Category Archives: GLBT Film

DADDYHUNT: THE SERIAL Season 3 – Oct. 24th 

DADDYHUNT: THE SERIAL Season 3 – Oct. 24th 

Check out Trailer Premiere on Out.com 

DADDYHUNT: THE SERIAL – SEASON 3 debuts on Oct. 24th and can be viewed and shared on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Daddyhunt or on the Daddyhunt YouTube Channel.

 SEASON 3 SYNOPSIS:

DADDYHUNT: THE SERIAL – SEASON 3 continues the saga of two men who connect on the social network Daddyhunt.  As Season 2 took on the issue of PrEP, Season 3 builds on that with an emphasis on STD testing and partner notification….3 months later. 

The DADDY and BOY’s happy romance is tested when a past love brings to the surface some insecurities and doubts that have profound consequences on the couple.

Meanwhile, the BFF meets his romantic match in a self-depreciating dork, but things take a turn for the worse once his HIV status is discovered.

And the EX’s hopes of a reconciliation with the DADDY may be within reach, with a little help…

Two months later, all their lives converge and each needs to decide whether to let history hold them back or to take a second chance on love.

ABOUT DADDYHUNT

Responding to a surge in those who subscribe to the Daddy label, the Daddyhunt app and website has become one of the largest and fastest growing social networks for men seeking a more authentic approach to meeting guys. On Daddyhunt, members never need to lie about their age — or anything else — just to meet other men.  Daddyhunt celebrates older men and their admirers.

ABOUT BUILDING HEALTHY ONLINE COMMUNITIES (BHOC)

Building Healthy Online Communities is a public-private partnership between dating sites and apps and HIV and STD prevention organizations including the National Coalition of STD Directors, NASTAD, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Project Inform, and AIDS United.

“MAKING MONTGOMERY CLIFT”— A Troubled Life

“MAKING MONTGOMERY CLIFT”

A Troubled Life

Amos Lassen

“Making Montgomery Clift” is a new documentary that gives us a unique look beyond the self-destructive and tortured soul that we have come to associate with the late Montgomery Clift. The film focuses on the happier parts of Clift’s life.

The film was produced and directed by Clift’s nephew, Robert Clift, and his wife, Hillary Demmon “I was always aware that there was a disconnect” between the public perception of Clift and the man his loved ones knew, Robert Clift says. “It was just never addressed in any systematic manner. This film gave me an opportunity to explore that.”

Those of us who remember Clift know that he was a contemporary of Marlon Brando and James Dean and starred in such iconic films as “The Misfits”, “From Here To Eternity”, and “A Place in the Sun”. He was rumored to be gay or bisexual and he was plagued by drug and alcohol addiction for much of his life. He suffered poor health and died of a heart attack at age 45.

Probably the reason that Montgomery Clift has been viewed as a tragic case was the publication of Patricia Bosworth’s 1978 biography, where his image became set as an innovative and very beautiful gay or bisexual actor who destroyed himself due to the external pressures of society.

However, his nephew Robert Clift seeks to give a more nuanced portrait of his uncle in “Making Montgomery Clift,” that is based around a collection of audio tapes and other memorabilia kept by Robert’s father Brooks, who was Clift’s older brother. The Clift remembered here is not the doomed victim but a “highly intelligent, mordantly funny man who successfully fought to keep his creative and sexual integrity intact.”

Clift himself might have enjoyed the title “Making Montgomery Clift” because of its double meaning; to “make” someone, in old-fashioned slang, is to sleep with them, but this is also a movie about the making of Clift’s posthumous image, and Robert Clift very carefully separates fact from fiction or misrepresentation here. He moves beyond most of the sub-Freudian interpretation of his uncle’s life that seemed reasonable or fashionable 40 years ago.

We hear audio recordings of Clift’s mother Sunny speaking to Brooks about the first biography of her son and she is angry and upset and urges Brooks to correct the “untruths” in this book, and we also hear her say that anything he could write would be “superior,” a hint of the high opinion she had of herself and her family.

What we learn of Sunny doesn’t necessarily contradict the books that depicted her as a domineering parent, but we do hear a bit of audio between Sunny and Monty that lets us understand the way he dealt with her — with humor. The film makes it apparent that the screen legend was a very funny guy and that people felt lucky to know him.

Clift’s friend and lover Lorenzo James declined to appear on camera, but we hear him saying that “Monty’s personal life didn’t bother him as much as people thought it did.” From the late 1970s to today, the myth of the “tragic gay star” has been used to define him. As early as 1958, Clift was being confronted by interviewers about his supposed urge toward self-destruction, and he deflected this with humor, saying to one of them that he “enjoyed jokes” too much to kill himself. “

The film fleshes out the actor’s creative integrity and we can see just how much of his own dialogue he edited and re-wrote himself for movies like “The Search” and “From Here to Eternity.”

We also see photos he took during his early theater days of stars he worked with, like Tallulah Bankhead and Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, and a portrait emerges of Clift here as the complete actor as artist. The movie ends at the cemetery where Montgomery Clift is buried (in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, which is not open to the public) and we see that Monty is next to his brother Brooks, who was such a key ally both in life and after his death.

Instead of being a straight-out biography, the film looks at the danger of misconstruing even the smallest of details in someone’s life and behavior. In what feels like a personal, familiar, curious, and compassionate piece, Robert Clift shows us the treatment of a man at the top of his game when gay during the golden years of cinema.

When Montgomery Clift refused to play the studio game in the ’40s and ’50s, it was the only game in town for actors. He wouldn’t sign a contract, he dropped out of Sunset Blvd. just before shooting began, and he turned down many films. His talent was as dazzling as his beauty and Hollywood met him on his exacting terms, and even with a “filmography that numbers fewer than 20 features, his groundbreaking screen performances (four of them Oscar-nominated) are indelible.”

However, the legacy of one of the screen’s greatest actors gave way to tabloid melodrama with his death at 45: Clift became the embodiment of tormented homosexuality, reportedly conflicted over his identity and committing “slow suicide” by booze and pills. Blurring the line between his life and his work, some people were convinced that his anguished performance in “Judgment at Nuremberg” wasn’t acting; it was a nervous breakdown caught on film.

Both Montgomery Clift and his older brother — the filmmaker’s father, Brooks Clift obsessively recorded phone calls, providing a wealth of material for the documentary. The recordings include Brooks’ conversations with Patricia Bosworth, one of the film’s interview subjects and the author of a 1978 biography of Clift that became the mother lode for future chroniclers. Her book, with its questionable conclusions and careless conflation of homosexuality with pederasty, has been the inspiration for many unproduced biopics.

This film unravels the accepted wisdom that Clift’s life was one of inner conflict and painfully guarded truths. In footage of him at leisure, his happiness lights up the screen. He might not have been “out” but his intimates testify that he was anything but closeted. By refusing to sign a studio contract, he was not only maintaining his artistic independence but also protecting his private life from a show marriage, like Rock Hudson’s, that the Hollywood publicity machine insisted on for gay stars.

The directors acknowledge Clift’s problem with alcohol and drugs only slightly and likewise dismiss ideas that he could be difficult to work with. They offer Brooks’ theory that his downward spiral was not a reflection of self-loathing but, in large part, the result of a lawsuit by John Huston over the film “Freud” and a legal bind that essentially prevented a committed artist from doing what he loved for four years. But the filmmakers also let us hear the troubling defensiveness, bordering on incoherence, in Clift’s voice when he discusses the matter on one of those taped calls.

The focus is shifted from Montgomery Clift as a portrait of self-destruction to a serious assessment of his work.

“The Wounded Muse” by Robert F. Delaney

Delaney, Robert F. “The Wounded Muse”, Mosaic Press, 2018.

Transformations

Amos Lassen

 When Qiang returns to his homeland of China from Silicon Valley, he finds Beijing amidst a chaotic transformation as the city prepares to host the 2008 Olympic Games. Entire neighborhoods are being knocked down to make way for new structures that are more in line with the government’s vision of a modern China. What is going on inspires Qiang to film a documentary about the loss of affordable housing and quite naturally security officials become quite interested in what he is doing draws the attention of public security officials. He is suddenly arrested by local police and his friend Jake, an American journalist tries to figure out how to end the detention.

There are two other men who are caught up with what is going on. Teen Dawei meets middle aged Zhihong in Macau, where both men pursue their dreams of being in the movie industry. The four come together when police hold Qiang for the threat they suspect that his documentary presents. Jake is also pulled into an argument between Dawei and Zhihong, who are also now in Beijing, over a movie script. All four men must decide what battle is ultimately worth the fight.

We move back and forth in time. Beginning in 2006, the plot looks at the near and distant past and gives us the back stories of Jake, Qiang, Dawei and Zhihong. The action really picks up at the end, between April 19-24, 2007, before Qiang’s potential release. The plot is quite complicated and we see how each character has planned his life. The story is filled with wonderful descriptions of Beijing as well as what goes on in the heart of our four characters, all of whom are gay men. However, this is not a gay novel—it just so happens that the characters are gay. The various threads are not always easy to follow but that makes this a challenging and exciting read. This is a political thriller as well as something of a love story and is the author’s first novel. The story is based on real events.

“NEVER STEADY, NEVER STILL”— Mother and Son

“Never Steady, Never Still”

Mother and Son

Amos Lassen

Kathleen Hepburn’s feature film is filled with confidence as it brings us the story of Judy (Shirley Henderson), a mother in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease. At the same time, her 19-year-old son Jamie (Théodore Pellerin) is in the advanced stages of sexual confusion which become worse when he leaves the family’s home for a job in the oil fields of Alberta.

The film’s power comes from small moments with big existential rewards such as Jamie finding his mother struggling to clean an oven at 4 a.m., or when he has to lift the helpless Judy out of a freezing bath.

Visually, the film is stunning with British Columbia, providing a gorgeous juxtaposition backdrop for the intimate study of lives narrowed by circumstance. Filmmaker Kathleen Hepburn has expanded her award-winning short that was based upon her own experiences with her mother’s suffering with Parkinson’s Disease. The film is actually a study of familial relationships straining and strengthening under the pressure of serious illness.

Judy is a woman in her 50s who has suffered from Parkinson’s for 19 of her 23 years of marriage to Ed (Nicholas Campbell). The couple live on the very edge of the expansive Stuart Lake, where Ed helps Judy button her jeans and take her pills. They share a relationship of mutual care, affection and easy humor. Judy is fiercely independent despite her advanced illness. Jamie seems to be drifting through life. He spends most of his time with best friend Danny (Jonathan Whitesell). When his parents insist that he go off to work in the oil fields of Alberta, Jamie finds himself in a testosterone-fuelled world that forces him to quiet down and toughen up. When catastrophe strikes at home, Jamie must finally learn to step up to his responsibilities.

Henderson’s performance not only shows us the relentless motion of Judith’s disease but we also see the dignified resignation of a life lived with affliction. We do not get many performances of this caliber and it is often devastating to watch. We also witness

Jamie’s ongoing search for his place in the world. He is both drawn to and repelled by his mother’s disease. He struggles with the enormity of it as well as also dealing with his own issues, especially his sexuality; he briefly fantasizes about kissing Danny, and engages in a couple of short-lived fumbles with a bored prostitute and sweet, heavily pregnant local girl Kaly.

Shooting on 35mm, Norm Li’s expressive cinematography underscores the emotional tumult playing out in this peaceful locale. Long held wide shots take in the still isolation of the landscape, and some are painterly in their composition — a vase reflects the clouds, a boat rests on the shore.  Similarly, the evocative score by Ben Fox has an aural duality, layering soft, reverberating chords over more frantic, pulsing strings.

Hepburn avoids the histrionics and melodrama often associated with such stories and instead gives a keen-eyed, compassionate observation of the impact of illness that. She does not avoid the disease’s emotional toll even as she celebrates the strength and sanctuary a family can provide.

“ROOM TO GROW”— Series Premiere  October 11th,  National Coming Out Day

 

“ROOM TO GROW”

Series Premiere  October 11th,  National Coming Out Day

Amos Lassen

Premiering on Oct. 11th, this inspiringly heartwarming docu-series chronicling the lives of LGBTQ+ teens and families in cities across North America, offering an intimate glimpse into their daily lives as they endeavor to find an identity that fits and a place in their communities.  The premiere episode introduces Savannah (star of the HBO doc BELIEVER about Imagine Dragon’s Dan Reynold’s charity) and her viral moment of being shut out of the Mormon church.  

“Fascinating…fresh, compelling…rousing and eye-opening…affecting…moving…most engaging. All but the most intolerant members of our society will have some of their assumptions shaken by these forthright and intelligent kids.”  – Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter

 A Revry Original

Directed, Produced and Cinematography by Matt Albers & Jon Garcia

“An intriguing cast of teenage characters enlivens…triumphant moments…with racial as well as sexual or gender issues…poignantly caught…throughout this humane document.” – Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter

Revry Original docu-series ROOM TO GROW chronicles the lives and stories of LGBTQ+ teens and families in cities across North America, offering an up-close and intimate glimpse into their daily lives as they endeavor to find an identity that fits and a place in  their communities.  ROOM TO GROW shows just how important it is for LGBTQ+ teenagers to receive the support they need at home, at school, at church, and in the world to reach their full potential.  Kids grow up fast, and it’s amazing how much these teenagers changed within 12 months.  The Bridging Voices Queer Youth Chorus is a Portland singing group that provides a safe and supportive space for LGBTQ+ youth.  

Matt Alber – Co-Director / Producer

Matt Alber is a two-time Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter, filmmaker and LGBTQ+ youth educator based in Portland, OR.  Matt’s music has been featured on ABC’s The Fosters and Bones.  He has performed on stages world-wide from Lincoln Center to Tchaikovsky Hall.  In 2015, the U.S. State Department sent Matt to Russia, Hungary, Kosovo, Estonia, Finland and Sudan as an Artist Diplomat to work with young artists and at-risk youth.  He holds a degree in voice and composition and is the co-founder of Room To Grow Productions, a documentary-focused film studio in Portland, OR.

Jon Garcia – Co-Director / Producer

Jon Garcia is an accomplished musician and Emmy-nominated filmmaker currently living in Portland, OR.  He earned a BA in Film Studies from Portland State University.  He has released feature films in varying genres in his short career as a filmmaker, including the cult trilogy THE FALLS, THE FALLS: TESTAMENT OF LOVE, and THE FALLS: COVENANT OF GRACE being the most well known.  The films have screened in film festivals all over the world and have been available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, iTunes and many other platforms.  He is also the co-founder of Room To Grow Productions, a documentary-focused film studio in Portland, OR.

About Revry

Revry is the first global queer streaming network, available in 35 million homes in over 100 countries, with a uniquely curated selection of LGBTQ+ film, series, and originals along with the world’s largest queer libraries of groundbreaking podcasts, albums and music videos. Revry is available worldwide on seven OTT, mobile, and online platforms, and hosts the exclusive LGBTQ+ channels on Pluto TV and XUMO. Headquartered in Los Angeles, Revry is led by an inclusive team of queer, multi-ethnic and allied partners who bring decades of experience in the fields of tech, digital media, and LGBTQ+ advocacy.  Follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @REVRYTV. Go Online to: https://revry.tv.

“KNIFE + HEART” (“Un couteau dans le Coeur”)— Paris, Summer, 1979

“KNIFE + HEART” (“Un couteau dans le Coeur”)

Paris, Summer, 1979

Amos Lassen

Anne (Vanessa Paradis) is a producer of low-cost gay porn. When Lois (Kate Moran), her editor and companion, leaves her, she tries to win her back by shooting a more ambitious film with his long-time accomplice, the flamboyant Archibald. However, one of their actors is found savagely murdered and Anne is dragged into an investigation that will change her life completely. Anne is desperate to go back to her lover but Lois won’t have it.

It is impossible not to notice the group of misfits that make up the cast. There is the playfully charismatic Archie (Nicolas Maury) who hangs around Anne. They and their friends form a family that starts to be decimated at the beginning of the French director’s second feature, a loving, winking homage to underground queer film and Italian giallos. When Lois dumps Anne, one of her porn stars shows up dead, in a pre-credits very gory sequence.

 

This is the first of a series of “grisly yet tasteful” murders that seem to chase Anne and that she will attempt to solve on her own, since in the great tradition of classic 1970s giallos, no one is going to help her. However, director Yann Gonzalez seems to lack the transgressive darkness and out-of-nowhere surprise that made the originals so daring. Nonetheless, his loving attention to detail is so precise and painstaking that it all but minimizes the genre’s trashy sensibility. “Knife + Heart” plays with gay porn and supernatural horror before resolving itself in the kind of throwaway B-movie plot of the 1980s. It is all in fun. For a film seemingly intended as a tribute to the Italian-thriller giallo directors, we must ignore some of the film’s tediousness.

A sexy leather-masked killer stalks the gay community, and succeeds in murdering two of Anne’s stars, a situation she translates into a comic erotic scenario for her new opus “Homocide.” There are many subplots including films within films, leather, nudity, phallic symbols and long knives. On paper, here is the kind of film those of us who love queer cinema have been waiting for. It’s set in the late disco 70s and about a gay porn producer but it does not always work. The film has been called a camp slasher thriller by those who made it but it is neither camp nor very thrilling and is really kind of blah. Anne isn’t very upset by the news that one of her actors has died because she is more concerned with her breakup from Lois. She is far more interested in her art than anything else, actually turning the murder and her subsequent conversations with the police into material for her next film. These little movies within the movie are the best thing about “Knife + Heart”. Anne is a hard person to be sympathetic to because we never really find out what drives her. We never find out why she picked gay porn, how she got into the business, or anything about her passions as a filmmaker. We never know, for instance, why she is making a film about the murders. She really just drinks and mopes about. Paradis does not give her character any life, phoning her way through every step of the performance. Her on-and-off love story with Lois is similarly unfocused and she gives us no reason to care about anything to do with these people.

We would think the presence of a serial killer killing her actors would compel Anne to engage in some introspection, but mostly she just stares blankly ahead. The epilogue simply tacks on a short movie that explains everything else in retrospect. Set before the AIDS crisis, the serial killer seems to be a metaphor for the disease that would later come. This metaphor is somewhat represented by the indifference the policeman have towards the case, that later foreshadows the French government’s failure to act when the crisis was at its apex. The killer’s lack of characterization can be explained away by the idea that he is more of a metaphor than a person. The murders themselves are neither scary nor amusing. It is, as if, the film still hasn’t decided which genre to take. It seems that director Gonzalez uses a murder mystery set in the late-’70s gay porn industry to explore deeper themes of desire, abandon and sexual repression, all of it with plenty of humor and blood.

The whodunit side occupies much of the movie’s second half, with Anne turning into an amateur sleuth who uncovers a trail of bread crumbs involving a former actor and his doppelganger (Khaled Alouach), a blind crow that looks a lot like the one in Game of Thrones, and a series of black-and-white flashbacks that reveal a dark family secret involving a character named Guy (Jonathan Genet) who may or may not be dead. It’s too much to handle at times, and the film’s rhythm dips a little during the closing reels, but the ending adds some needed thematic weight by focusing on how sexual repression of gays can go dangerously out of control. The film is a change of scenery and pace with some bright colors to it. Erotic frisson mixed with sexual imagery and a weird musical score. Vanessa here delivers a great performance. The actor who played the killer was told to keep the mask on all the time on the set so no one would know who he is so as to maintain a kind of killer ambiance. The violence is colorful and vivid. Contrary to what I said before, the film is audacious and beautiful.

“BOY ERASED”— The Evils of Gay Conversion Camps

“Boy Erased”

The Evils of Gay Conversion Camps

Amos Lassen

In 2018, it is still legal in 36 out of 50 American states to send children to camps to have the gay prayed away. Yet, we know that sexuality cannot be forcibly changed, but there are bigotry-blinded, bible-thumping zealots who believe differently.

Gay teen Jared (Lucas Hedges) has been raised in a world where homosexuality is a choice made by the sinful. Crucially, Jared believes this himself and initially agrees to therapy mandated by his parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe). The film opens with Jared already on his way to the camp where is denied the basic liberties of a phone, his journal and physical contact with other camp “inmates”. Camp leader Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton, who also directed the film) has got Jared every hour of the day. In the first of two flashbacks, we learn that Jared’s first experience with sex was being raped by a college roommate. His father is not interested in such minor nuances of consent and sexual assault. As far as he is concerned, if sexuality is a choice, Jared must surely have been asking for it. Coming back to the present, we see an assault continuing but it is psychological with pseudo-psychological exercises and group confessions.

This is actually the second major film of the year to focus on conversion therapy. “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” was the first. It was the Sundance award-winner and opened over the summer to a mediocre box office probably because it offered a somewhat too fair-minded and benign view of the subject to bring about an intense audience response. “Boy Erased” pulls out more emotional stops and without cheap sentiment. The film is based on the memoir of Garrard Conley, which was adapted by Edgerton. (The characters’ names have been changed in the movie version.) It is told in the currently fashionable non-linear style, intercutting the experiences of Jared (Hedges) at the “Love in Action” conversion center with the experiences in high school and college that led him to be there. The family scenes are rendered fairly and delicately. Jared’s father (Crowe) is an Arkansas pastor, and his wife (Kidman) is also a devout Christian. They clearly love their son. The father seems to have some sexual identity issues of his own, though this is one element that might have been highlighted a bit more clearly. The other characters at this center are sharply delineated and well acted. Rock musician Flea oozes menace as one of the harsh group leaders, and the other kids in the program — played by Xavier Dolan, Britton Sear, Jesse Latourette, Troye Sivan and others give texture to the film’s portrait of this kind of indoctrination program. The kids respond in very differently—-some try to fall in line, others resist and there are others who keep their own counsel. There are some disturbing scenes showing the kids abused by the counselors, but there are other moments of surprising tenderness. 

Hedges demonstrated his skill in supporting roles in several other films (especially “Manchester by the Sea), but here he carries the entire show and is excellent. He is alternately frightened, bewildered and defiant. Crowe wonderfully captures the single-mindedness of a religious zealot, along with genuine concern for his son. Kidman’s journey involves her not simply accepting her son but also recognizing her own subjugation in a male-dominated community. When she apologizes to her son for her complicity in bending to her husband and the other men in town, her confession is wrenching as both a gay-positive and feminist statement, timely on both counts without being overstated.

Edgerton’s Sykes as the true villain of the movie. He’s twisted and self-loathing and has an obvious love of violence and control bubbling under the transparent veneer of compassion. As with so many of the most zealous homophobes, we wonder if he has a few secrets hidden in the closet.

Jared’s relationship with his father is more complex and harder to resolve Edgerton’s career as a filmmaker hits a whole new level with this sophomore effort. It is the aim of the film to influence the debate on gay conversion therapy that is still unresolved in many parts of the country and it does that well. It is also a humanistic, emotionally touching drama. It is special for me because I was aware of Love in Action having lived in Arkansas for seven years after Hurricane Katrina. I did not know Gerrard Conley then but I remember hearing about his book before it was published and I devoured it in one sitting. I cannot emphasize how important this film is and we are so lucky that it is as wonderful as it is.

“RAFIKI”— Banned in Kenya

“Rafiki”

Banned in Kenya

Amos Lassen

Wanuri Kahiu’s coming-out drama shows, homophobia and therefore is uncomfortable for the government of the Republic of Kenya, home to a beautiful lesbian coming-out movie. Until very recently, like last week, it had been. I imagine that the warm reception “Rafiki” received in Cannes helped to change the decision but Kenya is a country where same sex relationships are punishable by prison sentences of 14 years, and homophobia is ingrained.

“Rafiki” (which means friend) is set in a Nairobi housing estate, where much of daily life – work and recreation – is conducted outdoors, and privacy is next to impossible. The movie opens with Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) on her skateboard in a neighborhood that is much too confining for her hopes and dreams. She is a serious student who wants to study nursing. She plays soccer with the local boys, and her best friend is Blacksta (Neville Misarti), who imagines that he’ll marry her some day. Kena, however, is set on Ziki (Sheila Munyiva), with the pink and blue dreads and flirty eyes.

Opposites attract even when both are of the same sex. Shy, responsible Kena works in her father’s convenience store, where he barely makes enough to support her, her devoutly Christian mother, and his new, much younger wife. Politically progressive, he’s running for local office with a bare bones, self- financed campaign.

His opponent happens to be Ziki’s dad, who has big business giving money to his campaign. However, political ambitions of her father don’t stop Ziki from going for Kena, and although Kena loves her father more than Ziki cares about her family, she’s too fascinated by Ziki to resist her. When the two finally have sex (which we discretely see from the waist up) we cannot help but notice the fragility of first sexual passion.

The film is based on a prize-winning short story by Ugandan author Monica Arac de Nyeko and it is a Its simplistic observation of romantic love in its purest form colliding with political, religious, familial and societal intolerance.

Resident gossip Mama Atim (Muthoni Gathecha), owns the kiosk where her resentful daughter Nduta (Nice Githinju) works the counter, always upset over Blacksta’s attention to Kena. They’re the first to notice when a flirty friendship begins between Kena and Ziki. They seem to be oblivious to the risks of openly showing affection in public, even if Kena is not insensitive to the homophobic slurs from Blacksta’s buddy to a friendless local gay guy.

While Kenya’s anti-gay laws are touched on only through a church sermon, the sense of stifling convention is everywhere. Malicious forces in the neighborhood soon push Kena and Ziki out of their paradise when they become victims of violence. However, it is only afterwards, when the bloodied girls are subjected to mocking indifference from local police while their aggressors go unquestioned, do they understand that a strong sense of festering injustice has begun.

There are many moments of tenderness, mainly between Kena and Ziki but also between Kena and her father who is the least judgmental of the adult characters. John’s apparent desire to be a force of positive change comes up against sad reality when he witnesses the obstacles to his daughter’s happiness.

This is a familiar story but there’s a freshness here and a natural chemistry between the two stars that is refreshing. Director Kahiu paints the local environment vividly and the backdrop is full of colorful characters, that range from homophobic barflies to girls practicing dance routines on the street.

“Rafiki” is the first Kenyan film to be chosen for the Cannes official selection and it is a touching and brave portrayal of the relationship between two young women.

“A KID LIKE JAKE”— Childhood Gender Nonconformity

“A KID LIKE JAKE”

Childhood Gender Nonconformity

Amos Lassen

Silas Howard’s “A Kid Like Jake” looks at early childhood gender nonconformity. Alex and Greg Wheeler (Claire Danes and Jim Parsons) are a Brooklyn couple with a young son, Jake (Leo James Davis), who is interested in things considered typically feminine.

 

I always find it interesting to see the ways that things change in the world of movies regarding major events in our society. We can look back at “Philadelphia” perhaps at what is considered the first major Hollywood production about AIDS and at other early films that include gay marriage. Some of what were once thought to be taboo topics are now finding their way to the screen as we have seen during the last ten years regarding transgender issues.

“A Kid Like Jake” is based on screenwriter Daniel Pearle’s successful play that shifts the focus to family and to the way that trans and gender nonconforming people fit into, and influence, wider society. It also deals with gender questioning children in a way that, refreshingly that puts children’s well being first and puts the academic debate to the side.

Jake (Leo James Davis) is four years old and engages with life as a whirl of action and emotion. His stay-at-home mother Alex and psychiatrist father Greg have done their best to give him every opportunity and are keen to get him into a good school. This becomes more complicated when district lines are redrawn, so Jake’s preschool teacher Judy (Octavia Spencer) suggests trying to get him a scholarship. There is a lot of competition for these and being bright is not enough. The couple has never thought about Jake’s gender before, and their gradual recognition that Jake’s relationship with gender is unusual takes them to new places..

What is Jake’s gender and at four, does it really matter? The big questions about identity are largely set aside as Alex and Greg concentrate on what they can do to help their child right now. Ironically, they seem mostly to have been getting it right by not thinking about it – they haven’t tried to enforce rigid gender standards so Jake has a mixture of toys and gets to enjoy the Disney princess paraphernalia that he so loves.

 

Once the subject is raised, both parents become anxious about it, largely out of concern at what the world might have in store for Jake as he gets older. Telling him that he can’t be a princess for Halloween leads to tantrums. Alex fights her own instinct to do whatever will make Jake happiest right away as she tries to urge him into more masculine behavior. Greg wants him to see a psychiatrist who specializes in gender issues, but Alex is appalled by this. As they increasingly turn on one another, she blames Greg’s inability to be a sufficiently manly role model for Jake’s difference.

The film’s strength is in the positioning of trans issues within a wider climate of gender anxiety. As Greg rails against the idea that he needs to play sports to defend his own gender identity, Alex’s mother criticizes her for letting down feminism by abandoning her career as a lawyer for the sake of full-time child rearing; and Alex wrestles with the fear that difficulty in conceiving another child undermines her femininity. In a low moment, she lashes out at Judy for being a lesbian, suggesting that what she sees in Jake is all about politics. Meanwhile, Judy’s mixed-race relationship is a reminder of other one-time taboos that are now seen as less relevant by history.

Young Davis is quite the actor and he brings freshness and naturalism to the role of Jake. Danes is quite good as Alex. She has the rough job of winning over the audience while being quite unpleasant at times. Her chemistry with Parsons makes us root for the couple even as they fight – there always seems to be something between them that’s worth fighting for. Director Silas Howard does an excellent job of standing back and letting his actors do their thing. I love that the story is told in a way that anyone who’s raised a child will be able to relate to. The central subject is presented as part of a much larger conversation about gender roles and how individuals find their way through life in the absence of longstanding traditional rules. This is a sensitive and humane take on what it means to deal with issues like this these days.

“TAINTED SOULS”— Life in the Working Class Suburbs of Rome

“Tainted Souls” (“Il Contagio”)

Lives in the Working-Class Suburbs of Rome

Amos Lassen

Directors Matteo Botrugno and Daniele Coluccini bring us the fates of two men from the working-class suburbs, separated by the different choices they make. Their film is set in the Roman outskirts that are plagued by small-time and big-time criminals but the focus is on the humanity of those who live there. The film is based the novel of the same name by Walter Siti and it can be seen as a love story (or several love stories), as the tale of a tragic friendship, as a patchwork of lives in the working-class suburbs, or even as the portrait of an underworld of ruthless wheeler-dealers who take advantage of those working-class people to make money and reach the upper classes. It is also the story of a choice: to stay and be one of the last remaining residents, or to get out and sell one’s soul to the devil. In the first part of the movie, we find ourselves in a working-class block of flats that is teeming with people with different accents and stories. We are introduced to two couples, Mauro and Simona (Maurizio Tesei and Giulia Bevilacqua), and Marcello and Chiara (Vinicio Marchioni and Anna Foglietta); and there is also an author, Walter (Vincenzo Salemme), who is Marcello’s secret lover and provides him with financial support, as well as being the narrator of the film. Life goes by, with all its rumors, small-time drug dealing and football matches but also with the settling of scores, armed robberies and betrayals. It’s a colorful array of ordinary people getting by as best they can, and trying to love each other.

Halfway through the film, another story begins. We skip forward three years and the plot zeroes in on Mauro, who has made his fortune by making the leap from being a small-time dealer to getting involved in the “business” of cooperatives that help immigrants by appropriating public funds. We follow him during his descent into the underworld, residing in his impressive apartment in central Rome, his face disfigured from cocaine abuse and with a past that has come knocking on his door (Marcello, who, frantic and overwhelmed by debt, has come to ask him for help). The warm colors of the suburbs give way to the cold lights of the city, middle-class vices gain the upper hand over love and friendship, and a dizzying sequence shot accompanies Mauro along his path of damnation. He disowns his roots and gives in to false ideals and cuts his family ties for the sake of money.

Set against the backdrop of a depressingly modern Rome, where corruption is like a disease that taints the soul that Italian cinema continues to depict with conviction. This is a seemingly high-minded stab at socially-relevant drama but it stumbles slowly and mysteriously from one marginal character to another, without establishing who or what “Tainted Souls” is actually about, leaving us to care for no one at all. Marcello is broke but he refuses to get a job, so it’s tough empathize with him. His wife is ill but he cheats on her. Attilio is amoral and selfish. Bruno is a wife-beater. Mauro is the only one with the brains to be a better man but gives up his humanity in exchange for promises of riches, and he presumably does this because he grew up poor. Drug use is rife and so is criminality. It’s a surprise when a narrator tries to persuade us at the end that one of the biggest liars in the movie is a great guy.

The film is about the tragic lives led by marginalized, working-class people who keep making terrible decisions over and over.  A woman is married to her childhood friend, frustrated by the fact that he’s gay and unemployed. Innocents are defrauded by a high-level drug dealer using a charity to steal millions. Jobless men go into hock to violent drug-dealers. They are beaten by the dealers. One man is stoned to death by them. A woman commits suicide by turning up the gas on her stove. Frequent cocaine use is shown as is pot smoking, drinking, and cigarette smoking. No sex is shown but heterosexual couples are seen kissing and a gay couple is seen touching each other’s faces. A woman finds someone’s vibrator. A narrator talks about “penetration” with his gay lover. “Gang-bangs” and orgies are mentioned. We hear gay and Asian slurs and other curse words as we get a look at life that is not pretty.