Category Archives: GLBT Film

“THE ACROBAT”— A Raw Look At the City

“THE ACROBAT”

A Raw Look At the City

Amos Lassen

While Montreal is snowed under, two strangers meet randomly in an unfinished apartment. What begins as a T chance encounter leads to a violent attraction and unreasonable dependency. One man is a Russian-born professional acrobat whose future is jeopardized by a broken leg. The other is a well-groomed man of few words. They soon engage in domination and manipulation as they learn that love is painful and human relations are complex. Canadian director, Rodrique Jean presents a mysterious and sexually explicit story.

Using the city during a bleak and cold winter, two men find that construction of some large apartment buildings are way behind schedule. Christophe (Sebastien Ricard) is a   middle-aged successful business man who is anxious to buy an apartment on the  on the 20th floor of an unfinished building so that he can move out of what was once his family home. Whilst he is there inspecting an apartment,  he randomly meets Micha (Yury Paulau), a homeless man who has occasionally been sleeping there in the empty building.

This chance encounter ignites chemistry between this two completely opposite men and this turns  to  rough,  and often violent sex. There is no dialogue between the two until Micha insists they keep on anonymously.  

We learn that Micha is a Russian born acrobat whose career is in jeopardy because of an accident that broke his leg and he has become angry and bitter.   He is determined to the Russians who are in charge of the acrobatic show in which he was performing that someone had deliberately forced him to fall, but the Russians refuse to agree with him or give him any of the insurance payout due to him.

Christophe’s mother  is dying in a nearby hospice. He every once in a while visits her and we sense that she is the reason that he is very unhappy. Director Jean leaves holes in the plot for us to try to look into the minds of the two men who use sex as a release for all their internal anger.

There is a lot of very explicit and extremely erotic sex but The Acrobat is not pornographic in that this is a look at trying to find a way to release this anger.  Since the two me are far away from any real ambiguity or humanity down below, they are free to act as they want.

“TEOREMA”— The Visitor

“TEOREMA”

The Visitor

Amos Lassen

A middle-class Italian family in Milan is about to experience the most intense and mind-bending experience of their entire lives. After allowing a stranger known only as “The Visitor” (Terrence Stamp) into their home, the family is has a feeling of awe, lust and yearning for their new guest. What follows is a series of sexual encounters between the mysterious figure and every member of the family  including the mother, Lucia (Silvana Mangano), who is burdened by sexual inhibition, the troubled father, Paolo (Massimo Girotti), and the zealously religious servant, Emilia (Laura Betti).

Each person in the family has issues that the stranger helps uncover and heal. Pietro, the son, is highly sensitive and overwhelmed by his emotions. He struggles with anxiety, low self-esteem and indecision, all of which are later replaced with a strong, impenetrable sense of confidence by the visitor. The maid is on the verge of committing suicide and plans on hanging herself with a hose when she is found and consoled by the visitor. finds and consoles her. He has sex with the naïve daughter, Odetta (Anne Wiazemsky), allowing her to break out of her shell and limited worldview.

The Visitor also helps relieve the mother’s sexual frustration and caters to the father who feels defeated by his illness. He does this seemingly selflessly, without asking for or expecting anything in return from the family. It is pleasure, fulfilment and joy for everyone in the house. However, this joy soon becomes pain and horror when he leaves their home as discreetly and inexplicably as when he first came it. The family is left in grief and despair, searching for liberation and a return to what was there before he was there for just a few days.

“Teorema” is about the power of hippy love over capitalist wealth. With his virtually wordless screenplay adapting his own novel, Pasolini makes sure his story is a well told and entertaining. 

This basically a film about Terence Stamp’s crotch. He seems omniscient, otherworldly, haughty, and rather amused. The film was banned on obscenity charges because of it is that  politically subversives and  contains allusions to homosexuality. Pasolini said that his entire project with the film was  to underline the poetic qualities of “a world at its end”.

THE DEATH AND LIFE OF JOHN F. DONOVAN”— Recurring Obsessions

THE DEATH AND LIFE OF JOHN F. DONOVAN”

Recurring Obsessions

Amos Lassen

Xavier Dolan is considered to be the boy wonder of Quebecois cinema. For his debut English-language feature, “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan” he brings together a stellar cast including Kit Harington, Natalie Portman, Susan Sarandon, Thandie Newton, Kathy Bates, breakout “Room” star Jacob Tremblay, to name a few.

Dolan’s recurring obsessions of autobiographical mother issues play a key source of drama with  two parallel plots about sensitive young men locked in permanent psychic warfare with domineering mothers.  We feel the tensions around sexuality and homophobia  even though this  film is not as queer as most of the Dolan’s camp and sexy filmography. Dolan shows a strong visual eye and a flair for emotional fireworks but these elements are unusually muted here and what we really get is an overlong psychodrama. This is a good movie that could have been a great movie.

Dolan uses a series of flashbacks that he frames as an interview that rising young screen star Rupert Turner (Ben Schnetzer) gives to a cynical journalist (Newton). More than a decade earlier, as an aspiring child actor living in London with his single mom (Portman), the schoolboy Rupert (Tremblay) sent regular fan letters to his favorite TV star, John F. Donovan (Harington). To his amazement, Donovan wrote back, beginning a long correspondence between the two.

Like Rupert, Donovan is a lonely misfit  who is forever scarred forever by an adversarial relationship with his overbearing mother (Sarandon). With his sexuality deeply in the closet, he uses a longtime female friend as his official beard, until one day when a careless hookup leads to his public outing and career meltdown. Meanwhile, at school in London, Rupert becomes a victim of bullying with an undercurrent of homophobia. Classmates steal his letters from Donovan and their shared secret correspondence becomes an international news story.

Dolan worked hard to bring these plots together but somehow he lost a great deal in his attempts. However his movie is filled with wonderful technical polish and  sensory pleasures, including cinematographer Andre Turpin’s sumptuous color schemes and elegant camerawork. There is at least a professional and highly skilled crew working behind the scenes, and the lighting, coloring, and costume and set designs are all gorgeous but these . technical elements also highlight the film’s artistic failings. The fundamental problem is with Dolan’s screenplay. The dialogue is weak and the characters don’t so much speak to one another. Once you’ve noticed the weird way that characters talk at and not to each other, we realize the weakness here. The characters’ general behavior makes even less sense than their speech.

 Most of the action in close up causing us to have no sense of physical space and making the already confusing dialogue even harder to follow. Every interaction is prestned in the same way, with no sense of pacing, or of the flow of a scene.

“The Death and Life of John F. Donovan” is missing just a little of what normally makes a Dolan a Dolan. He began this film with too much to say and then had a hard time cutting any of it during editing. John Donovan is a character worth getting to know. And the topic of celebrity death, and our cultural obsession with it, and possibly contribution to it, is a great idea for a film. The movie isn’t all that it could be. We had high hopes for Dolan and I believe we would have been disappointed no matter what yet  there’s something worthwhile here that I hope viewers will find.

“JUDY”— Remembering

“JUDY”

Remembering

Amos Lassen

This year is the 50th anniversary of the death of Judy Garland and director Rupert Goold’s movie about Garland sometimes stumbles. “Judy” takes place during Garland’s final London performances in the winter of 1968, when her voice was not at its best. Renee Zellweger who plays Judy performed the songs herself, and she does a remarkable job without trying to match Garland at the peak of her vocal powers.

The film actually begins with a younger Judy (played by Darci Shaw) on the set of “The Wizard of Oz”. While the opening scene is visually striking, it starts the film on the wrong note since it then moves forward to the older Judy, who we see facing financial problems and  a custody battle with ex-husband Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell). It is her financial desperation that leads her to grab the offer for a series of concerts at a London supper club, and even though she depends upon booze and pills, she is a bit victorious as she tries to make a comeback. She is long past her prime yet she gets involved with a younger man, Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), who became her fifth husband.

Zellweger looks uncannily like Garland yet remains Renee Zellweger as well. She captures sides of Garland’s personality that not everyone acknowledges, particularly her self-deprecating sense of humor. When Deans meets her at a party, he makes a comment about “the greatest entertainer in the world,” and Garland asks, “Is Frank Sinatra here?”

In other scenes of the singer in a state of disheveled disarray, Zellweger tells us everything we need to know about Judy’s damaged past. There are fantastic musical performances;  Zellweger’s rendition of one of Garland’s classics, “I’ll Go My Way by Myself,” is a breathtaking tour de force, and the actress lights up the screen with “Come Rain or Come Shine.” Her final performance of “Over the Rainbow,” of course, doesn’t compare to the Garland original in “The Wizard of Oz”, but the aging Garland, her voice hoarse and broken asks the audience to forgive her.

This final sequence ends on an overly sentimental note, when the audience at the supper club stands to help her complete the song. There are other questionable interludes such as Judy’s friendship with a couple of middle-aged gay fans that has some poignant elements but this works a little too hard to accentuate Garland’s connection to the Stonewall Riots. There are other great scenes, though. Jessie Buckley gives a superb performance as the woman hired to be Garland’s assistant; Buckley’s reactions of impatience are mixed with sympathy and brilliant. Wittrock has just the right touch of sleaze as the young lover.

Director Goold works beautifully with Zellweger, who gives a bravura performance. Her take on Judy Garland pushes her to the front of the awards queue. It’s a great performance in an otherwise so-so biopic, which brings the legendary entertainer to melancholic life.

“THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET” (“Der Boden Unter den Fusen”)— In the Workplace

“THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET” (“Der Boden Unter den Fusen”)

In the Workplace

Amos Lassen

Lola Wegenstein (Valerie Pachner) has had a complicated history. She is an orphan and has suffered traumas in her childhood; sent to a foster home and having an elder sister that is in her care now. She puts up a very strong appearance, hiding psychological issues, needing affection, thinking about the childhood and dealing with a very demanding job.

Lola’s sister, Conny (Pia Hierzegger)has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is unpredictable, strange and upsetting. Lola takes care of her sister, but not in the way the Connie wants. Conny talks about moving out of the institution where she is supervised and where she imagines that the others are stealing from her. She believes is in danger and now  Lola has to get another place.

Lola is in a shaky relationship with Elise (Mavie Hörbiger), who is her boss and this complicates matters since the two women work together. The sex scenes between them are intense even though they are very short and there is little nudity. Eroticism is suggested instead of being exposed. Lola is often insecure and sometimes unstable, overwhelmed by the heavy demands of her job. When a client who is unaware of Lola’s sexual orientation or that she is abusive and a chauvinist, wants to have drinks with her at the bar, after they have lunch with another partner in the company, the consultant explains that they will maintain 85% of their workforce, people from her firm would come on sight to deal with issues, only she seems not to be one of those on the list, to the regret of the man who says her that he is sexually interested in her.

At another point, one of Lola’s colleagues makes her sign a sheet with wrong figures and that causes a confrontation with Elise, who speaks about the fact that others have started to talk about ‘burn out’. After this, Lola follows the man who cheated and placed her in a terrible position so that he has the advantage.

The man flashes his penis and says that this is the advantage he has thus confirming one of the themes of the film— the idea that men take advantage of the old privileges, the ascendancy they still have over women, in today’s world. Lola is close to a breaking point, she seems to imagine a call from her sister. She thinks she hears Conny on the phone, mentioning that she is naked and she can see her, causing her to run out of a hotel on the street to find Conny who must have escaped supervision. However, when she calls the place where Conny is being taken care of she is told that her sister is a sleep and did not use the phone.

Since it is really impossible to show the life of a corporate executive is impossible to sincerity onscreen we are left a bit in the dark.  Lola is disassociated from the world around her. She prioritizes her career at all costs, and begins to lose her grip on reality as a result of it.  We do not know if it is fatigue from the 48 hour days she’s been working, or if is it a hereditary mental illness beginning to come to her years after it took a hold on her sister. Director Kreutzer refrains from giving an easy answer and the story is  ambiguous.  

Lola’s job largely consists of meeting with high profile clients and suggesting which employees they fire to save money. She practically lives in anonymous hotel rooms, using the few free moments she allows herself outside of work to either exercise intensely, or pursue a secret affair with boss Elise and  even when she’s just having sex, it somehow is connected to her all-consuming day job. Lola and her older sister Conny have no parents, and Elise is Lola’s legal guardian, but now the tables have turned, and Lola is Elise’s guardian – a role she tries to avoid confronting as much as she can.

The first half hour of the film made me think that this  is a  capitalist satire where selfish professionalism is more important than the lives of those whose jobs are at stake. But that film is cleverer than that, forcing the audience into a false sense of security only to reveal that it has been chipping away at Lola’s demeanor. The phone call sequence, roughly half an hour in, initially feels like it came out of the blue before we see that it just might be a crack in the realist sheen.

The most overtly damning critique of business consultant culture is unspoken; the contrasts between Lola’s anonymous hotel suites and business meetings, and the colorless surroundings of Conny’s temporary home show that both sisters are imprisoned in one way or another.  What we see is an exploration of the emotional toll on women in the male dominated world of business.

“MOM + MOM” (“MAMMA + MAMMA”)— Two Women

“MOM + MOM” (“MAMMA + MAMMA”)

Two Women

Amos Lassen

Karole Di Tommaso’s “Mom +Mom” is the story of two women who love each other and want to have a child together. They decide upon in vitro fertilization but are unaware of challenges involved. As their desire becomes stronger they suffer pain and fatigue but they also realize that  miracles might happen. They share a small apartment with an ex-boyfriend who does not make things easier. They have to deal with him because he has the power to allow them to have a child but after their first fruitless attempt, the challenges begin to pile up yet they are determined to keep trying.

 

Times have changed and it is not nearly as difficult for members of the LGBTQ community to have and to raise but as we see here the road is never easy.

Beautifully acted by  Linda Caridi, Maria Roveran, Andrea Tagiaferri, Sylvia Gallerano and Stefano Sabelli, “Mom + Mom” is an honest look at two women who are deeply in love who want to be mothers.

“THE CONDUCTOR” (“De Dirigent”) —To Be Oneself

“THE CONDUCTOR” (“De Dirigent”)

To Be Oneself

Amos Lassen

Antonia Brico (Christanne de Brujin) was sold by her biological mother and raised in a family that was not her own. She works under the name of Willie in a concert hall as an usher and as such, she is supposed to leave the premises once the performance is in progress, but she wants to dedicate her life to music and therefore wants to stay. She loves to listen to the music and learn for her future what she hopes is to be her future career. She wants to sit near the front, to see the Conductor at work and takes a folding chair and sits on it, right in the front row, between the regular lines of chairs, to the astonishment of the public and in particular of the Thomsen family.

There is a love hate relationship Willy and the Thomsens. Willy  is summoned by Frank Thomsen, the young, handsome man who is a manager at the concert hall and she is fired because she dared to sit during a concert. She tries to try to find a job and applies for a typist and after the exam she is told she has been fast, has short nails and made no mistakes, but the other woman competing for the position and was the opposite gets the job. The other woman was sexy, made mistakes, was slow and had long nails yet was preferred in spite of her professional shortcomings because of her looks.

Willy is helped getting a job  by Robin Jones, a talented piano player who is invited soon to Thomsen family mansion where Mr. Thomsen is kind and hospitable, while his wife is rude and remains so. Willy joins her at the affair. Frank Thomsen he is soon infatuated and enraptured with Willy, the very same women he fired, who tells him that she wants to be a conductor. However, this is a male profession and it is thought that women are not able to conduct.

 Dutch filmmaker Maria Peters based her film on the true story of Antonia Brico. She was a Dutch musician who becomes the first woman to conduct the New York Philharmonic in the 1920s. This is the story of an unhappy adopted girl with a very strong feminist streak who insists on fighting with every man who gets in her way of her dream.

The sub plot of Robin  (Turner Schofield) gives the movie realness and heart.  Robin is Willy’s best friend and confident who gets Antonia a job playing piano in a Drag Bar so she at least has a living wage whilst she is studying to be conductor.  Antonia has no idea of Robin’s past until, he chooses to reveal it to show Antonia that everyone must be who they are.  

“TESTOSTERONE: Volume Four” — Five Short Films

“TESTOSTERONE: Volume Four”

Five Short Films

Amos Lassen

TLA Releasing once again brings us a collection of gay short films and they keep getting better and better. This collection includes:

THE HANDYMAN” from director  JC Calciano in which a single, gay man finds creative ways to have a hunky repairman continue to have to come back to his house to fix things. It all begins with a clogged drain that causes the young gay man to call in a handyman. To his surprise, the handyman is quite good looking which brings about a shirtless fantasy daydream in the kitchen. As he becomes more obsessed, he schemes to sabotage some household appliances in order to get the handyman to come back for more work (and perhaps more fantasy). You will probably have fantasies of your own after watching this.

Robert Jones Torres’s “WRITHING” is made up of ethereal realism and dance. It follows a young man facing the probability of an HIV+ diagnosis.

“FACES” directed by Ben Emphey, Ryan meets Nathan and they fall in love during their first date. It’s only later, as their relationship progresses, that Ryan starts to wonder if his boyfriend is who he thought he was and is he, himself, who he thought he was. They experience joy and pain together, trying to overcome the painful fear of whether or not if it is possible to really know another person.

From Israel comes Ori Aharon’s “RUBBER DOLPHIN”, a gay love story set in a one-bedroom apartment in Tel Aviv. They meet, they have sex, they fall in love. The film’s emotional impact is intense Within a short period of time we go from meeting to love between two twentysomething men. Once sexual tension has been released, the short film looks at masculinity, homosexuality, body image, sexual positions, and love.

Neal Mulani’s “THE FISH TANK” is about a college student  who goes to his first hookup with a mysterious older man and he must decide whether his anxieties point to a darker truth about his host for the night. Tristan McIntyre arrives for an online hookup and he is already nervous. It is his  first time with a man every little thing seems to frighten him a little more. It feeds into his paranoia and the difficulty of separating how his sexuality may not be wrong but maybe this other guy’s is. We sense a creeping horror built in large part from what Noah takes in with him, but never able to be dismissed as simply that.

 

“OLIVIA”— Olivia, Mlle. Julie and Mlle. Clara

“OLIVIA”

Olivia, Mlle. Julie and Mlle. Clara

Amos Lassen

Director Jacqueline Audry’s “Olivia is believed to have some autobiographical resonances and it revolves around Olivia (Marie-Claire Olivia) arrival at a French all-girls finishing school run by two elegant headmistresses, Mlle. Julie (Edwige Feuillère) and Mlle. Clara (Simone Simon).  Olivia is almost immediately told by one of her classmates, the student body is divided into two camps: those devoted to Mlle. Julie  and those to Mlle. Clara.

It soon becomes clear that beneath the antagonism of the two headmistresses is a once-intimate relationship of an unspecified nature between the two that at some point went bad.  It all comes to a head during the annual Christmas party when Mlle. Julie promises to stop by Olivia’s room later that night.  At this point it is made explicit that this is not merely some one-sided schoolgirl infatuation of Olivia’s but that there are some kind of mutual feelings involved, which is emphasized by Mlle. Julie’s unexpected decision to leave the school, since she feels that it is the “best thing to do.”

“Olivia” is about the walls of the boarding school potentially functioning as a haven-like space for lesbian feelings and desires apart from the world, something  that Mlle. Julie  warns Olivia of in the climatic sequence.  Mlle. Julie seems aware that there might be potential for sustaining a lesbian relationships in this cloistered, isolated setting—as it might have indeed done for Mlles. Julie and Clara at one point—but the reality is that the world outside vehemently refuses such things.

This 1951 French film about a lusty all-girls boarding school remains as strange and sensational as ever. The film’s opening tone of girlish playfulness and its quaint period atmosphere shifts in fits is actually quite lurid, There is not much titillation but there is a lot of psychological warning. 

Mlle. Clara is a caricature of manipulative, neurotic femininity—all flounce and lace and coquettishness. Her pouting and obviously feigned illness (she suffers from “migraines” when she gets upset) is both a scheme to earn Miss Julie’s sympathy and a passive-aggressive jealous brooding over the fact that the students seem to prefer Miss Julie to her. The primary arc is the evolving relationship between Olivia and Miss Julie, some of which is depicted in private in their one-on-one scenes and much of which is acted out in classroom and dining hall sequences and this public display of tension makes the story very shocking.

Olivia struggles with her increasingly passionate crush on her teacher, and Miss Julie’s feelings for Olivia also cone forth moving between restraint and torment. There are many scenes in which the student recklessly makes known her feelings for the teacher. We see mysterious and confusing implications that suggest lesbianism. The move toward an overt explicit showcase of lesbian desire comes in the latter part of the film and becomes more astounding as lesbian love becomes audible and visible.

Miss Julie finds reasons to go visit Olivia in her room at bedtime. On one particular night, as Miss Julie goes to tuck Olivia in, we see a genuine hunger and she tells Olivia to shut her eyes and then leans over and kisses them far more intensely than she should. Olivia clutches Miss Julie’s hand and begins kissing it.

Numerous similar scenes follow yet we never see the women actually kiss. The scenes are the classic tortured images of lesbian desire we expect from films made before the lifting of the Production Code in the 1960s. “Olivia” moves from subdued period piece to lurid melodrama, we wish we could cheer for the lesbians to end up together in this weird movie.

It’s now widely accepted that emotional complexities did indeed roil beneath the visually staid surfaces of so many of the French “cinema of quality” films of the forties and fifties and this is a prime example.

Jacqueline Audry was one of the very few female directors working in French cinema at the time. This is her fifth feature and is a work of bold, barely repressed sensuality, in which the unspoken yet ever-present love between women threatens to boil over. “Olivia: is part of the cinematic tradition of using a boarding school setting, with its potential for unsentimental education, as a breeding ground for tentative lesbian attraction but Audry’s film goes way beyond innuendo, while still stopping just shy of the full-on romance it desperately wants to be.

“A SILENT AGREEMENT”— Who We Are

“A SILENT AGREEMENT”

Who We Are

Amos Lassen

It is so important to remember that the LGBTQ community is a rainbow of diversity and that like any other communities are members have to deal with who they are as well as where and how they fit. We have disabled LGBTQ members who deserve to be treated with the same respect as everyone else and it is good to remember that. Australian writer/director Davo Hardy takes us into our disable community with his beautiful new film, “A Silent Agreement”. Hardy cast himself as a Reuben, a sensitive writer who struggles with a speech impediment. His deaf boyfriend Derek (Joshua Sealy) gives him strategies and support to help him keep his confidence. Reuben finds the courage to submit an autobiographical screenplay to his favorite actor but is betrayed by him making Reuben use his newly-found confidence to deal with the situation and find justice.

What makes this film really unique is that both of its lead characters have disabilities. Reuben’s stutter and Joshua’s deafness are centerstage here. They are both gay, as well, are totally committed to each other and share a loving and meaningful relationship. I loved seeing two men who need each other  in love and that they depend upon each other to make themselves better, like. Reuben’s lack of self-confidence and Derek’s rebelliousness come together so that each man can play off of the other and find the support he needs.  Derek firmly believes that Reuben should stop worrying and just live his life and learn to use sign language in order to contain and fight combat his angst. (Another first here is the use of Australian Sign Language or Auslan).

Those of us who have no disability really have no concept of what having one is like. This film hit me hard because I have a close friend who is totally blind (and very angry). She has no friends because she is overbearing and demanding but she still needs to get groceries, etc. so I am there for her. I once spent a weekend blindfolded to try to experience what she experiences.

Most people who see this movie will not have disabilities and while they might be interested in the characters, they cannot really identify with what they are going through. They aren’t interested enough to want to experience deafness or a speech impediment. This is why I think that the scenes between Reuben and Derek are so important. We see them living natural lives with their disabilities which them seem invisible. We see them too but we focus on the persons and not on their disabilities.  Davo Hardy’s wonderful direction makes this so. The performances of the two men are beautiful while at the same we see the highlight important issues.

We watch Reuben as he becomes more confident as Derek convinces him to send his screenplay off to a “down-on-his-luck yet still famous actor Gareth Donahue” (Paul Mercurio) and lives begin to change forever. Mercurio as Gareth is brilliant and if the other actors were not likewise. His performance is honest and simply gorgeous.  We see him worrying about his age, weight and career and we empathize even when he does something terrible. We see both love greed and betrayal and we see brutal honesty portrayed on the screen.

This is so much more than a coming-of-age drama and not just because of the way it uses disability in our community.  It is a love story that includes the need to belong, the need for redemption and the intrusion of betrayal. We see a good bit about being a victim and how that happens and why and the need to be true to oneself and the world at large. With the major theme of what makes a person unique, we come to understand more about the importance of the individual and what makes us special. I am completely in awe of Davo Hardy and can only hope that this film gets widely seen and that it gains the respect it deserves. It is already on my Top Ten List.