Thursday, 26 March 2009

LLGFF 1 & 2: Coming of age

The British Film Institute's 23rd London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival kicked off last night with a screening of the Czech film Dolls and a very lively party afterwards. Over the next two weeks, the festival will focus on films addressing issues of sexuality from every conceivable angle, including quite a number of documentaries and dramas looking at gender issues and family structures. A few films from days one and two...

Dolls ***
From the Czech Republic, this intriguing film follows three 18-year-old girls who decide to hitchhike to Holland for the summer, only to be saddled with the 14-year-old brother of one of them. What follows is an examination of their growing self-discovery, mainly centred on sexuality - with lots of firting with strangers (and with the little brother), and one girl harbouring a not-so-secret crush on one of her friends. The film is a bit scruffy and meandering, going in circles without resolving much, but the cast is superbly natural and it's extremely well shot and edited.

The Naked Civil Servant (1975) ****
An Englishman in New York (2009) ***
John Hurt plays Quentin Crisp in these two films made 34 years apart, and watching them is a pretty astonishing experience, as Hurt completely immerses himself in Crisp's flamboyant clothing, hairstyles and mannerisms. Seeing him as both the young and old Crisp is absolutely essential. Both were clearly made for television, with slightly cheesy production values, but Hurt transcends this, as does the material itself. Crisp's unapologetic approach to life is especially moving in the first film, when the simple fact of his existence was against the law, and yet he refused to back down. The second film finds an intriguing conflict in the in-fighting among his own supporters when he begins to make bold statements (as he had done all his life) that were considered a bit un-PC. Crisp was such a remarkable man that he makes these fairly simple films vitally important.

Doubt ****
John Patrick Shanley's film version of his play, which received Oscar nominations for all four cast members, gets five screenings for an appreciative audience at this festival. The film makes some extremely strong comments about sexuality through Viola Davis' character, a mother who takes an emotionally realistic approach to her troubled son in the face of the emotionless priest and principal (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep) at his school. Amy Adams provides the conscience as a young nun. It's a bit talky and obvious, but the acting and the heavy ideas it stirs up make it well worth seeing.

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