy who takes him under his protective wing and introduces him to Paris, followed by Roland (Charles Berling) who opens the doors to a wealthy artistic world in which Marvin feels out of place but also where he meets a certain Isabelle Huppert who (in her own way) helps him to take his story to the stage. It is a performance where Marvin’s family is positively crucified, which has consequences on the life of the young man who has succeeded in creating a new identity by artistically expressing his own unease, while at the same time being fully aware of where he comes from.

Sophisticated editing alternates between the different eras of Marvin’s journey. Flash forwards, voice offs and texts written by the young man that explain past events. The actors give exceptional performances in a story of an “ugly duckling” and his “guardian angels”. But this is no fairy tale; it is a masterful and moving film that hits close to home for many.

If you have read “The End of Eddy” you know that it is a gut-wrenching account of growing up poor and gay in rural France. The book is so delicately diaristic, having been written by Louis when he was just 19, and before he became a literary superstar. Writer-director Anne Fontaine bypasses any attempt at faithfulness to her source material, cutting it into a million pieces and re-assembling the work like a postmodern collage. Fontaine’s cinematic histrionics are beautiful to watch but it is also as if the soul of Louis’s work has been diluted by the filmmaker’s need to reinvent not Marvin, but the literary lineage that makes the project so striking in the first place. Because of the film’s playing with temporality and style, the simplicity and of Louis’s prose is lost. We’re certainly not allowed to spend enough time with the film’s Marvin and suffer with him and this is what made “The End of Eddy” so real. made possible. Nonetheless this remains a gorgeous film in its own right.

The film is a frenzied back and forth between Marvin’s miserable (and realistically shot) childhood and his glamorous adulthood There is great visual pleasure in Fontaine’s mishandling of the material and since I have already twice reviewed the book, it is time to review the film as a film and not as a comparative. Fontaine aestheticizes the never-ending pain of childhood in which the queer child’s now-adult body is often only clothed by the theatrical lighting. We know it is not always like or even if it is ever like that.

What we do see is a coming of age and self-acceptance that is beautiful in its own right.

“BOUND”— New Life for Film Noir

 

“BOUND”

New Life for Film Noir

Amos Lassen

Corky (Gina Gershon) is a lesbian and former con artist who is trying to leave her past behind and rebuild her life. After being released from prison, she works as a plumber and is assigned her first project: an apartment to fix and paint for a decent amount of money. However, her work takes a back seat when she meets the couple next door – Caesar (Joe Pantoliano), a mafia gangster who launders money and his mistress, Violet (Jennifer Tilly). As soon as the two women are alone in a room, they begin flirting heavily. They want to have sex, but they are interrupted by Caesar’s return.

Corky and Violet grow closer together over time and their relationship becomes deeply intimate, not only physically, but also emotionally. Violet opens up about her struggles with Caesar and her fears. She also tells Corky that she overheard her lover torturing a man named Shelly (Barry Kivel) who had been stealing money from the mafia. Violet confides in Corky and tries to convince her to run away together. She plans on stealing the two million dollars which Caesar will collect from Shelly and plots an entire scheme. Corky, however, isn’t certain that she can trust Violet.

“Bound” crosses— it is a caper movie, a gangster movie, a sex movie and a slapstick comedy. It also is one of the best film noir films and it is pure entertainment. When the Wachowskis burst came on the scene in 1996 with their first feature film “Bound”, critics and audiences were blown away with a technique that showed itself not just in the nuts and bolts of film craft, but also in a unique point of view that came through incredibly strongly in their writing. “Bound” injects new life into the film noir genre with Jennifer Tilly portraying Violet, a seemingly ditzy gangster’s moll who falls for Corky, a very “out” lesbian who is doing renovations in the apartment next door. Tilly is totally effective playing a woman desperate to break free of a Mob to whom she may not be quite married, but with whom she is certainly at least shacking up. Violet works her wiles on Corky, enlisting the ex-con to help her lift two million in cold, hard cash from Caesar and that sets the main “caper” element of the film into motion, playing out within a noir setting where we are left to wonder if Violet is really setting Corky up to take the fall. Since the film begins with Corky obviously bruised and battered and, well, bound in a closet sets expectations up that, in this case, it’s a female who is the boob of this particular scheme.

The film is incredibly violent at times, and is also overtly sexual, especially in the just slightly longer unrated version that is included on this Blu-ray along with the theatrical R-rated cut. The frank depiction of lesbian sex (there was evidently a “lesbian sex consultant” on the film, believe it or not) may alternatively turn off or turn on various people, depending on their particular points of view, but it gives the film a very visceral quality which completely upends the traditional noir narrative. The violence, while graphic, is well handled, with “hints” of the most extreme acts rather than outright depictions. Through it all, though, the Wachowskis keep their camera in almost nonstop kinetic motion, giving a certain carnival-like atmosphere to the often very dark proceedings.

The performances can’t be underestimated. Tilly has never been better, and Gershon redeems herself from what had been her previous performance, the disastrous “Showgirls”. Pantoliano is wonderful as the vicious Caesar, and Christopher Meloni is very funny as Johnnie, a dimwitted son of the local Mafia chief. The film’s brilliantly anarchic combination of horror and humor.