Monthly Archives: January 2020

“BRIEF STORY FROM THE GREEN PANET” (“Breve historia del planeta verde”)— An Otherworldly Embrace of Tolerance

“BRIEF STORY FROM THE GREEN PANET” (“Breve historia del planeta verde”)

An Otherworldly Embrace of Tolerance

Amos Lassen

Santiago Loza’s low-budget “Brief Story from a Green Planet” is about three Argentine misfits on a self-fortifying alien rescue mission. Tania (Romina Escobar), Daniela (Paula Grinszpan) and Pedro (Luis Soda) as Pedro are our zany characters in this zany and fun film.

it sounds ostentatiously quirky. Headstrong trans woman Tania returns to her childhood home to discover that her late grandmother spent her final years raising a pint-sized alien as a surrogate child, and that the old woman’s dying wish was for the now ailing creature to be returned to where it first appeared on Earth. With friends Pedro and Daniela, Tania sets off across rural Argentina to take the alien to rest.

Writer-director Santiago Loza gives is an enigmatic, melancholy tone. We see the three protagonists moping around their respective apartments, each seemingly afflicted with a severe case of urban alienation. Daniela, is nursing a broken heart. Pedro seems at peace on the dance floor of his local queer club, but uneasy in heteronormative environments. Tania suffers the constant indignity of being objectified and harassed by men she happens to cross paths with.

The three find a reserve of inner strength, and begin to turn the tables on those that oppress them.. In one sequence,  we watch Pedro dances uninhibitedly in a backwater diner, showing his queerness in a macho space. He’s pushed to the ground by a local who makes it clear that such freedom of expression isn’t welcome there. Tania confronts the assailant, who turns out to be a former schoolmate, and, by establishing Pedro and herself as his equals, makes him quickly see his mistake. It seems that their connection to the alien has given them supernatural powers to combat prejudice.

We realize that this strange set-up is a simple plea for tolerance and that those who accept the unfamiliar, in whatever form it may take, have an easier time of it in this world than those who don’t.  As we move toward the film’s climax, we watch our three heroes eradicate a menacing, torch-carrying mob, simply by being a united front. It’s haunting and striking to see.  

As the title already suggests, this film is quite brief indeed, coming in at 70 minutes.  It recently won the prestigious Teddy Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. “Brief Story” uses sci-if elements in s a subtly-stylized film about respecting the other. Here, the word ‘other’ refers to a number of things but most notably to an alien being that the trio is attempting to bring back to its place of origin.

The other significant reference is of course towards the LGBT community as the film looks at what it means to be different in a world that can be hostile to them.  It has its surreal moments, but those are far and few between. “Brief Story”  is strange but that did not stop me from enjoying it. The disjointed nature of the narrative, as well as the uneven tone and style works beautifully.

Each of the characters is damaged but of the three, Pedro seems most at ease with himself, so long as he has the time and space to dance the night away at his local queer club yet forced back into more heteronormative space, he wilts. The first 20 minutes deals with the three in an almost wordless fashion, showing each individual world almost exclusively through music and light. There is a visual quality to the opening that contrasts sharply with what is to come.

After this gentle introduction the peace is broken by a phone call telling Tania that her grandmother has died and she must travel up-country/out of town to settle her affairs. Her friends accompany her and still there is next to no hint of what is to come.

Tania’s grandmother met and befriended an alien  who is now sleeping downstairs in a fridge in the basement. Perhaps they can respect gran’s last wishes by transporting the poor little alien back to where gran found him. What is really going on? It is all very unsettling, because whatever you expected to happen is not going to do so. What follows is every bit as provoking as what you just found out.

We see a lot of the trio just dragging the suitcase up and down highways and through woods and not getting anywhere. They do undergo a series of encounters and adventures that may or may not mean something.

The bigger message is about standing up for what you believe and asserting queer values over the local bigotry and ultimately the three of them seem to achieve something remarkable by the power of words.

This is an intriguing film which, for all its shortcomings, is great fun. Too often it cuts to scenes that don’t flow naturally, consequently disrupting the film’s flow to reset the film’s trajectory. While the alien is only intended to be a catalyst to explore other issues, but with no coherent connections or theme tying these sequences together, we only get a series of bizarre scenes without any sense of deeper meaning.

From a technical standpoint this is a beauty. Lighting, framing and sound are all used to the fullest to create a hypnotic atmosphere.

“DEADLY MANOR”— An Old House and a Maniac

“DEADLY MANOR”

An Old House and a Maniac

Amos Lassen

A group of teenagers find refuge in an old, deserted mansion but soon the members of the group start turning up dead, and the teens realize that they’re not alone in the mansion. Spanish macabre director José Ramón Larraz’s last film has all of the trademarks of classic horror. Going to have fun at a lake, the teens make an unscheduled stop at a remote, seemingly abandoned mansion where they decide to spend the night. However, the place is full of omens— a blood-stained car wreck in the garden, coffins in the basement, scalps in the closet, and photographs of a beautiful but mysterious woman in every corner of the house. Before the sun rises the next day, the group will find the strange and terrifying truth of this dreadful place.

“Deadly Man was released at the end of the 80s in the United States as “Savage Lust” and the director chose to use the pseudonym of Joseph Braunstein. It is finally available for the first time on Blu-ray. The best way to view this film is tongue-in-cheek because of its ridiculous dialogue and the characters’ total lack of sense. The girls all say things like ‘maybe we shouldn’t be here’ and the boys reply ‘chill out, babe, there’s nothing here that can hurt us…’

There  are a few scary shots thrown in. A bloody carving knife is wielded by a woman whose torso is covered by a giant porcelain mask. Her hair turns red and curly and her right eye milks over when she’s visited by a pack of rabid bikers. She seizes a terrified lady by the arm and shrieks with the agonized rage. Yet I found the film to be totally entertaining.

“Deadly Manor” is a brutal act of violence against the film’s audience. The beginning is promising. A metal-head hitches a ride from a truck hauling a massive statue. The rider meets six teens on their way to Lake Wakapanopee. At sunset, the teens pull off to the mansion, where a demolished Cadillac is propped up between marble columns. The back seat is stained with blood and holds dry bouquets and scattered photos of a woman. (I would have fled already). This is followed by 60 minutes of a slashless sexual slasher film.

The kids find an album filled with pictures of cadavers, then decide to roast hot dogs in the fireplace. They discover a hidden closet filled with human scalps in mason jars. Once in a great while, one of the teens is quietly murdered off-screen. There is no tension, violence or human flesh.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

  Original uncompressed mono audio

  Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

  Brand new audio commentary with Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan

  Newly-filmed interview with actress Jennifer Delora

  Making a Killing – a newly-filmed interview with producer Brian Smedley-Aston

  Extract from an archival interview with Jose Larraz

  Original Savage Lust VHS trailer

  Image Gallery

  Original Script and Shooting Schedule (BD-ROM content)

  Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabalais (TO BE REVEALED)

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author John Martin

“KILL THE MONSTERS”— Traveling Across America

“KILL THE MONSTERS”

Traveling Across America

Amos Lassen

Ryan Lonergan’s “Kill the Monsters” is Patrick (Lonergan), Frankie (Jack Ball) and Sutton (Garrett McKechnie), a triad of adventurers who, when one of them becomes ill, the two others decide to head west in search of new adventures and holistic treatment. As they travel, they revisit key points in the history of this country.  

Frankie (Jack Ball) becomes mysteriously ill and his partners  Patrick and Sutton agree to go west to fid seek holistic treatment. Frankie had been stuck in a dead-end job and becomes ill with a mysterious ailment. His partner Patrick is practical and suffocating and Sutton is fun and careless. Yet the three love each other very much. They believe that the only way to cure Frankie is go across the country and find a doctor that will cure Frankie of the way he feels.  

 The film opens with a Benjamin Franklin’s quote,  “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch” and we learn later that this film  He later explains that the film is an allegory of American Democracy and is structured in chapters named after key points in American history. As they travel, the three argue, separate and come back together.  They never miss an opportunity to sell their relationship arrangement to all that come along.  

The black and white cinematography is gorgeous with its American landscapes backed by wonderful classical melodies. This allegorical comedy is replete with fun and witty dialogue. We see what love is all about and that it is like American politics, multi-faceted and multi-layered. This is a film filled with romance and eroticism as we see the high and low points of some of America’s history. I found the way Patrick and Shannon seemed to both want to gain more of Frankie’s affection to represent how the right and left joust for power. There is a raunchiness to what we see with the guys’ desires , jealousies, highs and lows portrayed honestly and freshly and the fact that the trio approaches life with abandon so do we find ourselves wishing  to be able to do the same.

The performances are excellent all around and we sense the  chemistry between the three man even as each seeks his place in today’s world. Everything is totally real and believable. I believe that we will be seeing a great deal more of Ryan Lonergan as an actor and as a writer-director.

THE BLUE FLOWER OF NOVALIS (“A rosa azul de Novalis”)—  A SAO PAULO LIFE

THE BLUE FLOWER OF NOVALIS (“A rosa azul de Novalis”) 

A SAO PAULO LIFE

Amos Lassen

“The Blue Flower of Novalis” begins with a closeup on its subject’s private parts (being polite here) and it is hard to separate the pornography from its conversational approach to its subject, Marcelo Diorio. This documentary integrates the most mundane and unconventional elements of this São Paulo resident’s life and beliefs to create an unforgettable and explicit portrait.

The lens is trained tight on Diorio as he shares his physical and emotional self in direct conversation with those behind the camera. Surreal re-enactments occasionally break this structure and the unintentional comedy se sometimes distracts but Diorio’s commitment to the form.

Diorio commands the camera’s gaze and is in control of his narrative. Most of his anecdotes and beliefs are expressed with complete self-assurance and faith. No facet of Diorio’s life is off limits. He speaks about incest, death, family, faith, and his HIV diagnosis.  He is nonchalant as he shares his fears and disappointments about living up to his homophobic family’s expectations. His charisma and candor can only keep our attention for so long. The last 20 minutes of the film become pornography and a shocking yet sensitive exploration of Diorio’s sexuality, spirituality, and reconciliation of the two.

“The Blue Flower of Novalis”  uses provocation to provide narrative momentum making this a film  that is not for everyone. Yet even with its structural flaws, it is an empathetic, non-judgmental portrait of a man disregarding taboos and mores in his search for truth.

“The asshole needs to be urgently introduced into the social and political realm,” reads the closing line of Gustavo Vinagre  and Rodrigo Carneiro’s directors’ statement about the film. It opens with an extreme closeup of the asshole and it is framed at a disorienting angle, swelling and contracting as if it were breathing.  We then hear verse recited from off-screen and then the film cuts to a full shot of a naked man  in a yoga plough pose, reading from a collection of Hilda Hilst poems with his rear pointing upwards. Marcelo, the poetry-reading yogi, is a co-author of the film and we never know if what we see is staged or spontaneous.

There are moments that totally depart from reality, such as when Marcelo talks about his brother’s death, the camera shows a funeral happening on the other side of his apartment, with four grieving family members gathered around the brother’s casket. Marcelo joins them and (his voice digitally made to reverberate as if he were speaking inside a church), says that in their youth he and his brother had an incestuous relationship. When the film then returns to him sitting exactly as he was before the camera went to the funeral, it is implied that the scene was in Marcelo’s head and we’re not sure of how much of his revelation was genuine and how much was just part of a performance.

We see that Marcelo has used performing as a means of survival in real life as well. He is intelligent and well read. He gets inspiration and solace from his cultural idols including  Novalis, Georges Bataille, Nina Simone, Maria Callas, Franz Kafka and uses that inspiration to deal with the intolerance he deals with as a queer HIV-positive man who grew up in a homophobic family. By giving him mastery over his own narrative, the film does not see him as a victim.

The opening shot offers an illustration of the invasive nature of cinéma vérité that is outrageous and extremely powerful.

“All the Horrors of War: A Jewish Girl, a British Doctor, and the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen” by Bernice Lerner— Fighting for Life

Lerner, Bernice. “All the Horrors of War: A Jewish Girl, a British Doctor, and the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen”, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020.

Fighting for Life

Amos Lassen

Rachel Genuth, a poor Jewish teenager from the Hungarian provinces, and Hugh Llewelyn Glyn Hughes, a high-ranking military doctor in the British Second Army, meet in Bergen-Belsen, where she fights for her life and the doctor struggles to save thousands on the brink of death.

On April 15, 1945, Brigadier H. L. Glyn Hughes entered Bergen-Belsen for the first time. What he found were 10,000 unburied, putrefying corpses and 60,000 living prisoners who were starving and sick. One month earlier, 15-year-old Rachel Genuth came to Bergen-Belsen; with her family from Sighet, Transylvania, In May of 1944, Rachel had by then already endured Auschwitz, the Christianstadt labor camp, and a forced march through the Sudetenland. Bernice Lerner’s “All the Horrors of War” follows both Hughes and Genuth as they move across Europe toward Bergen-Belsen in the brutal last year of World War II. 

The book begins at the end with Hughes’s testimony at the September 1945 trial of Josef Kramer, commandant of Bergen-Belsen, along with forty-four SS (Schutzstaffel) members and guards. “I have been a doctor for thirty years and seen all the horrors of war,” Hughes said that he had been a doctor for thirty years and has never seen anything like what he saw at Bergen-Belsen. We  then go back to the spring of 1944 and follow both Hughes and Rachel as they deal with their respective forms of wartime hell until they are forced to confront the worst which included Christianstadt’s prisoners, including Rachel, are deposited in Bergen-Belsen, and the British Second Army, having finally gained control of ghastly camp after a negotiated surrender. Though they never met, it was Hughes’s commitment to helping as many prisoners as possible that saved Rachel’s life. 

Using many sources, including Hughes’s papers, war diaries, oral histories, and interviews unites scholarly research with narrative storytelling to disturb the suffering of Nazi victims, the horrible presence of death at Bergen-Belsen, and characters who represent and symbolize the human capacity for fortitude. Lerner who is Rachel’s daughter, has special insight into what her mother suffered. This is first book to bring together the story of a Holocaust victim and a liberator allowing us to see the complex humanity of both.

We feel the traumatization of the liberator as well as that of the survivor in two fascinating and original stories.  

Lerner humanizes an event that is often described only from one perspective: either that of the liberators, “for whom the survivors were often dehumanized ‘living skeletons’ because of their deplorable living conditions”, or that of the survivors, “for whom the liberators were angels of mercy descended from heaven after months and years of utter dehumanization by their tormentors.”

The narrative takes us into the depths alongside its central characters and gives us the strength of their respective forms of courage and generosity that allows us to rise from it. The research is staggering.

We see how luck, courage, and factors outside her mother’s control allowed Rachel to survive. The story of two people who never met is Lerner’s way of documenting  “the ways World War II made allies of strangers and transformed forever the lives of those caught in the maelstrom.”

 

“16 BARS”— In Prison

“16 BARS”

In Prison

Amos Lassen

 “16 BARS”, directed by Sam Bathrick, gives us a rare look at the human stories and songs that are locked away with prisoners in America’s jails and prisons. The documentary explores a unique rehabilitation effort in a Virginia jail that encourages inmates to write and record their own original music. We go into the jail’s makeshift recording studio and meet four men collaborating to produce an album with Grammy-winner Todd Speech Thomas of Arrested Development. As we watch the creative process, these incarcerated artists must face the traumas of their past, and music becomes one key to unlocking a new chapter in their lives.

Two-time Grammy-winner Speech Thomas is considered to be one of the godfathers of conscious hip-hop. His band Arrested Development’s 1993 debut album “3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of…” went quadruple platinum and established an Afrocentric alternative to gangster rap that was commercially viable. Some 25 years later, Speech continues to tour with his band and seek out opportunities to use music to address issues of social and racial justice. In 2017, he went to the Richmond City Jail, where he conducted music workshops with inmates. He wanted to shed light on the complex issues in our criminal justice system by bringing the voices and stories of incarcerated people to a larger audience.

The jail in Richmond Virginia houses those awaiting trials and sentencing. It seems to have  a revolving door of inmates throughout a year. “16 Bars” concentrates on the lives of four inmates there. 

Many jails house those who are becoming all too familiar and through investigating this reality, “16 Bars” shows us why. We look at the stories and themes that have seen black men thrown into incarceration for severe drug abuse. Speech came to Richmond jail after hearing about a rehabilitation program implemented there that gives the inmates access to a recording studio. He begins recording and producing their lyrics into songs which sees the men express themselves in ways they would have been otherwise incapable of. After allowing the prisoners a brief embrace with their inner turmoil, the men then share how they turn from the past to embrace the future.  Some find it easy to live on the outside after being locked up. Others see no other way of living other than how they lived before. When one faces abuse as a child, it is almost impossible to control oneself no matter how hard it is to so and the odds are already stacked. That’s what the men we meet here deal with. In leaving, they back to the circumstances that saw them become who they were when arrested, and they re-offend. 

The program attempts to change that. It’s a process of strengthening will and expression so that they can transcend their past sins. The men we follow genuinely believe in it for a time. 

Repeat offender Garland is hanging on for one final chance to be with his girlfriend and turn his life around. De’vonte, the youngest of the four followed his mother and became a dealer. Anthony saw his mother abused and then watched her lie to the police about how it happened. He faced abuse himself not long after and is a violent man as a result; he relapses more than any of them. Teddy, who when we meet him first has been out for four days. He saw a man killed right in front of him in his youth while trying to buy drugs. At 15 he developed an addiction to crack and pain pills so that he could deal with the things he’d seen. Garland may be the only real criminal, and he takes legitimate steps to reform. The other three didn’t choose crime; they had it thrust upon them by circumstances out of their control. 

They have broken the law and each of them admit that they have endangered other people’s lives. Speech believes in redemption, “with everybody, with anybody, no matter what they’ve done”. 

Bonus features include: Three or four music videos, for ‘Inspire,’ ‘Lost One’, ‘Freedom Wind’ and ‘Lost One’.

“1 VERSUS 100”— Meet Malia

“1 VERSUS 100”

Meet Malia

Amos Lassen

Every once in a while I see a movie that is almost impossible for me to review— for whatever reason. Bruno Kohfield-Galeano’s “1 Versus 100” is one such film. It stars Anna McClean, Nancy Nezbit, Charla Cochran and Walter Mecham who all give outstanding performances.

When Larry (Mecham), a powerful attorney, finds out his teenage daughter, Malia (McClean) is gay, he kicks her out for good. She is forced to live with her girlfriend, Lian (Nezbit), as she pieces her life back together. Five years later, Larry is found dead under suspicious circumstances and this brings Malia to end her exotic dancing career. On her last shift she meets Ben, an adult film producer who tempts her to star in an adult movie. Malia is then involved in a car crash that leaves her unable to work for months. Now broke and facing eviction, Malia decides to star in the adult film as the police are cornering in on her mother Susan for the murder of Larry.

What makes this film so special are the emptions we feel while watching. This is not a film that it is possible to just walk away from it. It has stayed with me for some two weeks and I am sure that I will be thinking about it for a very long time. Rather than risk writing a spoiler, I choose to not say anymore. I urge you to see and draw your own conclusions.

“Finna” by Nino Capri— The Horrors of the Multiverse

Cipri, Nino. “Finna”, TOR.COM, 2020.

The Horrors of the Multiverse

Amos Lassen

Nino Cipri’s “Finna” brings together all the horrors the multiverse has to offer with what is terrible about  low-wage work. We see this as “Finna” looks at “queer relationships and queer feelings, capitalism and accountability, labor and love, all with a bouncing sense of humor and a commitment to the strange.”

An elderly customer at a Swedish big box furniture store slips through a portal to another dimension and this causes two minimum-wage employees to track her across the multiverse and protect their company’s bottom line. The two workers just broke up a week ago.

To find the missing granny, Ava and Jules will brave carnivorous furniture, swarms of identical furniture spokespeople, and the deep resentment simmering between them. Can friendship blossom from the ashes of their relationship? In infinite dimensions, all things are possible.

The novel has the length of a novella yet it is very powerful. Because it is so short, I am sure that each word was carefully chosen. We are pulled into the story on the first page and then held captive by the plot and the wonderful prose. Writer Cipro gives us a plot filled with twists work that are both fun and filled with fear as well as a look at old fashioned anti-capitalism. 

Ava and Jules are recent exes, who continue to work together at the same Swedish big-box store. At their dead-end jobs, they spend the day trying to avoid each other as awkward as that is. Each of them is stuck in the things they said and did wrong. Then an old lady goes missing at the store and as the most junior employees, Ava and Jules are assigned to go look for her. As they do, they find a corporate wormhole that brings them across universes. 

“Finna” looks at corporate culture and how much we buy into capitalism. We all know who have taken dead-end jobs and ended up stuck in them. They are unable to see a way out. Quitting is not a viable financial option so they stay at the job, not having  the energy to apply for anything new.
Ava and Jules float through a few worlds as they search to find the missing woman. There’s something of the furniture store in each world, but how we see that is different for each young worker. We get glimpses of the familiar but just enough to make everything very strange. 

The relationship between Ava and Jules is raw and real, like knowing that you still love someone but know that the two of you would make a totally terrible couple and you have to find a way to live without the person in your life. Since they are  co-workers, there are complications since it’s one thing to break up and then never see each other again, but another when you potentially have to see each other every day. Even as they travel through worlds, they try to understand each other out and if they can be just friends. For all the traveling and alternate humanities presented, “Finna” is a very human and a very real story. While it is a quick read, it takes time to reflect upon it.

It mixes a lot of things together but quite basically, it is a story about what we can and can’t escape from capitalism and accountability, labor and love.

“I WAS NOT BORN A MISTAKE”— Meet Yiscah Smith

“I WAS NOT BORN A MISTAKE”

Meet Yiscah Smith

Amos Lassen

·Yiscah Smith was living as an ultra-Orthodox married man with six children and deep ties in the community before coming out as a gay man and leaving Israel. Once she was back in the United States, Yiscah come out as trans, underwent gender transition and took her current name. It took twenty years for Yiscah to return to Israel, where she became a religious educator and spiritual mentor. The film shows her incredible journey to self-acceptance, compassion, and, finally, to her home in Israel. It alternates between past and present, where she helps clients on their own paths of awareness and self-discovery.

This is probably one of the most intriguing transition stories we have ever seen.  Born in a devout Observant Jewish family in Brooklyn as Yakov Smith, he was picked on and bullied for being effeminate.  As he grew into a teenager and young man, he became increasing desperate to fit in with society.

By the time the he was 24 in 1971, he was  totally immersed in the Chabad Hasidic movement in Brooklyn, and was then married an Orthodox woman. They had three sons and three daughters, and in 1985 they decided  to immigrate to Israel.

Where Smith taught at a synagogue in Jerusalem, he was considered a rising star and was made chairman in the Chabad house where he was in charge of Shabbat and entertained guests from around the globe. Everything seemed great on the outside but all the while, Smith did not questioning their own identity.  But after a Shabbat dinner, a guest drew Smith to aside and told him that he could see through his act.

This is what brought Smith to take s good look at life and he decided to come out as gay with the result that  his wife started divorce proceedings.  This also led to Smith being fired and shunned by his community. This eventually caused him to return to New York alone.

In New York, Smith  led a secular life and ending up in California, working at Starbucks and living with a boyfriend.  The relationship ended when the boyfriend said that Smith was too much like a woman. This was an important moment.

Becoming Yiscah Smith did not men just undergoing gender reassignment surgery but also finding her faith again and  coming back to Orthodox Judaism. After having a brief relationship with a man from Texas man and coming to terms with her estranged mother, Smith returned to re-settle in Israel and has been successful as an educator, spiritual advisor  and speaker in the “post-denominational Jewish experience.  She is confident and happy and even while knowing and reluctantly accepting that only 2 of her 6 children will speak with her and then, occasionally.  We see Smith as a woman who usually overthinks things and some of her decisions are still surprising.

She does not  accept that she is a trans woman and demands that she has always been a straight woman who is attracted to men.  She firmly believes this and when questioned about she is quick to dismisses her involvement with any transgender community. With Smith, the real transition is finding her way back to Judaism and her religion is the one and only identity that accepts her with unquestioning faith.

“I Was Not Born A Mistake” is the directorial debut of Israeli filmmakers Eyal Ben Moshe and Rachel Rusinek. I would have liked a few more interviews/comments from people who had shared parts of Smith’s life.  Nonetheless, this is an important film that makes valuable contributions to the dialogue about the transgender community.

“YOU’LL NEVER BE ALONE”— Father and Son

“YOU’LL NEVER BE ALONE”

Father and Son

Amos Lassen

Based on a true story, Pablo (Andrew Bargstead) is a gay teenager just finding his way in the world. He loves drag and sex, but doesn’t seem to have many other goals. His father, Juan (Sergio Hernández), can’t understand what is going on with his son. He’s always believed that in working hard and applying oneself, success will come and a responsible person will be the result.

After years of planning and trying, Juan hopes to invest in the company he’s been employed by for the past 25 years, and become a partner in the business and will finally be independent. But then Pablo is horrifically beaten in a homophobic attack and may not survive. Juan becomes caught in the bureaucracy of the healthcare system, which means that even with insurance, he’s expected to pay exorbitant sums for his son’s care. The police are indifferent about bringing the attackers to justice and Juan’s dreams for financial security are in jeopardy thus placing everything he has always believed into question.

Juan is a man who’s fully signed up to the dream of both what his life could be, and how his country is there to support him. However, he never expected to have a gay son, and after the attack everything he believed is true starts to fall apart.

The attack on Pablo is lengthy, brutal and  difficult to watch. Then, there are moments when the film deals with the bureaucracy of Chilean society and Juan’s optimism is gradually broken. However, pulling these things together is problematic making the film feel a little disjointed and this disrupts the pacing.

The beginning the movie is mostly about Pablo and his life of clubs, drag, sex (there are a couple of pretty hot sex scenes) and his friends. However, after the attack, we hardly ever see him again. The film does this, I presume, so we care about him and when he is beaten it has more power, but because it’s spent relatively little time introducing us to Juan, it feels like an abrupt shift when this suddenly becomes his story. This happens several times, as if the director has spent a lot of time thinking about what is important about the various sections of the movie, but not what can hold them all together.

 There is anger and emotion in this look at how the fallout of homophobia sells people an idea of life that may not be achievable. We get an interesting take on a Chilean LGBT story set in Santiago, where director Alex Anwandter was born. The film shows two different worlds colliding. Against the beautiful world which Pablo creates, the film’s outer world seems drab, and this seems to be an impression that is very skillfully crafted by the director. In contrast to Pablo’s bedroom, the film’s settings seem carefully chosen for their pale qualities and straight-forward layouts.

This overhanging theme of an almost perfect normality is reinforced by Pablo’s father deep investment in the world of a mannequin factory, where we he oversees others as they try to create a supposedly perfect body shape and skin tone. It is against this backdrop that we see Pablo furtively playing with one of his closeted neighbors Felix. It is intense playing. Sexuality almost always comes in snatched, fragmented flashbacks in the film, making it never fully clear if what we’re seeing is just the return of fond, silenced memories or actually an on-going act of supposed transgression. The look at the gay experience in Chile isn’t as clichéd as some of this might make it sound.

We don’t see a gay son shunned by overly Catholic parents — Pablo’s mother seems strangely absent throughout this film — and this is not just another movie about a man who comes out by being overly flamboyant. The relationship between Pablo and his father Juan is complex and seems to position himself somewhere between willful ignorance and genuine despair at not knowing how to relate to his son.

The film is about much more than just a family split across a hetero/homosexual divide. These two generations both represent very specific sides to Chilean society, with Pablo being a doubter who struggles with modern Chile, whilst Juan is one of the old guard who is part of the capitalist dream. This doesn’t stop them from loving each other though, and the message that their connection can exist across a sexual and generational divide is clear even if Juan’s nature does sometimes cause him to be seen as distant.

It is only when Pablo’s world collides with the machismo of  three other young boys in the neighborhood that issues really arise. These moments arrive with an unforgiving flourish of violence.

Anwandter was loosely inspired to make this film by a horrific attack that shocked much of South America in 2012. This terrible incident saw an openly gay Chilean man be assaulted by a group of neo-Nazis, and that is sadly not far from what we brutally see and hear in this film.

Sergio Hernández’s performance  after the awful attack shows real talent as he slowly transforms into a bumbling figure of rage who seems to be betrayed at every turn. He is let down legally, medically, romantically and professionally as he tries to do right by his son, and is left facing some terrible choices. It is only then in the final minutes of this film that we understand the true significance of this film’s title.