Category Archives: GLBT Film

“BODY ELECTRIC”— Searching for Himself

“Body Electric”

Searching for Himself

Amos Lassen

Elias (Kelner Macêdo) has been dreaming a lot lately about the sea. He works as an assistant to the chief designer (Dani Nefussi) in a garment factory, and while he’s liked by all, and enjoys aspects of the job, he gets little inspiration at work. He has an active sex life, and even though he recently ended a relationship with older, well-off Arthur (Ronaldo Serruya), the two occasionally still sleep together.

As Christmas gets nearer and work intensifies, he begins to socialize more with the factory workers, choosing ignoring the words of otherwise equitable boss Walter (Ernani Sanchez), who advises him to maintain a division between management and the laborers. One of those laborers is feminine Wellington (Lucas Andrade), a thin and willowy youth who brings Elias to meet his nontraditional family, headed by fabulous drag queen Marcia (Marcia Pantera).

All Elias seems to want out of life is to enjoy his friends. He refuses to limit or categorize those he loves. He finds equilibrium in the company of others. This is the first feature film by director Marcelo Caetano and it is a candid and tender tribute to Brazil’s racial and sexual heterogeneity. Set in São Paulo, Brazil the film follows the work and love life of Elias who loves exploring his sexuality and intimate friendships in his free time. Despite being professional and fairly popular amongst his colleagues at the clothing factory, he has reservations about being open with his lifestyle. That does not keep him from experimenting and oftentimes crossing professional boundaries with his co-workers in an attempt to achieve sexual liberation.

This is a “mood movie” that gives us artificial insights into various workplace, nightlife and societal environments without actually articulating any infringement, abuse or social issues present within these surroundings. We see this in the portrayal of the small clothing factory where Elias works. Although the film makes it apparent that the protagonist has a privileged position there (he is consistently financed by an older gay ex of his), little is said about his exploited colleagues who are under-compensated and struggle to squeeze in extra work hours.

The Brazil that we see here is a tolerant and progressive country, but that does not mean that there is no homophobia and hate crimes. However, what we see here is not a tranquil gay paradise, where judgments are mostly absent and almost every character is a peace-loving, kind soul. In Elias’ work environment we see only open-minded individuals who emphatically accept and welcome Elias, his sexuality and his sexually charged lifestyle. Albeit a positive and desired outcome, this scenario is rarely a reality for openly gay men. It would be wonderful if this were true.

Macêdo’s performance as Elias brings a warmth to the character. The film is a genuine representation of a feel-good niche group from Brazil and touches upon the gratifying aspects of libertinism and open sexuality. We see how individual differences can work towards bringing us closer together instead of our drifting apart. “Body Electric” praises individuality and freedom as our birthrights as it takes an intimate look at a racially and sexually diverse LGBT group living in São Paulo.

“MY FRIEND DAHMER”— A High School Pal

“My Friend Dahmer”


A High School Pal

Amos Lassen

Director Marc Meyers’s “My Friend Dahmer’ is based on the graphic novel by Dahmer’s childhood friend John Backderf and is a narrative biopic that goes deeply into Dahmer’s life during his senior year in high school. Dahmer (Ross Lynch) had a habit of pretending to have cerebral palsy in order to get attention and this inspires a group of boys (Alex Derf, Harrison Holzer, and Tommy Nelson) to create a fan club in his honor, and use him for elaborate pranks (he is so invisible that they put him in every club’s class picture without anyone noticing). Dahmer’s habit of doing dark, odd things is viewed as excitingly taboo at first, and this objectification both pained and thrilled him.

At home, Jeffrey’s mother (Anne Heche) suffers from mental illness. His father (Dallas Roberts) leaves, both of them and Dahmer is abandoned by both parents. When he discovers that he is homosexual, he tries desperately to suppress it. The local doctor, Dr. Matthews (Vincent Kartheiser), becomes his first object of real obsession. Dahmer is mortified by getting an erection during a physical, imagines the doctor dead in his bed, and hides in the bushes with a baseball bat during the doctor’s jogs on a rural road. When “his friends” see him act out increasingly terrifying, violent acts, they begin to regret teasing him. As the days wear on, Dahmer’s sense of alienation grows and the only relief he has is by acting out early horrific crimes.

Because we know who he grows up to be, there is an element of terror that’s often nearly impossible to capture, so Meyers focuses on Dahmer’s psyche over trying to ham up his violent acts. The scares come more from the growing tension of understanding who he is going to become when he graduates as it gets closer to the end, and this is intensified by several scenes of his male classmates rough housing and bragging over their bright futures as Dahmer sits in the corner all alone.

Dealing with a character like Dahmer is very difficult and we have no sympathy for him even though our eyes fill with tears during a scene is which he cuts himself off from the opportunity to turn back from his fate. It is like watching a teen transform into a monster; our tears are not for Dahmer but for what he becomes because of this.

The film toys with audiences who already know what happens after Dahmer barely survives his teen years. The film pieces together a taut psychological thriller that leaves no one innocent, including the audience. I cannot help but wonder why I and others would want to see this film yet is getting rave reviews from those who do see it. Is it because Dahmer is subjected to the cruelty of classmates and experiments with the acid his father, a scientist, gave him to dissolve dead animals. We meet three students from Dahmer’s high school who take an interest in him, and we see that the feeling is mutual, even if both sides are aware that the relationship they have is not really a friendship. The three see Dahmer as a bit of a class clown who can ease the final days of their senior year after seeing him act out in the halls one day after he stopped caring what people think. At school, even the teachers mock him when he’s caught off-guard with a question and Dahmer stops caring about people altogether.

We see the evil that arises every day for some and we do not know if this comes as a result of self-preservation or the desire to get ahead. What Meyers does here indirectly is show that Dahmer’s tormentors condition him to treat others in dehumanizing fashions, without them seeing the consequences. They will be away at college and what they do to Dahmer will stay with him (but that did not matter to them)..

We watch Dahmer begin to adapt to the situations he’s in after spending so much of the film as a loner. What he does becomes a subversive act and there is the tendency too cheer for the introvert to come out of his shell. This is where this transcends its historical attachments to add a new dimension to the story by exploring the myth making that often surrounds our villains and our heroes bolstering their rise to fame. “My Friend Dahmer” adds a whole other layer of intrigue as you see his personality constructed by influences he allows in and the ones he can’t control from the public at large.Ross Lynch is amazing as Dahmer. At times he is awkwardly charming; at other times he is totally chilling.

“My Friend Dahmer” is a captivating and thoughtful meditation on the making of a killer. It’s a serious and audacious attempt to dramatize the inner life of a sick person when he wasn’t quite so sick. We get the idea that Jeffrey Dahmer wasn’t just born, he was made. He began life as an actual human being yet this never undercuts the extremity of his crimes.

Dahmer’s crush on his doctor who he sees jogging each morning from the school bus is a feeling that he doesn’t know what to do with. His home seems to be quite normal on the outside but his mother has been in and out of mental institutions. In her we see the insidiousness of mental illness and the way it creates an atmosphere of instability that affects the people around it. Both his father and himself are unable to deal with it and so Dahmer retreats into the chemistry shed in the rustic backyard of their home and fixates on the insides of animals as if he is trying to find his own soul. He becomes obsessed with this, and when his dad dismantles the shed, Dahmer reacts by faking an attack at school. This is a clear sign that he’s had it with interacting but the three guys think it is cool. While society itself does not create serial killers, it is safe to say that society creates the context for them. With the encouragement of his “new buddies” (who see him as a freak), he begins to have attacks at school.

The movie implicitly tells us that if Dahmer had felt like it, he could have expressed his sexual feelings and then be on another path. Instead, he holds everything within and cannot tolerate the desire that he perceives that those around him can’t tolerate. He could not see his own insanity. In the film we Jeffrey Dahmer for what he was: a young man who could express himself only through the most hideous violence. We also see that what he had to express was real.

“BABY BUMP”— Changing

“BABY BUMP”

Changing

Amos Lassen

Kuba Czekaj‘s “Baby Bump” is a wild, accurate, disturbing, confusing film and these all taken together give us a fun movie. Mickey (Kacper Olszewski) is growing up and as his body is changing, his thoughts go wild. The film is about his character and is told from his child`s perspective. It’s a character study of a kind that focuses on the physiological and psychological changes that happen to everyone when innocence is lost and left behind.

There is no consistent narrative and at times it is a bit vulgar. It is something of a black comedy; an Oedipal story of a small boy trying to pry himself loose from the suffocating attentions of his young mother.

Eleven-year-old Mickey House is frustrated with his changing body He is a loner at school and his mother treats him like a child. The only solace in his life comes from selling urine to his classmates for drug tests. He realizes that growing up is not for kids. Visually this is a gorgeous film even in the scenes that some might find offensive, those that feature butts, breasts, erections, vaginas, hair, blood and other body substances that we see here. It is quite basically a collage of experiences, thoughts and fantasies that uses modern cinematic techniques to get our attention and at times it is shocking, provoking and confusing. It is hard to judge

Kacper Olszewski’s acting because of the structure of the film but he is cute and photogenic and sometimes quite repulsive.

“BROTHERS OF THE NIGHT”— Searching for a Better Life

“Brothers Of The Night”

Searching for a Better Life

Amos Lassen

Austrian filmmaker Patric Chiha’s “Brothers of the Night” is a documentary about a small group of young Bulgarin Roma men nen who come to Vienna in search of a better life.   When they first arrive they can barely speak any German at all and soon find that there are no jobs for them. They end up at the seedy Cafe Rudiger in the working class district of Margareten and here they learn that by providing sexual services to the old gay men who hang out there, they can make a great deal more than of the elusive legitimate jobs could have offered them.

 

The rent boys we meet here are frank and open about the realities of their new lives. All of them are heterosexual and although some are more  cautious about how far they will go with their clients (most will receive blow jobs but they also refuse to give the same). That their clients are old is more disdainful to them than having homosexual sex which does not seem to cause angst for many of them.

The boys hang out and socialize together in between customers and there is an overwhelming feeling of camaraderie; they all look out for each other with genuine concern. They remain friends even though they may be competing for the same clients and they freely discuss their latest exploits and how much they were paid. Their aim is to make enough money to buy a house and a car to set themselves up back home in Bulgaria where they have wives and children (even though they are just in their twenties in most cases). They admit that their own marriages are far from happy.  One confesses that he had earned a great deal of money and then fell in love with a Austrian hooker who spent all of it and then left him when he was broke again. They are discovering how to be wild and free and irresponsible which is something that they were not permitted to do back home.

We see that sex plays a major role in economic migration in Europe where poor countries sit next to wealthier countries. It is inevitable that kids like these will get exploited, but it is nevertheless a very fragile existence. We see that by the end of the film the source of old men at Rüdiger ends and they will have to return to Bulgaria regardless.

Director Patric Chiha tells the story of a group of young Bulgarian Roma whose lives should be painful and filled memories of their families at home and their inability to make money any other way than sex. Nonetheless, their camaraderie and the support they have for each other provides them with a space in which they can exist happily.

The film is part documentary and part mockumentary (dramatization). It moves backwards and forwards between styles. There are interviews that explain what the characters go through, whilst the dramatization explores the emotional depth of their experiences.

The brotherhood shared by the young men is in sharp juxtaposition from the grittiness and unpredictability of their lives. The documentary has no message; there’s no voice that demonizes or elevates male prostitution and the discussions between the men about hustling their customers are presented without judgment. There are no moral overtones— this is quite a simple film that gives us a look at life and people who doing something they’d never imagined themselves doing. They are able to get through it because of the bonds they’ve created.

“SODOM”— An Intimate Encounter

“SODOM”

An Intimate Encounter

Amos Lassen

Mark Wilshin’s debut feature film, “Sodom”, takes us into an unnamed European city where Will (Pip Brignall), a naked man is handcuffed to a lamppost. Michael (Jo Weill), a passer-by rescues him and invites him back to his apartment where they have sex.  Michael seems to be well off; he lives alone in a nice apartment and he is direct and self-assured in his fascination with Will maybe at first even predatory in his fascination with Will. Will thinks of himself as straight even though he had indulged in gay sex in the past.

The two men learn more about each other during the course of the night and as they reveal more about themselves, their mutual attraction becomes palpable and sex becomes intimate and tender. Their dialogue is honest and they touch upon the complex issues of gay identity and the human condition. As an older gay man, Michael speaks of  his own experience of finding himself and not looking back. He has freed himself so that he can relate to the world in his own way. He tries to convince Will that he can do anything he wants and Michael has opened his eyes. As, Will realizes he has to choose his future.  

This is an intimate encounter between two souls and as they chat, make love and try to achieve mutual self-discovery. The entire story takes place and is straightforward portrait of two men with their pasts, their feelings, their fears and their hopes.

Through their dialogue we get overview of the lives of the two males: Will is about to get married with a girl and she doesn’t know that he is attracted to guys, while Michael has broken up with his long-time partner. There is a perfect imbalance between these two figures, one is free of constraints and labels, and the other is repressed and can’t accept his nature. Their confrontation explores their differences, but also all the possibilities they both are missing.

 

The acting is excellent. Brignall and Weil have incredible chemistry. The direction is outstanding in its delicate and discreet approach in examining LGBTQ issues as coming-out, masculinity and also repression. It is difficult not to fall in love with Will and Michael as we watch intimacy.

Will struggles with the reality of his conflicted sexuality and Michael struggles with the loss of his long-term partner. He rationalizes that his own actions drove his partner to abandon him, but we remain wary that there is more to their story. As a sexual mentor, Michael reminds Will that he could be his future self. Will’s encounter with Michael makes him question the life that he is soon to commit to and their night together proves crucial to this struggle as he is left to choose between carrying on as before, or plunging into the unknown.

 

While it is clear that Will is struggling with internal and external pressures that suppress his sexuality, the film also emphasizes the fact that sexuality is not just black and white. From considerations of gay male stereotypes, to the conflict between passion and companionship, we are reminded that romance has the potential to be fluid. The circumstances of the evening imply that Will is in the closet, however, this becomes skewed by the tenderness with which he talks of his fiancé. His self-denial is ambiguous at times and it is left to the audience to judge making us aware of society’s overbearing dependency on sexual labels.

This is a sensitive depiction of instant attraction and the excitement that comes with it. However, wider social considerations are what gives the film its bite. Layered with the biblical reference to which the title refers, the film expands its scope beyond the physicality of the two leads.

“SLEEPING GIANT”— Three Teens

 

“Sleeping Giant”

Three Teens

Amos Lassen

While spending the summer on the shores of Lake Superior, three teens cope with boredom by testing the limits of their experience. This is director Andrew Cividino’s debut feature and it tells a dark coming-of-age story during a long, hot summer.

We meet redheaded, slight Adam (Jackson Martin), a shy boy from a relatively affluent family who has been coming to the lakeside town every year since he was a kid. He is curious but cautious when slightly younger but more confident Nate (Nick Serino) speaks with his first cousin Riley (Reece Moffett), about failing at school. The two cousins are seemingly from rougher, less privileged backgrounds. Soon horseplay by the shore becomes more aggressive wrestling as if foreshadowing the competitive tests of masculinity to come.

Adam’s father (David Disher), who thinks he is one of the cool dads, later invites Riley to come over for supper with Adam and his mom, yet Nate finds this to be disdainful. that raises disdain from the ever-sarcastic Nate. From what we see, we can assume that neither of the cousins are particularly happy at home and perhaps this is why they are on vacation with their grandmother.

Adam’s family, however, is not made up of contented familial bliss. Riley accidentally sees the father hooking up with a woman who runs the local fish-shop and tells Adam about it who then reacts by displaying poor behavior towards his dad, and then getting more involved with into delinquent mischief with the cousins where there is a supply of marijuana.

The title “Sleeping Giant” refers to an uninhabited island with a fearsome 100-foot cliff that the boys explore first with Adam’s father and then later with their weed dealer, who brags that he’s one of only two people to have ever jumped off the cliff. We can easily guess where this is going. What I found as unique here is the way the cast and filmmakers show the wit and charm of young men as well as the callow cruelty of youth, driven by naïve idealism, solipsism, poor self-esteem and hormones.

We encounter the boys, all in their early teens, play fighting together on a very hot afternoon, and we see the subtly crucial class differences that emerge..

Adam and Riley bond quickly, and it’s not long before Riley tags along, enjoying the material and emotional comforts that are missing from his own home life. As they hang out through the summer, the needling between them escalates in hostility and consequentiality. The platonic nature of Adam and Taylor’s relationship becomes a source of ruthless teasing but Adam deals with this with a mild, impassive mien. He’s the least expressive of the three. The question of his nascent sexual identity is never openly addressed, though some may perceive nervous queer undertones to his gaze. Is defensive attachment to Riley seems to be a chaste kind of crush. Cividino depicts the male power games between the boys with tact and compassionate impartiality. We see that although Adam may be the good boy of the group, he can be a brat.

The boys climb trees and fallen logs, splash around in the water and fight continually for no reason. There are constant tests to see who is the toughest or the bravest, and there’s also arguing and real emotional angst over who is whose best friend and how to balance friendship and lust and gain sexual experience. Emotions run high even if they have to be kept secret. Everything is intense. There aren’t really any responsible adults around to tell them the difference between exciting things that could leave them a bit beaten up and exciting things that could actually kill them. The adults are distracted by their own concerns and so the boys are left to figure it out for themselves.

The film captures the awkwardness of youth with a level of honesty. Adam may be naïve to the ways of Riley and Nate’s world, but that does not mean he deserves our sympathy. He proves that he can be jerk at times. The fact that the three boys each bring a unique complexity to the narrative enhances the film’s appeal. Watching this, we are taken back to our youth and all the awkward moments that come with it.

“”HELLO AGAIN”— Ten Characters

“Hello Again”

Ten Characters

Amos Lassen

Director Tom Gustafson has adapted the 1994 off-Broadway musical, “Hello Again” into a delightful film about ten different characters that are connected through an erotic chain of pansexual trysts spanning 20th century. This a musical daisy chain with a wonderful cast made up of such names as

Martha Plimpton, Cheyenne Jackson, T.R. Knight, Rumer Willis, Jenna Ushkowitz, and Audra McDonald.

This is quite a look at a time that is not far behind us on which music and sex come together to show us the human desire for connection with others and that this connection goes beyond sex and sexual orientation. Stay tuned for more information.

“VIOLET”— Dealing with Grief

“Violet”

Dealing with Grief

Amos Lassen

I do not believe that there is anything more powerful or more complex than grief. To grieve is to be in ahorrible waking and dreaming state in which we respond to loss and this seems beyond all that is. We can feel it and it is probably the heaviest emotional and physical weight anyone can possibly bear and yet, it’s not something we can easily recognize, in others, as well as within ourselves. We think we understand grief but looking at the spectrum of human emotion, we understand that loss and the response to loss is loaded with an importance that is both foundational and fleeting. It seems to me that the existence of grief is tangible and invisible at the same time.

Grief is the subject of “Violet” the debut film by Bas Devos, and it is a film that is delicately beautiful and filled with subtlety. Writer/director Devos uses the power of film imagery and tells much of the story in silence, allowing his cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis to take full command and dictate moods with shots that either or filled with meaning or represent nothingness. “Violet” deals with death in a manner that feels distant for much of the picture, yet the pain of loss comes periodically appears. Devos while trying to remain elusive, has a vision of making sense of personal loss.

Jesse (Cesar De Sutter) is a 15-year-old who spends his regular days at the local mall. He goes into shock when Jonas, his best friend, is stabbed out in the open by another teenager. Jesse is left to deal with the violent situation and is hit with a reality he’s not prepared to deal with. While Jonas’s parents (Koen De Sutter and Fania Sorel) are left to pick up the pieces and to struggle with the loss of their beloved son, Jesse begins his own journey of grief. He is unsure how to process his first encounter with mortality. His friends do their best to provide support, but because of unrest within the group and the local bike culture of which Jesse is a member, causes him to be a target of sorts, enraging some and drawing unwanted attention from others. Jesse’s parents (Mira Helmer and Raf Walschaerts) try to be patient with their child’s need for space, but remain desperate to connect with their son who’s undergoing a tremendous change in his life without even knowing it.

“Violet” a look at grief and it does so through long takes and static shots, to create an atmosphere that will be shaken by tragedy. The opening murder is seen on security screens that are being monitored by a guard. Jonas’s death is captured plainly but indirectly. We are horrified by what we see especially because we have no idea why this happened. Two friends are relaxing at the mall and one is stabbed to death. We do not know anymore than that. There are no details, just the look on Jesse’s face when he realizes that Jonas is dead. Jesse is left to care for his friend before authorities arrive and he becomes covered in blood and left in silence to process just what happened. As I watched this scene, I am sure that my mouth was agape and the hairs on my arm were standing straight up.

We are never prepared for grief and there is no book that tells us how to deal with it. As hard as it is to deal with the death of a youngster, it is also hard to deal with what to say to Jesse. Jonas’s parents are stunned by their son’s death yet they also had to deal with claiming his dead body and disposing of his clothes that are covered with blood. I do not think I will ever be able to forget the look on Jonas’s mother’s face as she does this.

Jesse’s parents are careful so as to not smother him. They so badly want to offer Jesse their love and support as they see him going through dark moods and isolation. Jesse periodically finds relief by necessary distractions such as meals and television. His BMX bicycle friends take Jesse out for a ride around the neighborhood, allowing him time to submerge himself in bike jumping and camaraderie. However, even this too is muddied by mysterious hostilities coming from fellow riders of which one of them shows Jesse shows Jesse the security video, which has made its way online.

Viewers understand that the film is heading for an emotional ending and the road to it is made dark by the cinematography that uses light and detail, as the soundtrack diverts us into dreams and trauma. Director Devos’s film touches on anguish and a concept of mourning that’s different from the usual routine of frustrations and outbursts..

 We witness the violent death of a teenage boy and see body lying in a bloody heap as Jesse slowly approaches as he calls out his friend’s name. “Jonas?” he asks. He wants his friend to answer, but he knows (as we do) that there will be no response. From this, Devos takes us on the haunting journey of this frail adolescent as he makesway through a mourning process that is filled with deep sadness and confusion making the film almost unbearable in its exploration of loss. Presented as a series of single shots, gorgeously composed and lit by cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis, we are constantly in Jesse’s company as he faces confused solace from his parents, spies upon the mother and father of dead Jonas from outside their house, goes BMX riding with his buddies, faces their questioning, their blame and in one extraordinary sequence, drowns himself in a sea of bodies at a concert whilst the music blasts that drains him of the heavy weight of grief, for a fleeting moment.

This is cinematic storytelling in its most powerful, evocative form. Devos uses image to express emotion, but to also evoke it within us. There are indeed images in this film that nobody will ever forget – Jesse riding his bike, grasping the handlebar of his dead pal’s bike as he guides it down the dark, streets at twilight.

Devos’s impressive debut film takes the mourning process and emotional numbness. He understands how hard it is to encompass emotions through words so it is the camera that repeatedly pushes images into the abstract to show the new, unknown terrain Jesse explores in the wake of his friend’s murder.

The aesthetics of the film take precedence over almost everything else (Jesse watching television with his mother or meeting Jonas’ father lead to some surprisingly moving scenes). We get a representation of feelings that comes as close as possible to the way we experience them ourselves. Perhaps the best single world to describe the film is “WOW”!

“THE WOUND”— Harboring a Secret

“THE WOUND” (“INXEBA”)

Harboring a Secret

Amos Lassen

Director Jon Trengrove examines what happens when traditional beliefs and modern life come into conflict in ‘The Wound’. The Xhosa initiation ritual is. a closely guarded secret yet Trengrove takes us into the experience of initiates. This is a look at three men and the relationship that develops undergoing the ceremony. The clashing Xhosa models of masculinity will surprise viewers.

Ukwaluka is a lengthy, tribally rooted rite of passage for male Xhosa teens, begins with their ritual circumcision in the wilderness, and continues through the weeks that the resulting wound takes to heal when the boys are sequestered from society until their manhood is thus proven. The film breaks the ritual’s traditional vow of secrecy.

Xolani (Nakhane Touré), is in his 30s and he is a factory worker. He is also a lonely, closeted homosexual, he mourns the squandered opportunities of his education; the social high point of his year. It is time for an annual return to the site of his initiation, where he administers to new candidates as a  mentor. There, his annual objective is to renew sexual relations with childhood friend Vijami (Bongile Mantsai), a married father of three. Xolani’s routine is upset when he’s assigned to Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini), an assertive, semi-westernized teen from the suburbs of Johannesburg who is forced into Ukwaluka by his wealthy tribesman-made-good father, who deems his son is “too soft.” Kwanda scornfully questions the ritual at every turn and it doesn’t take Xolani long to identify him as secretly gay.

The film is sensitive to the hard taboo that homosexuality remains in black South African culture. Xolani and Kwanda’s mutual recognition brings out more hostile fear rather than friendship. While returning sons are chastised for moving to the city, their masculinity is still measured in terms of material success.

“The Wound” contains many observational details even though this is a reserved but not entirely objective anthropological approach to the ritual. Trengrove briefly contrasts the soulless routine of city life with the elemental call of the wild before the film moves to the remote mountains of South Africa’s Eastern Cape. Xolani is to serve as a caregiver to Kwanda. However, Xolani has an ulterior motive for returning home and that is his reunion with fellow caregiver Vijami. It is clear that Xolani is more emotionally invested in the relationship; we see him looking his lover with devotion and Vijami seems unable to reciprocate that.

Kwanda recognizes the bond between the two men and encourages Xolani to move away and find himself a better life. The quality of the characters is one of the greatest strength of the film. Vijami seems to have built his muscles and personality as a defense against the merest hint of an accusation that he is not a real man. At first, we seem to think that he is the villain of the film by the way he treats but we come to see his softer and vulnerable side to him.

Xolani also gains greater depth as the movie progresses. At first we see him as lonely and without the confidence to deal with his own self-hatred and the expectations of others. The tension of the film comes from these two men.

The ritual brings Xolani and Kwanda together in close proximity and they are filmed in ways that suggest a chance for intimacy. Vijam also watches Kwanda, suggesting that he may have an interest in him. The focus of the film is on the three men but there is also a wider focus on the differences between urban and rural, ancient and modern and wealth and poverty. Kwanda is constantly teased about his privileged lifestyle but he represents a more forward-looking, progressive South Africa. Both the characters and the audience sees that this is an impossible reality.

I see the film as an exploration of masculinity and repressed sexuality as seen by an outsider as he reacts to the South African initiation ritual. There comes the question in the film when once characters asks another if the penis is so important. This is both a rhetorical and sincere question that has no easy answers in the exploration of conflicting notions of masculinity. Trengrove gives us a troubling portrait of the collision between communal and personal identity. Ukwaluka is a Xhosa tradition that separates males from their families for a period of healing, fasting and manhood-proving tests of stamina in the mountains of the Eastern Cape province. However, the film looks at the psychic and emotional damage of the ritual as it looks at the repercussions of a persistent taboo against homosexuality. 

“THE STRANGE ONES”— A Psychological Thriller

“THE STRANGE ONES”

A Psychological Thriller
Amos Lassen

Christopher Radcliff & Lauren Wolkstein’s “The Strange Ones” is a psychological-thriller that explores young male desire and obsession. Dreams of fire and blood haunt Sam (James Freedson-Jackson) as he and Nick (Alex Pettyfer) travel toward a cabin in the woods. Sam’s foreboding stares heighten the anxiety and pervasive feeling of dread as his secrets slowly come to the fore in this suspenseful meditation on dark queer awakening.
Mysterious events surround two travelers as they make their way across a remote American landscape. On the surface all seems fine, but what appears to be a simple vacation soon becomes a dark and complex web of secrets.


The film opens with a series of images that cause us to wonder about the two guys. We see them running from a burning house and then going to a motel themselves in a motel where desk clerk Kelly (Emily Althaus) offers to let them stay for free off-season. It seems that Nick has been giving “some kind of compensation” to Kelly, although looks can be incredibly deceiving as Jeremiah (who?) berates Kelly for trusting Nick, claiming that he is cruel, violent, and gay.
Nick seems to have some kind of special supernatural powers, and he tells his young brother that he can control whatever he’d like with his mind. The film relies heavily on what occurs off-screen so a lot is open to interpretation. This is where things get a bit confusing and I will try to explain without giving anything away.
After fleeing the motel, Nick and Jeremiah find themselves in the woods. There is a gun battle and Jeremiah is found by a colony of children led by Gary (Gene Jones), a kind man at first with some kind of agenda. Jeremiah is taken in by child services and we learn that Jeremiah’s real name is Sam and he is the victim of sexual abuse and in fact may be struggling with his own sexuality. What might have seemed straightforward until now seems to be complex. We have to seal with a web of alternative realities so much that the only subjective person we can trust is Detective Reynolds (Melanie Nicholls-King) or can we?
Even with its narrative obliqueness, this is an engaging, well-made film that masks the absurdity of its various levels and alternative realities. It is well-acted and it takes its subject matter more seriously than it takes its plot. It’s one of those films that captivates in the moment until it all falls apart. Remember Fellini’s “8 1/2”? Everyone said they loved but if you asked what is was about, you got only blank stares as an answer.
Nick asks his younger brother Sam if he is having fun while they are sitting in a lonely roadside diner deep into the night during an early scene. Sam is slow to respond to this surprisingly loaded question since Sam doesn’t know how to feel – the two are running away from something that is unclear and the late night excursion is far less of an escape than an entrapment as we see that both are using the conversation to break free of their own thoughts. Still, while neither Sam nor Nick may be having a good time, the viewer will be mesmerized by this film feature debut that invites the audience to piece together a mystery along with the characters.
The film seduces the viewer by teasing what its about and it intoxicates with splashes of colors that deter the darkness. The directors know exactly how to entice the viewer and keep him charmed.


We see that Nick is determined to get away while Sam is skeptical as they find a place to stay for free and he even jeopardizes their good fortune by asking Kelly, the kindly motel employee who takes them in if she really knows who she’s doing a favor for.
She doesn’t and neither do we and this gives “The Strange Ones” its suspense. By the time we get to know Nick and Sam well enough to be able to surmise what they’re up to, we see that this is more than a conventional thriller about two brothers on the run and the plot begins to twist and turn as clues about the past are provided enigmatically. Sam’s abstract memories gradually come into focus to give shape to the past and say something about his present behavior. Sam feels that he can get swallowed up by the world and Nick hopes to disappear into it. Pettyfer and Freedson-Jackson both hold their own on screen, and the weight of the film is on their shoulders. Freedson-Jackson gives a captivating performance as Sam, having a comprehension of certain things beyond his years but frustrated by his inability to express them maturely. Pettyfer underwent a physical transformation for the part, and instead of being his usual charismatic self becomes somewhat tragic. He is perfect in “The Strange Ones” since looks can be deceiving. The only thing that we can be sure of here is that Wolkstein and Radcliff have done something special here.