Monthly Archives: March 2021

 “NINA WU”— A Webcam Model

 “NINA WU”

A Webcam Model

Amos Lassen

“Nina Wu” is a story of power, control, and the male gaze that looks at Nina, a webcam model, who is forced to compromise her morals and sell her body on screen to land her first big film role. The male gaze has long dominated cinema and here it is clear throughout, with sequences of a silent Nina being frozen again and again in the grip of a man’s camera lens.

Her director is a profile of every “difficult” male genius in the canon, making Nina do whatever brings him results he wants. We understand here  that cinema has historically been a way for men to enact their desires – both on and off screen.

Wu brings depth to her character even with her frequent silence and submission to the men around her. She fights every indignity she faces quietly and realistically. The most depressing thing is she is not mistreated out of malice but simply because the men around her can get away with doing so.

Nina (Ke-Xi Wu) is a country girl who leaves the small-town theatre for the big city lights of Taipei. Struggling for years to secure a role beyond an extra in a short film or commercial, we meet here in her urban apartment as she makes dumpling mix and prepares her routine streaming broadcast, where desperation pays off in the form of love credits.

When her agent contacts her out of the blue for a meaty role, she accept the fact the film is a cheesy period spy romance with a full-frontal nudity scene.

Before she accepts the role,  we see Nina as selfish and shallow and it is hard to feel for her. There is a lot of promise here but I had the feeling that it was by and large unfulfilled.

Nina achieves her long term goal but at a very high price. Her abusive director who engages in physically abusive techniques to get a performance from Nina and at one point she is almost killed when oil barrels on a barge explode, throwing her into the sea. But Nina gets through it and becomes a star. It’s then that she finds herself haunted and taunted by a mysterious young woman (Kimi Hsia) who appears in her dreams and possibly even in her reality. Returning to her hometown, Nina is unable to escape this figure who seems to represent some sort of shame or guilt.

Basically this is a rape-revenge thriller that never offers its heroine a shot of revenge. We get the sense the that Nina is losing her identity as fiction, reality and dreams come together. By the end I wanted to re-watch the film to see if I missed clues throughout.  

“WHITE SHADOW”— An Albino in Tanzania

“WHITE SHADOW”

An Albino in Tanzania

Amos Lassen

 Director Noaz Deshe’s “White Shadow” is a violent, Tanzania-set story about Alias, a young albino male (Hamisi Bazili). He faces the terrible reality of being an albino in Tanzania, where witch doctors pay good money for limbs and organs of human albinos.

Alias is the prey and the hunters are a group of men who sell albino meat and entrails to witch doctors.  In a traumatic early sequence, Alias witnesses the murder of his albino father (Tito D. Ntanga) when a group of men come at night and cut off his limbs so they can sell them. Shot in almost pitch-black darkness, the limited visibility and loud shouting and wailing only give us a sense of horror and dread.

After burying the remains of his father, his mother (Riziki Ally), tells him that he has to leave with a man, Kosmos (James Gayo), who we learn is his uncle. She can’t take care of him alone, and he’s at risk just as his father was. His uncle puts him to work on the heavily trafficked streets of the big city, selling CDs and sunglasses, but Alias is unhappy and finally ends up in a home with other albino children, including Salum (Salum Abdallah), who claims he’s a witch doctor too, though his colleagues keep stealing his clients.

The reappearance of Kosmos, who’s heavily indebted to some local hoodlums who beat him at every occasion, finally puts the hunters back on track for Alias and the film reaches its conclusion.

“Living and Loving in the Age of AIDS: A Memoir” by Derek Frost— Resolving to Survive

Frost, Derek. “Living and Loving in the Age of AIDS: A Memoir”, Watkins Publishing, 2021.

Resolving to Survive

Amos Lassen

Derek is a distinguished designer and J, his husband is an entrepreneur and creator of The Embassy Club, London’s answer to Studio 54, and iconic Heaven, Europe’s largest gay discotheque. They met and fell in love more than 40 years ago. Suddenly their friends began to get sick and die with the AIDS epidemic becoming part of their lives. J tested HIV Positive and the two confronted their personal crisis with courage, humor and resolve to survive. J battled the disease for long years. With J’s illness, Derek turned to spiritual reflection, yoga, nature and love and he went through a transformation  from which came Aids Ark, the charity they founded that helped to save, more than 1,000 HIV Positive lives. In this book, Derek speaks for a generation who lived through a global health crisis that many refused even to acknowledge.

We read about the people Derek and J knew and see how they came together and grew as a couple. They lived lives filled with adventure and travel. with both famous and mundane was wonderful. They always find time to love each other and to be friends. Even though they lived in a monogamous relationship, they still allowed each other to be sexually free. They felt were secure enough in their love for one another that this was caused no issues for them. 

J and Derek suffered many losses to the AIDS pandemic. They watched friends die from the terrible yet preventable disease such a horrible and now preventable disease and this was for me hard, but necessary, to read. Their work via AIDS Ark changed the lives of thousands of people. 

After 27 years as a couple, Derek and J legally became a married couple. The kind of lives they led makes us better understand the losses they felt— they lost so many friends and gay life as they knew seemed to be slipping away.  With J’s health getting better, they felt the need to give something back and help others. By reading about their glamorous lives in the first part of the book, we really feel the impact of AIDS on them. While this a memoir, it is also part history and a love letter to the couple and to those they lost. For me, it is a reminder of how hard it was to fight the disease and ourselves.

 “BOYS ON FILM 21: BEAUTIFUL SECRET”— Short Films

 “BOYS ON FILM 21: BEAUTIFUL SECRET” 

Short Films

Amos Lassen

Featuring the work of  Zachary Ayotte, Jason Bradbury, George Dogaru, Loïc Hobi, Sam Peter Jackson, Theo James Krekis, Joe Morris, Abel Rubinstein, Pierce Hadjincola and Sinclair Suhood,  “Boys on Film 21: Beautiful Secret” now out on DVD, Blu-Ray and On Demand and available on the following digital platforms:   Amazon USA  & Canada, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, BFI Player and  Peccadillo player worldwide.

The films include:

 

MEMOIRS OF A GEEZA (UK, 4 mins) Dir. Theo James Krekis. A top geeza recalls fights, friends and painting his toenails in this collage of childhood souvenirs and surprises. 

 

WE ARE DANCERS (UK, 30 mins) Dir. Joe Morris.  It’s 1933 and Berlin is on fire. As a country reels from a rapidly changing political landscape, outspoken performer Hansi Sturm and his troupe of flamboyant supporters must come to terms with the changing times. MY DAD WORKS THE NIGHT SHIFT (Canada, 14 mins) Dir. Zachary Ayotte Between church choir, Sunday school and swimming practice, fourteen-year-old Felix lusts after older boy Vincent. Despite the threat of a conservative dad breathing down his neck, Felix decides to take the plunge and invites Vincent over to his house.

 

 L’HOMME JETÉE (Switzerland, 21 mins) Dir. Loïc Hobi. Theo is an aimless docker pining for adventure in a remote coastal town. When strapping young sailor Giuseppe washes ashore, Theo musters up the courage to face the waves and escape his dull existence by trying to get into Giuseppe’s gruff crew. 

 

MY SWEET PRINCE (UK, 12 mins) Dir. Jason Bradbury.  Set on the Isle of Wight in 2003, fragments of teenage video diaries collide with the fictional story of 15-year-old Tommy and his search for connection in the advent of the internet age.

 

 DUNGAREES (UK, 5 mins) Dir. Abel Rubinstein.  Blake and Cane hang out, play video games and grapple with their insecurities. This is the spirited love story of a very modern pair of boys and the trousers they call dungarees. 

 

CLOTHES & BLOW (US/UK, 23 mins) Dir. Sam Peter Jackson.  For American voice over artist Daniel, life in London is one long autopilot ride of demanding client calls and awkward Grindr meets. But when his mother decides to visit on a whim, Daniel is forced to re-evaluate how fully and authentically he is living his life. 

 

A NORMAL GUY (Romania, 14 mins) Dir. George Dogaru.  Daniel got lucky tonight: this time he’s not going home alone. But what about his cocky straight brother and meddling girlfriend? Proof if it were needed that hook-ups and hijinks between homos and heteros aren’t so different after all. 

 

PRETTY BOY (Australia, 9 mins) Dirs. Pierce Hadjincola & Sinclar Suhood. Kevin, a closeted teenager growing up in a rural neighbourhood is forced to contend with the troubles of love, family, and his own journey of self-discovery. With the support of his partner and his sister he learns that not everyone in his life will accept him for who he is.  

“THE COLUMNIST”— Getting Away with Murder

“THE COLUMNIST”

Getting Away with Murder

Amos Lassen

Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) who is also known as The Columnist, is a procrastinator. She should be working on her second book but she can’t concentrate because she’s too busy checking Twitter. Femke is distracted by all the negative responses she receives on social media and wastes most of her time killing everyone who calls her a c*nt. Being a serial killer takes up time but in Femke’s case, it is inspiring and it seems that all the good ideas come to her every time she takes it out on someone that wishes her dead.

“The Columnist” is an irreverent comment on online abuse and the line between free speech and hate speech. Femke’s killings are so ridiculous that, often it is easy to believe they come from her imagination. It seems that being a serial killer is as easy as writing an opinion column and if Femke gets away with everything, it is because Internet trolls manage t0 get away with their threats and violent behavior.

The film wastes no time and jumps right into the story with great energy. The subplot regarding Femke’s daughter, who believes the murderer is her mother’s boyfriend seems like a wasted.

Femke has been living with her boyfriend for several months. When explaining to her daughter why she wants her to try to make the situation work, she says that he makes her happy and this sums up a good deal about who she is: a nice, respectably attired middle class woman who writes articles about soft boiled eggs and thinks the world would be a better place if we could all simply make the effort to get along. She’s haunted by snarky comments and lurid descriptions of sexual assault that men post about her on the internet. However, she is quickly running out of calmness and reasonableness.

Words hurt Femke and we, in turn, root for her revenge. Even though she delivers speeches about the awfulness of censorship, she’s ready to enforce her own form of censorship in private.

Ivo van Aart’s film shows that Femke despite her hypocrisy and the risk that she’s killing the wrong people needs our support. Yet, van Aart never makes it easy for her. Even the most unlikeable of her victims has some humanity but Femke shows little concern for her own family. What starts as revenge becomes a hobby, satisfying some other need.

Herbers gives a brilliant performance but there are issues with which she must deal: her daughter is dealing with censorship at school, raising questions around the need for authority and where power should lie. Her boyfriend’s playful approach to being stereotyped, may mean that he’s overlooked vulnerabilities and all of the targeting of individuals does nothing to resolve the deeper problems of a society.

The film makes a contribution to a public conversation which frequently refuses to admit nuance at all. We watch Herbers transform from a woman who is defeated by comments and simply pleading for people to understand that words hurt even when they’re said online, into someone who channels her anger into something sinister.

We get a look into the repercussions that hate spewed online. Filled with dark humor, this is a clever film that shows both sides, where those who torment others from their computers are cowardly and that there is no way to silence them without societal consequence.

“NEUBAU— Coming to Terms with Life

“NEUBAU” (“NEW BUILDING”)

Coming to Terms with Life

Amos Lassen

Markus (Tucké Royale) lives with his two grandmothers Sabine (Monika Zimmering) and Alma (Jalda Rebling) on an Ostrich farm far from the big city life in the Uckermark. He willingly helps them wherever he can but he yearns to leave and start a colorful, more active life in the queer community in Berlin. When Markus falls in love with Duc (Minh Duc Pham), Markus is faced with the question of where and how he would like to shape his future life.

Markus is a trans man whospends the summer jogging to the swimming pond, drinking beer and listening to music. Duc, a television technician, spotted him at the pond but it takes a while for the two men who are watching each other to approach each other. When Alma dies, Markus is faced with the question of whether to stay or go.

“Neubau” directed by Johannes Maria Schmit is set in the northernmost part of the state of Brandenburg and is a post-gay story in which homosexuality and gender identification do not play a primary role. We see urge for self-determination and self-realization and the obligations in conflict with the young man’s ideal future visions. The film is a conciliatory portrait of the main actor and author Tucké Royale’s own past.

In the Uckermark, time moves slowly and stagnation makes for a kind of captivity. Not only Markus feels it, but so do we, the audience. Here is the captivity in the longing to belong and the free development and the queer attitude to life which is part of Berlin is inaccessible. His soul never rests completely and searches for fulfillment. Markus imagination leads him into the colorful life that is missing for him. His love affair with Duc is unspectacular and puts Markus in an awkward position and the decision for Berlin becomes difficult.

Grandma Alma and her friend Sabine have been Markus’ family since childhood. He never met his father and his mother died early and she was never able to find out that her daughter had become a grown son. When Markus visits grandma and Sabine, Sabine needs him more than Alma, who is still half mentally there but drifts away.

When Markus wanders around aimlessly, with a beer bottle in hand, longing for company, he only stands alone in the meadow on the outskirts and see his personal sacrifice. His new friend Duc, who has Vietnamese roots, seems, unlike him, is able to live his idea of ​​home in the provinces.

The film clearly questions whether his new partnership alone can reconcile Markus with the place where he lives in a queer homeland.

“BEYTO”— Love, Self-determination and Freedom

“BEYTO”

Love, Self-determination and Freedom

Amos Lassen

Beyto (Burak Ates) makes his parents proud. He has good grades, does not cause any problems and helps out in his parents’ kebab shop in Switzerland. His great passion is swimming and as long as his education doesn’t suffer, his parents accept it. Beyto’s immigrant family from Central Anatolia makes one thing very clear: their son should have it better than they do themselves. However, this hope is suddenly ruined when Beyto falls in love with his trainer Maik (Dimitri Stapfer).

Even though Beyto is keeps his relationship with Maik a secret from his parents, rumors begin. It becomes clear to his parents that Beyto must be straightened out. They a wedding with Seer (Ecem Aydin), Beyto’s childhood friend and Beyto finds himself in an unexpected triangular relationship and has to decide between freedom or tradition, love or family.

The film looks at the search for identity in exists in tension between two cultures but this is a heavy topic and the dialogue is often too constructed causing us not to get to know the characters well even though the chemistry between the actors is excellent.

“KISS ME KOSHER”— Unlikely Lesbian Lovers

“KISS ME KOSHER”

Unlikely Lesbian Lovers

Amos Lassen

Writer-director Shirel Peleg’s “Kiss Me Kosher” is a vey funny romantic comedy about unlikely lesbian lovers.  Maria (Luise Wolfram) is a reserved German botanist whose earnest parents are about peace and love and  angry about the Holocaust. Shira (Moran Rosenblatt) is an extrovert Israeli with a  supportive but opinionated large family. The film takes place over a week or so in Israel as Maria is introduced to her fiancee’s family. Her parents also arrive.

Both families are completely supportive of their daughters being gay and wanting to marry. The issues come from the prejudices they carry outside of homophobia – whether the Israeli grandma Holocaust survivor (Rivka Michaeli) who wants her daughter to marry an Israeli (while at the same time hides her relationship with an Arab man) or the American Jewish father (John Carroll Lynch) who has the zeal of the convert and wants Maria to convert to Judaism so his grandchild will be Jewish. The German parents are upset about the fact that their soon to be daughter-in-law’s little sister is in the Israeli army because they believe in peace and the two-state solution.

The film never avoids the real prejudices and obstacles facing a young couple who are deeply in love. The fact is that when you marry you also marry the family and no matter how far Shira tries to shelter Maria from the complications, they will always be there and are captured for posterity by her aspiring film-maker kid brother. The question is whether Maria is willing to accept it all even though they are meant for each other.

Shira’s Israeli parents are stereotypes – a mother and a right wing racist father. Her grandmother seems fine on race since she’s having a hidden relationship with a Palestinian doctor after all  but she draws the line of her precious granddaughter having anything to do with a German.

Shira’s younger sister wears an army uniform because it gets her discounts at most museums and her brother is a bit of a joker who follows the couple around with a camera for a film project for school. He is delighted to make a film about lesbians, Jews and the Holocaust.

Maria’s family is liberal, apologetic, and make the mistake of wanting to visit a refugee camp on the second day of their visit. When Maria is able to begin a friendship with a local Palestinian shepherd boy, her parents are able to bring forth the unthinkable.

“Kiss me Kosher” tries to combine comedy with serious discussion, but it often gets the tone wrong. The film is not offensive but it often makes the same mistake of trying to be light hearted where there’s not much to laugh at.

Not everyone is delighted that Shira and Maria are gay, but aside from an Orthodox Jew in an early scene, everyone accepts that this is just how they are. There is also some critique of Israeli settlers, although it does seem that mentioning a Two State Solution may be a little bit too radical.

There is a happy ending. Three couples end up pledging their love despite having shown differently suspicious feelings about marriage earlier in the film. What starts off as a depiction of how difficult families can be ends up seeing no alternative to happy families.

Perhaps the queer romance is meant to enhance the comedic conventions or subvert them, but instead we get an uneasy mix of awkward dialogue consequences that don’t really matter. The film is at its best when exploring how generational differences interfere with modern relationships.

“PLAYDURIZM”— A Black Comedy

“PLAYDURIZM”

A Black Comedy

Amos Lassen

Demir (Gem Deger) wakes up in a fancy apartment with no idea how he got there or who he really is. He just feels he doesn’t belong there and thus wants to leave. He runs into Andrew (Austin Chunn), who claims this is actually Demir’s apartment and he’s Demir’s roommate. He also claims Demir has suffered from amnesia before. Even though it doesn’t sound quite right, Demir accepts Andrew’s explanation because he feels weirdly drawn to Andrew. Andrew’s girlfriend Drew (Issy Stewart) does not agree with Demir’s amnesia-story. She thinks Demir just wants to take her man for himself and once Andrew’s out, she tries to stab Demir. However, during the  struggle she gets hit on the head and is knocked out. That evening, Drew overdoses and dies, which doesn’t bother Andrew too much, and he and Demir hide her body inside the couch. From then on, Andrew tries to fulfill each and every of Demir’s wishes and romance between the two men begins. Demir starts to remember how he got here  and the story is not wonderful.

This is a very strange film bring together black comedy, thriller and horror elements as well as surrealism and the bizarre. The setting feels unreal yet everything works because of a clever screenplay and fine direction.  

 

“EVERYTHING AT ONCE”— Thirty Years Together

“EVERYTHING AT ONCE”

Thirty Years Together

Amos Lassen

Paco and Manolo are two Catalan photographers from the outskirts of Barcelona, who have been together for thirty years. They each have managed to work as a single photographer and have captured their imagery in Kink magazine, a very personal photography fanzine with a Mediterranean homoerotic aesthetic.


Their style involves the use of natural light, abandoned places and simple rooms and they record the sex appeal of the working class through an unprejudiced mix of aesthetics that goes from Caravaggio to Pasolini.They are discreet witnesses of the morbidity and intimacy of those men who contact them (through Social Networks) and desire to be portrayed naked of all prejudice. The clothes come off, the bodies are freed and the souls are captured by the lens of the two photographers.