“JERMAL”—A Father, A Son, and the Isolation of a Malaccan Fishing Platform

“Jermal”

A Father, A Son, and the Isolation of a Malaccan Fishing Platform

Amos Lassen

Jaya  just lost his mother and is immediately sent to the only member of his family who is alive, his father, Johar. Johar works in the restricted and remote area of the jermal where hard labor and isolation are the daily routine. A dark past hovers over Johar that forbids him to return to land. Exactly 12 years ago, Johar learnt that his wife was unfaithful, and so assaulted the man she was having an affair with and left him for dead. Johar will be arrested if he ever returns to land. Jaya arrives on the jermal by boat only to be immediately rejected by Johar who is shocked go learn that Jaya is his son. Fully aware that he cannot return to land to bring the boy back, Johar is forced to accept Jaya as a worker on the jermal.

Coming to terms with the news, both man and boy don’t know how to manage their newly found situation. Jaya tries to blend into the crowd of other boys on the jermal, but fitting in is difficult. With his boyish looks and schoolboy demeanor, he is a visible and direct contrast to the hard working boys. Jaya spends the day working hard and adjusting to the harsh and new environment while secretly desiring the approval of his father. Instead, Johar completely denies that he has a son, even when provoked by his friend, the cook, Bandi. The situation is further aggravated by the boys who taunt and bully Jaya to no end.

Jaya can’t seem to adjust quickly enough to his new environment, and Johar is no help. By denying the fact that he has a son, Johar destroys Jaya’s expectation of ever finding the place he has hoped and longed for. Feeling dejected, Jaya attempts to escape, but fails. He is brought back to the jermal and is punished. The boys are taken aback by Jaya’s bold move and gains a little bit more respect from them. The film explores a classic theme but it is given a unique twist by its setting: an isolated fishing platform, or jermal, in the middle of the Malacca Straits off North Sumatra.

The central character is Jaya (Iqbal S. Manurung) who is sent to the jermal to be with his father Johar (Didi Petet), a uncommunicative and solitary figure with a past he is determined to reject. Snubbed by his father, Jaya is left to fend for himself in a tough new environment that transforms him from a naïve schoolboy into a hardened survivor.

A jermal is a great location for a film and not just aesthetically. The possibilities of it being in the middle of the seas gives it the this context of isolation. Director Ravi Bharwani developed the story together with Rayya Makarim in a scriptwriting workshop. This is a very visual film and it explores the irony in the relationship between Jaya and Johar. Johar is this person who can talk, he can express himself but he doesn’t say a word, he’s quiet, everything is closed up. Whereas Bandi, who cannot talk, is expressive and we see that someone who cannot talk is actually expressing more than somebody who can.

Ideas of adulthood and childhood/acceptance and rejection are explored here. We learn that despite receiving many letters from Jaya’s mother about his son, Johar has never opened them and has had no knowledge of a son. He greets the news in the manner of a teenager, essentially refusing to have anything to do with the youngster. But because of his past, he can’t allow Jaya to leave and so he sets him to work among the other kids on the platform. The situation is reminiscent of Charles Dickens with the kids essentially free-range. Jaya knows that he must adapt quickly to survive. Initially he is rejected by the kids as well as his father, so he has to sleep out on the deck, but he quickly learns to live on his wits and it isn’t long before he is winning friends and making the sort of adult choices as regards rights and responsibilities that his father shies away from. As he becomes more adult in his thinking, Johar finds he has a lot of growing up to do as well.

Emotions run high throughout the film, but the action never feels histrionic and the flashes of cruelty are offset. I should note that none of the youngsters including Jaya have been trained to act and this makes it all the more realistic.

“G O’CLOCK”— Chemsex

“G O’Clock”

Chemsex

Amos Lassen

Mitchell Marion’s “G O’Clock” is about Alex, a paramedic who saves lives on London’s gay chemsex scene. A couple of weeks after he is called out to save the life of a young man who’s overdosed on GHB. Alex heads off to a gay orgy, where he hopes to relax and have fun. There he meets the group of boys he’d helped before and starts to chat to Nik, a sexy young Spanish boy. They take GHB and other drugs together and Alex soon discovers that just because he’s a paramedic doesn’t mean that he and those around him are immune from the dangers of narcotics.

This eleven-minute short is very sexy and full of hot guys in states of undress. We see that t when it comes to drugs, a lot of people like to think they’ve got it under control and that others take it too far. However, that is an illusion. What starts as sexy takes a disturbing turn as it reveals the danger and vulnerability that drugs can lead to.

“ENTRE NOS”— An Immigrant Story

“ENTRE NOS”

An Immigrant Story

Amos Lassen

The social drama “Entre Nos” (“Between US”) chronicles the hardships endured by a Colombian immigrant and her two children. Co-written and co-directed by Paola Mendoza and Gloria LaMorte, “Entre Nos” is based on Mendoza’s early experiences when she, her mother and brother, shortly after arriving from Colombia, became homeless and were forced to scavenge for food and shelter in New York City.

Mendoza plays her own mother Mariana who follows her husband Antonio (Andres Munar) from their native country to Queens, New York. Soon afterwards, Antonio abandons her and their two children, Gabriel (Sebastian Villada), 10, and Andrea (Laura Montana), 6.

The undocumented Mariana tries to stay afloat by selling homemade empanadas and collecting recyclables. However, the descent into homelessness feels almost inevitable. As if that is not enough, she is pregnant. She and her children live on a park bench one night and under sheets of cardboard on another and whenever there is enough money, they go to a fleabag motel, shelter the three. Eventually, Mariana finds a modest apartment in a South Asian neighborhood and a few more odd jobs for herself and the children. Fortunately, the trio are treated with kindness by Preet (Sarita Choudhury), the woman who manages the building.

The family’s precarious situation demands that Mariana abort her child and this is a painful decision, emotionally (for a devout Catholic) and physically. What might surprise the viewer is the amount of heart in this film. In fact, it is a charming and sincere bond among its three leads that propels the film. They have talent, ingenuity, courage and dignity. The family learned to smile through the tears, and as they dealt with heartache. Their story was not unique. Thousands of immigrant mothers, for hundreds of years, have endured problems when trying adapt to their new immigration in the USA. Mothers overcome the problems in order to build the foundation for a better life for their children.

In the movie’s postscript, we learn that the real Mariana, Gabriel and Andrea succeeded in building better lives for themselves. Perhaps this helps explains why the film at times pulls its punches. However, the reality is that, unlike Mariana and her children, the vast majority of immigrants in America never escape poverty.

Directors Mendoza and LaMorte focus on the individual qualities of their protagonists, including the weaknesses of figures such as Antonio, Mariana’s husband—who is also a victim of the social circumstances. Overall, the film looks at the lives of the poor and disenfranchised, and in the process, touches upon the human cost of the government’s cruel vendetta against immigrants.

“Entre Nos” only suggests the brutal rigors of the immigrant experience but it’s good to be reminded that striving newcomers have long strengthened this country.

“MCKELLEN: PLAYING THE PART”— A New Documentary

“MCKELLEN: PLAYING THE PART”

A New Documentary

Amos Lassen

The trailer and poster for the documentary “McKellen: Playing The Part” have been released for the film that takes a close look at the life of the Ian McKellen. The film will premiere in the UK (and Scandinavia) on Sunday 27 May at 3pm at cinemas across the country, with the screening followed by a live Q&A with Ian McKellen, hosted by Graham Norton at London’s BFI Southbank. The film was built around a 14-hour interview. We learn about McKellen’s story from his upbringing living through the war, working through repertory and West End theatre, becoming a pioneering stage star, coming out and being a leader in the campaign for equality, to his mainstream film breakouts as Magneto and Gandalf. His work and influence transcends generations and are celebrated here in this fully authorized insight.

“McKellen: Playing the Part” features unprecedented access to private photo albums, a wealth of never-before-seen archive material, including diaries written when he was 12, and unseen behind the scenes of theatre shows and films, alongside his personal thoughts on a life long lived. The film also features dramatic recreations starring Luke Evans, Frances Barber, Adam Brown, Scott Chambers, Milo Parker and Edward Petherbridge.

More info about the cinemas that will be screening the event can be found at mckellenfilm.com.

“MY LIFE WITH JAMES DEAN”— A French Comedy

“My Life With James Dean”

A French Comedy

Amos Lassen

“My Life With James Dean” is the story of filmmaker Géraud Champreux (Johnny Rasse) who has been invited to a small Northern seaside town of Le Tréport in the Normandy region of France by the local film curator to screen his latest indie film.  His trip gets off to a bad start when a young boy steals his cell phone and his host Sylvie van Rood (Nathalie Richard) is missing and the only two employees at the cinema claim to know nothing about the special screening.

Géraud checks into the local hotel and he is relieved to find out that they are expecting him, although getting the rather eccentric receptionist to help is not easy.

Back at the cinema, the film has been found and the screening goes ahead playing to an audience of just one little old lady.  What she thinks of the very explicit gay film that Géraud has made is never made as to why they are showing such a graphic film in this provincial place.

Next morning Madame van den Rood appears and is apologetic. It seems that her roller-coast love life with her girlfriend took a turn for the worse. Meanwhile, Balthazar (Mickael Pelissier) the very young cinema projectionist who Géraud had spoken with briefly has declared his undying love for the filmmaker.

Life gets even more complicated when the star of the  film also turns up to explain that his relationship with Géraud is definitely over at about the same time, Géraud learns that Balthazar is jail bait, plus the little old lady who has been seeing the movie every night, is none other than Géraud’s estranged mother. Can it get any crazier?

While the plot is both crazy and silly but it has a wonderful level of warmth throughout that makes it such a pleasure to watch. Writer/director Dominique Choisy’s film is irresistibly bizarre, at times dizzyingly romantic and erotic and at other times intense. It is also a love letter to independent cinema in France n that it is a rare film whose constant twists and turns genuinely surprise and grip you – sometimes in laughter and sometimes by the throat – up until the very last moment on screen.

“MISS STEVENS”— Teacher as Chaperone

“Miss Stevens”

Teacher as Chaperone

Amos Lassen

“Miss Stevens” is film that I openly identify with, especially when I think of the number of times I have escorted my students on trips. Miss Stevens (Lily Rabe) chaperones three of her students to a weekend drama competition. These include talented yet troubled Billy (Timothee Chalamet), the stuck up and intelligent micromanaging Margot (Lily Reinhart) and the openly and flamboyantly gay Sam (Anthony Quintal) – on a weekend trip to a drama competition. Exploring the fine line between being a grown up and being a kid, Miss Stevens is about students becoming teachers and teachers coming to realize that the messiness of youth never really goes away. Most teachers are authority figures because they are adults and thus can command and convey control over students even though not all students see their students in this manner.

Even on their worst days teachers need to keep up appearances, they cannot allow the slightest crack in the façade for to do so would often result in snarky, disrespectful behavior. “Miss Stevens” gives us a unique take on the teacher-student relationship in a sweet and through a charming story that brings comedy and drama together.

Miss Stevens is the English teacher at a California high school, teaching the literary classics to her students. She has reluctantly agreed to chaperone a trip of three students to a dramatic competition over the weekend. During the weekend, Margot must contend with the realization that she does not have the ability to plan every minute detail; Sam must deal with teenage relationship woes; and Billy has to face his infatuation with Miss Stevens, as well as his reputation of being a troublemaker. At the same time, Miss Stevens herself is dealing with some personal pain by consuming alcohol. Three days isn’t a long trip, but it certainly can feel like it when everyone is trying to keep himself or herself together.

This is a film in which the actors carry the film, and each performer is more than up to the task. Lily Rabe is able to convey every disparate emotion required with an amazing sense of naturalism. To balance out Rabe’s performance are the three strong performances from the trio of young actors, each excellent in their roles. Anthony Quintal is the more overtly comedic of the group as boisterous Sam. Lili Reinhart as the overachiever who devolves into an almost manic state when her intricate plans are met with the slightest resistance is excellent. The nuanced performance by Timothée Chalamet, whose character is the most troubled of the teens captures the spirit of so many disaffected teens, moody and full of angst as he tries to figure out his place in the world.

As a character, Miss Stevens doesn’t have everything in her life figured out. She’s a flawed character working through the issues that come with life. As a teacher, she’s not perfect but her heart is always in the right place and she puts forth the effort to be a better educator.

Julia Hart is a director for the first time and she is very good. Between the film’s framing and blocking of actors, the briskly paced editing, and strong performances, Julia Hart has a fine directorial debut. The story gives us the that anyone has it all together, even teachers. Life presents us with problems, some that we can prepare for and others we can’t and life is about how we face these.

The film hits such a large range of emotions and y you won’t have a chance to wipe away your tears before you start laughing. Not many movies can do that so effectively. Hart and co-screenwriter Jordan Horowitz effectively focus on small exchanges. Early on, while packed into a car with her trio of students, Miss Stevens hits something on the road and launches into obscenities, prompting one student, Sam, to observe that she curses a lot. She fires back, “We’re not at school,” to which Margot demurs, “But, like, we are.” The scene amuses for its play with logical certainty, but it also reminds us that school is an institution for learning, and that its information comes from a place of cultural stability and traditional values.

“MAN IN THE ORANGE SHIRT”— Moving Beyond the Expected

“Man In An Orange Shirt”

Moving Beyond the Expected

Amos Lassen

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Britain, the BBC has a Gay Britannia season and the show that is fascinating the Brits in “Man in an Orange Shirt” written by Patrick Gale and loosely based on what he discovery he made about his parents’ relationship.

It is the wrenching story of a secret romance between soldiers Michael (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and Thomas (James McArdle), and the increasingly frayed marriage of Michael and his new wife Flora, whom he marries because in the 1940s that’s j what people did. When Thomas becomes upset after being asked to be Michael’s best man, Michael tells him that the two of them could never have set up a home together. This is a sad and human story of people trying to do their best when the times that they live in gives them no options.

Much of the tension is due to Michael’s inability to move beyond the life that is expected of him and Thomas’ inability, or unwillingness, to toe the line. Both positions are sympathetic. Thomas is angry and defiant, beaten down and wounded by imprisonment and injustice and everyone in this drama is so angry. It should make us angry, too, as he see the outrageous unfairness of imprisoning gay men at a very recent time in Britain’s history.

Even in the early scenes of happiness and bliss in countryside cottage are tinged with the inescapable sadness because that existence is a temporary fantasy that cannot be sustained. It is made even more heartbreaking by the proximity of happiness. Just 20 years later, and it might all have been different. The tragedy of Thomas exiling himself to France, to “drink himself to death in the sun”; the tragedy of Flora being trapped in a marriage without love; the tragedy of Michael doing what he believes is right and proper might have caused the beginning of to shift just enough to allow a bit of happiness to shine through. We see a compassionate evocation of how sexuality is contorted when criminalized. It was a time whenattraction and affection were covert.

Scriptwriter Patrick Gale sets his story in the historical context that pushes gay passion into dark corners, yet without making romance feel dirty. The most daring thing about the drama is how it reaches its own accommodation between a blameless love and a painful history. It is a difficult to repurpose, sex that was instigated in public toilets (cottages), since it has become something more synonymous with celebrity scandals than love affairs. That makes Gale’s inclusions more boldly fascinating. His secret lovers are Michael, an army captain and Thomas, a wounded soldier and artist who first met in Italy   when Thomas needed assistance relieving himself behind a tree.

Their romance develops in secret in a country cottage, where Thomas paints his lover as a faceless man in a doorway. They have passionate, aggressive confrontations in a bathroom during Michael’s wedding. And later, separated by this hollow marriage, they both visit notorious public lavatories – landing Thomas in jail for gross indecency. What else can they do?

The betrayal of Michael’s wife Flora (Joanna Vanderham), though, is a more conventionally pitiable and somehow treated less sympathetically. When Michael returns home at the end of the war, his first visit is to Thomas, and their passionate affair is a cause for Flora’s heartbreak.

Flora switches abruptly from naif to harridan, discovering her husband’s love letters and burning them, a bitter victim denied her own chance at passion. Though she can barely understand her husband’s orientation, it is she who finally makes the compromise and she becomes a martyr of denial. She tells Michael that she does not ever want to hear the details and they will never talk about it. She seems distant to us but there was nothing else that she could do.

They never addressed the secrets and this is the tragedy of the drama. While Michael and Flora are packing their child off to boarding school, he is still darting after strangers into restrooms. In the second part that is set 60 years later we still wonder what took place. There is drama and understanding, however belated, in bringing these hidden lives out to where they can be seen.

There is only part of Gay Britannia. There is also “Queers”, a series of monologues written and performed by familiar faces, with two new editions appearing every night. The first, and best, is written by Mark Gatiss and has Ben Whishaw  as another soldier in love with an officer, this time in 1917. There is also Michael Dennis’s story of a trip to London in 1994 in which he memorably calls homophobic politicians “desiccated twats”.

“BIXA TRAVESTY”— Independence and Strength

“Bixa Travesty”

Independence and Strength

Amos Lassen

“Bixa Travesty” has something to say about the gender binary. This is a documentary about the life and times of Linn da Quebrada, a self-proclaimed “tranny fag” born out of a rough neighborhood of São Paulo. She takes on her personal journey in which she reveals and proclaims her insights on what it means to be a woman thus giving us .a new perspective on the definition of the word.

Her performances are loud, abrasive and unapologetic. Through the use radical self-expression, she obliterates heteronormative constructs of gender and asserts that a woman is not defined by her genitals. While many of the performances have a shock value element that can be rather coarse, directors Claudia Priscilla and Kiko Goifman also give us moments of vulnerability that reveal Quebrada’s softer side. We see these in her intimate moments at home and her artistic exploration during her cancer treatment. Informal talk radio discussions with fellow trans woman Jup do Bairro on gender, femininity and the daily struggles faced by trans women in show us a woman on the brink of a revolution. Through her art and ultimately through herself, Quebrada challenges us to think beyond what we believe we know about gender and to become open to up to the possibility of fluidity in our definitions.

Although a powerful statement for Quebrada and undoubtedly for the trans community, “Bixa Travesty” is difficult to categorize. It is a shocking film and we know that shock value is often at the core of many catalyzing moments of change in many movements, and therefore it’s understandable why this documentary is as abrasive as it is. The danger is that if these moments aren’t adequately countered with enough instances that foster empathy, the effect can be isolative.

“LIAM”— Dealing with Death

“Liam”

Dealing with Death

Amos Lassen

While we are alive, we tend to forget that death is a fact of life. When a young person dies, it is difficult to deal with and if it is someone we live, it is that harder to understand. This is what we face in this brilliant new film by Isidore Bethel. Not long after, Bethel graduated from Harvard, he went to France to study film and it was there that he got word that his best friend from childhood, Liam had been killed by a drunk driver.  He was just 23 years old.

Bethel decided to make a documentary film about Liam in the hopes that this would help him through the grieving process. Bethe; had never come out to his folks and did so as he began to work on the film and his parents were totally accepting. Liam’s parents are important to the film because it is basically through them that Bethel explores his own feelings about their loss of a son and his loss of a friend. Bethel’s own parents also play a huge part in accepting the tragedy. All of the characters now must see their futures dramatically changed by Liam’s death and this also includes Liam’s ex-girlfriend who had remained relatively close even though the pair had split up long before Liam’s death.

It was the loss of Liam that was responsible for Bethel’s examination his own feelings in a very public way which would have been out of character for him before this.  He intimately involves his French boyfriend in this self-examination, and learn that their very public declarations of love to each other, was not enough.

This is a very personal movie and at times I felt like I was being intrusive as I watched. Yet, this is a moving look at feelings and I applaud the director for this chance to know him. I have a feeling that we will be hearing a great deal more from him in the future.

“Liam” had its world premier at this tears Wicked Queer, The Boston LGBT Film Festival.

“M/M”— Where the Real Ends

“M/M”

Where the Real Ends

Amos Lassen

Drew Lint is a Canadian filmmaker who is not afraid to push the envelope. “M/M” is his debut feature and it is an edgy experimental thriller that appears to be loosely based on his own life. Matthew (Antoine Lahaie) is a drifting Canadian has moved to Berlin and is settled into a new life. However, he is lonely. One day he meets Mathias (Nicolas Maxim Endlicher), a very good looking German who makes a living as a model for statutes. After their first Grindr exchange, Matthew becomes totally obsessed with the charismatic stranger and starts to stalk him.

This is a metaphysical drama in which there is a blurry line between reality and imagination so we do not really know how much obsession takes place in Matthew’s mind and this is what makes the film so intriguing. Matthias is everything Matthew wants to be.

His intense infatuation takes on a different turn when Matthew starts to copy Matthias in any way he can.  First, he cuts his hair in the identical style, then starts to wear the same clothes, but then after Matthias is hospitalized and in a coma after a near-fatal motorbike accident, Matthew grabs the chance to actually subsume his life.   

Fiction is much weirder than reality, but this is the life that Matthew prefers. Director Lint has said that this film is all about an outsider’s opportunity to embrace any new identity that he feels that he wants, and he has shaped his take on this by being somewhere on the borders between drama,  video art, and music video.  The young talented leads are great to look at and they provide distraction when the plot, despite the infusion of techno music, seems to almost come to a halt at times.

This is an erotic drama that really stretches one’s imagination as well as his patience at times. Matthew’s obsessive power struggle between the two, careens toward brutal passion and violence in a bid for dominance.

This is a film of unique contrasts. We see hot queer bodies entangled together, but against the drab, heavy grey sky of Berlin. We become part of extreme explorations of identity and desire, but with an underlying familiarity. The film is surreal, but completely grounded in truth and naturalism. This is a film that cannot really be spoken about if it has not been seen.