Category Archives: GLBT Film

“THE WILD BOY”— A Surreal Tale of Gender Warfare

“The Wild Boys” (“Les garçons sauvages”)

A Surreal Tale of Gender Warfare

Amos Lassen

“The Wild Boys” almost defies categorization; it is a gender-bending work of intoxicating expressionism.The film follows five adolescent boys from respectable families, who love the occult and mainly a demon apparition named ‘Trevor’ that inspires them to commit savage, sexually motivated crimes. One day, during a performance of Macbeth, put on for their teacher, things take a turn for the worse when one of the scenes ends up becoming a collective rape; resulting in the teacher’s death. However, instead of being yet another problematic, and gratuitous rape scene, these five boys are all played by young female actors (Vimala Pons, Pauline Lorillard, Diane Rouxel, Anaël Snoek and Mathilde Warnier). Director Bertrand Mandico is fascinated by the role gender plays in defining sexual violence.

Despite their best efforts to avoid persecution, the boys are found guilty of murder, but instead of being sent to reform school, their parents press-gang them into the care of a Dutch sea-captain (Sam Louwyck), who promises to rid them their wild tendencies. He takes them onboard his dilapidated sailboat and on a mission to a forbidden island. “This island is populated by a veritable bouquet of phallic flora and fauna whose inviting plant life and sperm like sap initially sate the boys’ uncontrollable appetites.”

The erotic universe blossoms into an abstract, almost surreal universe. Cinematographer, Pascale Granel, who uses textured black-and-white photography and dreamlike color sequences gives the film its rich mysteriousness and poetic beauty and emphasizes the bizarreness of this story and creates a psychedelic atmosphere that succeeds in leaving the audience feeling carried.

At first, the island seems like a paradise, but time pass the boys slowly undergo a gender metamorphosis, with their penises falling off and breasts growing on their chests. Mandico seems to be raising the question of what might happen if children weren’t straitjacketed into gender roles in early adolescence, showing how gender, as a social c onstruct, enforces the concept of male entitlement.

I see “The Wild Boys” as a heady, sexually charged take on “Lord of the Flies” that energetically skewers any notion of the gender binary. It is so much more than a film; it is a sensory cinematic experience with a plot follows that a group of lusty teenage boys (played by female actors) who are conscripted to nautical behavioral therapy on an island after the brutal rape of their teacher. The rough sea captain (Sam Louwyck) who has a special method for taming their unchecked testosterone.

They island is filled with sensual delights and, partaking of the island’s pleasures, the boys’ bodies start to transform and this sends them into a terror before they eventually embrace their new forms.

“The Wild Boys” dares to go into the in-between, the liminal spaces where bodies simply are, existing in any form they take, rather than relegated into social categories.

“FLAWLESS” (“HANESHEF”)— Three Teens

“FLAWLESS” (“HANESHEF”)

Three Teens

Amos Lassen

“Flawless” is the story of three teenagers from Jerusalem who sell their kidneys to pay for cosmetic surgery and prom dresses. As a secret uncovers they realize nothing is as it seems. Tal Granit and Sharon Maimon co-directed. The film has been nominated for 12 Ophir Awards (Israel’s Oscar) and among them is a nomination for best actress. Stav Strashko is a 25-year-old trans actress who landed that nomination.

Strashko, who has made her name in recent years as a top international model, has scored another first as she is the first trans nominee in Israel. “I always saw myself in women’s roles.” “I’m proud to be the first trans [nominee] — it’s a milestone,” she said. Strashko grew up as a boy who identified as girl and this prepared her for a career in acting. “My whole life I played something that I wasn’t.”

In the film, she plays Eden, a transgender teen desperate to raise money for a breast enlargement operation ahead of the prom.“Strashko, who was born Stanislav in Ukraine, was discovered by a modeling agency after leaving her home in Tel Aviv at the age of 16, at first taking on androgynous roles and later modeling as a woman, including a campaign opposite musician Joe Jonas for Diesel.” In Israel, Strashko came to public attention when she took part in the “Big Brother VIP” TV show. She has since become a prominent figure in the LGBT community.

 

“RED COW” (“PARA ADUMA”)— Coming-of-Age Sexually, Religiously and Politically in Israel

“Red Cow” (“Para Aduma”)

Coming-of-Age Sexually, Religiously and Politically in Israel

Amos Lassen

“Red Cow is a coming-of-age film that takes place in Israel during the days leading up to the assassination of Rabin. Benny is a 16-year-old girl who was orphaned from mother at birth. She is the only child of Yehoshua, a religious, right wing extremist and she is at that critical juncture when she is forming her sexual, religious and political awareness. The film is set on one of Israel’s orthodox Jewish settlement where Benny has sexual awakening and ideological unraveling. This is a sensitive and assured first feature from Tsivia Barkai Yacov who also wrote the screenplay. We see a community that is rarely explored on screen. The film shows the difficulties of being a young woman in a devout patriarchal system. We also are taken into the complexity of burgeoning female desire and a complicated queer romance.

I can assure you that based upon my own experiences as an orthodox gay Jew that the film is disarmingly authentic. We have a female-centric window into the Middle East filled with intimate insights into a girl defying societal expectations. Benny’s (Avigail Kovari) outsider status is sealed from the outset, her androgynous name and blazing red hair stand out in her settlement home of Silwan in East Jerusalem. An introduction explains the significance of the feature’s title and its links to the Torah, so that we are aware of the importance of Benny’s task of caring for a newborn pure-red calf. We see the potential parallels between the girl and the animal in her care. Although Benny and her extremist father Yehoshua (Gal Toren) might not realize it at first, both are beacons of change.

According to his beliefs, Yehoshua is convinced that salvation is now imminent. When Benny searches for her own faith beyond strict religious instructional classes with the community’s other women and generally assisting her father, she finds it in a burning desire for newcomer to the settlement, Yael (Moran Rosenblatt). A fast friendship soon becomes nervous clandestine flirting, and then passionate secret trysts. The forbidden tenor of their romance is omnipresent throughout. She tells Yael even before things become physical that she is surprised by the intensity of her feelings..

It’s with naturalism and nuance that director Yacov who herself is a native of an orthodox Jewish settlement herself, conveys the teen’s emotional state. She experiences deeply-felt urges that threaten to overtake her entire life while also clashing with the teachings she’s increasingly beginning to abandon thus placing her in a precarious position should the affair be discovered. Benny’s growing distance from Yehoshua and everything he represents is also handled with subtlety— as a relationship fracturing with each passing moment, but with slow and ragged cuts. The film moves between the use of walls, fences and shadows to stress the boundaries surrounding Benny and these mirror her restless fervor.

Kovari gives a performance of internalized turmoil, and uncontainable longing. Her chemistry with Toren is palpable, their glances say everything their characters can’t.

“TESTOSTERONE”— Four Gay Shorts

“TESTOSTERONE”

Four Gay Shorts

Amos Lassen

“Testosterone” is the first in a collection of gay shorts from four corners of the world. We do not usually get a chance to see many of these shorts and I am so glad that Dekkoo and TLA Releasing have decided to bring the to us. This collection has a films that activate the mind and the body.

“The End of My World”

After a few years of their relationship, Eryk leaves Filip and disappears without a trace. Filip is unable to handle the new situation and convinces himself that the end of the relationship is also the end of his world. He has put aside his life waiting for Eryk to contact him. What Filip doesn’t know yet is that a new day is going to bring many reflections, changes and groundbreaking decisions. Kamil Krawczycki directed.

“The Surf Report”

Director Courtney Powell brings us a ghostly love story about two men looking for answers where ocean meets sky and city meets wild in Rockaway Beach, NY.

“It Gets Better?”

After drinking heavily and getting stuck in a YouTube hole of “It Gets Better” videos, a man reflects on his life and decides to tell his own story. Stephen Risica directed and is for anyone who has ever had to conquer their own demons.

“Killer Friends”

Zach Noe Towers and Tina Carbonne bring us the story of four friends go on a camping trip that one won’t be coming back from alive…

“WILD” (“SAUVAGE”)— A Young Man’s Quest For love

“WILD” (“Sauvage”)

A Young Man’s Quest for Love

Amos Lassen

“Wild” looks at about a gay male sex worker who is looking for love. Director Camille Vidal-Naquet brings us a sensual ode to freedom. The lead character is unnamed and is played by Felix Maritaud The film has many sequences showing him engaged in sexual acts of all kinds with his clients including caresses, fellatio, penetration and experiments with sex toys but the film “neither demonizes sex as perverted or mindless, nor eulogizes it as the pinnacle of pleasure.”

The opening sequence takes a very surprising turn that beautifully sets up the film’s playful explicitness that is never gratuitous. Because our main character’s work is presented as a regular part of his life, “Wild” normalizes not just gay sex, but also sex work, yet it does not gloss over the problems it can lead to nor discount the wonderful connections it can bring.

The film’s realist style, with a handheld camera and crash zooms, underlines the material reality of the hustler’s situation, but he isn’t looking for work or money, it is love he’s after. He is a painfully romantic man who saves his kisses for the men he loves. We soon see that he loves many men. The affection of strangers does not and cannot satisfy the young man. No matter how hard he might try to forget, there is another sex worker (also unnamed) who has his heart. “Wild” shows us complex representations of love (from connections with sexual partners to intense romantic passion and uses frank portrayals of sex work and gay sexuality.

Increasingly consumed by his passion, our young sex worker begins sleeping rough, and develops a worrying case of pneumonia. In its third act, the film turns into an unflinching portrait of homelessness, its title suddenly taking on another, less poetic meaning. This ambitious film carefully addresses all the ramifications of its lead character’s life with an energy that avoids cliché and instead is “a work of rare vitality.”

When the film opened at the Cannes Film Festival, it was described as “having the sensibility of the Marquis de Sade and filmmaker Maurice Pialat, presumably for its documentary-like naturalism.” Vidal-Naquet introduces us to the hand-to-mouth life of a male sex worker, 22-year-old. The film realistically acts out the tricks of the trade while the young hustler remains an idea, a blank slate without his own strength to deal with brutal and degrading encounters. His trajectory is rigid and his fatalism tone feels preordained; we know from the very beginning that he will not have a happy ending. We learn little about him and he appears scruffy with a slight, muscular built. He “works” in Strasbourg in a park with little traffic and he is right alongside a diverse group of young streetwalkers, waiting…. As the camera zooms in on conversations and potential pickups, we, the viewers, become complicit as voyeurs as many scenes come close to documentary-porn.

Early on, he is paid to participate in a three-way involving a john in a wheelchair and Ahd (Éric Bernard), who, though he has sex with men and is willing to be taken care of by a sugar daddy, insists that he is not gay. His story line reinforces at least two stereotypes: that of gay-for-pay homophobic rough trade and the gay man, our hustler, who hopelessly longs for him. Even the other hustlers notice the look on the young man’s face when he glances upon Ahd but Ahd rejects him not through his words but with his fists.

The director has created intense, incredibly intimate sex scenes, yet the characters remain one-dimensional and this affects the realism of the film. I understand that people were so upset bout the graphic sex scenes that many walked out and listed this powerful film.

As portrayed here, the hustlers’ world is sealed off, as though they are living in a vacuum. Hardly anyone has a phone, and our boy only has one set of clothes. One of his tricks calls him filthy and smelly and he is— his jeans are coated in mud, his sweater has stains, and he has a bloodied lip. For someone who has been living on the streets for some time, he does not have street smarts and finds himself in situations where he has no voice. His only motivation seems to be getting high on hash or crack cocaine, and he never expresses a concern about money or what he has to do to earn it. There is a strong focus on the young man’s childlike qualities and one of those, of course, is the need for love. He leads such a dejected life that we even see him drinking water in a street gutter.

Maritaud holds our attention even when we do not understand what is going on and it’s not just because he’s an actor acting out private behavior in public. He gives the film the soul that we sense throughout.

“A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN
”— Prison in Thailand, A True Story

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Prison in Thailand, A True Story

Amos Lassen

“A Prayer Before Dawn” is based on the memoir written by Billy Moore in 2014 about the horrors of the Klong Prem prison in Thailand. It is the true story of a British boxer and heroin smuggler who, in Thailand, becomes addicted to ya ba (a particularly potent Thai crack cocaine) and makes a living selling drugs.

The punches and kicks and the torment from fellow prisoners at Klong Prem is the violence you’ll see in this film. The first time Billy Moore walked into his cell packed with seventy prisoners, the floor resembled a mass grave, with intertwined arms and legs, and the smell of human feces was so strong he almost vomited. That night, he slept next to a dead man. But the most horrific scene is in the boxing ring where the Thai brand of fisticuffs is called Muay Thai. It is Billy’s brutal gang rape that forms the prison’s rite of initiation. Though the editing is itchy, you get the point that you’re better off going straight all your life.

We don’t know why Billy Moore (Joe Cole) went to Thailand where he appears to be the only farang, or foreigner. In his memoir it says that he went abroad to escape a life of heroin addiction and alcoholism in England. Perhaps he thought that indulging in Muay Thai, which allows pugilists to use stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques, would draw the drugs out of his system. This discipline is known as the “Art of Eight Limbs” because it is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees and shins.

When Billy is not in the ring, he is tormented by the prisoners, who have contempt for a foreigner who doesn’t speak a word of Thai, has no money, allegedly has no family, and has no cigarettes to bum. The boxing is filmed in the usual way with restless editing, which may be necessary if you want your actors to emerge alive but which can nonetheless be frustrating. Some of the Thai dialogue has English subtitles but most of the palaver of the prisoners can be understood without translations.

The film is really about Billy’s redemption, a man who emerges after three years in a Thai hell-hole, then serves time in the UK.“A Prayer Before Dawn” shows Billy getting a legitimate chance to let it all out in the ring. In a final scene we see Billy’s father who in real life is Billy. Aside from Joe Cole the actors are all Thai and former prisoners.

The film is grueling and punishing but it is brilliantly done, and the kickboxing kid Joe Cole is a wonder. Director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s film is a survival story. I understand that before filming started, Cole went through months of extensive boxing training and spent much time with the real Billy Moore and his family in Liverpool.

As I said, the film has a lot of strong violence, including a brutal male rape sequence, drug use and strong language throughout, with some sexual content and nudity. It is a depiction of the brutality of incarceration in Thailand. We are simply dropped into the thick of a disorienting situation with almost no preparation. Opening frames of deep breaths and preparations for a fight give way to a blur of fists as Billy puts the tools of his trade to crunching use. His moonlighting activity, the selling of Thai meth/caffeine concoction ‘yaba’ to dingy strip club goers, soon sees him arrested by the authorities and thrown on the back of a van. The camera follows Billy at close quarters at all times.

Who is this young man? How has he found himself in Thailand selling drugs? Where are his friends, his family? Though the slightest cracks in a stoical exterior will release tiny bits of personal information as his time inside wears on, no back-story is provided; all that matters from here on out is living day by day and, if necessary, hour by hour. The monotony and persistent danger of his situation are reflected in Cole’s extraordinary physical performance. This is in no way limited to his prowess in the ring, and is amazing to watch. Addicted to the drug that got him arrested, Billy’s blind fury and short fuse do not endear him to the heavily tattooed men with whom he shares extremely cramped conditions, sleeping cheek by jowl like sardines. By not subtitling portions of the early exchanges between Billy’s fellow detainees, Sauvaire effectively isolates him in ignorance as well as the claustrophobic confines of their overcrowded cell. A brutal rape scene, which Billy is forced to observe close at hand, makes the price of his silence shockingly clear. The guards show little mercy and their hypocrisy is typified by one of them running his own internal drug business, despite the ruthless punishment to which any abusing the substance are submitted if found in possession.

The heat, the violence, grimy conditions, bitter confinement and continual air of menace make this a debilitating, pulverizing two hours.

“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.”

Shortly after filming wrapped in 2016, Marcus Bellamy was arrested after beating and strangling his boyfriend, 27-year-old Bernardo Almonte. He confessed to the murder in a super cryptic Facebook post that is still up on the site.