Saturday, 16 March 2013

LLGFF 1: Simply Divine

The British Film Institute's 27th London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival kicked off Thursday night with the international premiere of Jeffrey Schwarz's documentary I Am Divine, celebrating the unforgettable star of Pink Flamingoes and Hairspray. Jeffrey was on hand to introduce the film and answer questions afterwards at BFI Southbank, then mix with the opening night crowd at the big party on HMS President, just down the river. The festival is one of the biggest in the UK, and the next 10 days promise a wide range of fascinating films addressing issues of diversity, gender and sexuality from every conceivable angle. Here are a couple of highlights from the first few days, including revivals of two recent releases for appreciative audiences...

I Am Divine
dir Jeffrey Schwarz; with John Waters, Ricki Lake 13/US ****
This fast-paced documentary tells the story of an important artist who changed cinema, music and the theatre forever, but died far too early at age 42 in 1988. Divine (aka Harris Glenn Milstead) was a childhood friend of filmmaker John Waters in Baltimore, and together they took the underground cinema world by storm. As his career grew, Divine's work as an actor became increasingly sophisticated, with breakout roles in Alan Rudolph's Trouble in Mind before the crossover success of Hairspray. Schwarz documents this with energy and plenty of trashy style, interviewing family, friends and costars while also letting us see lots of fabulous film clips, glimpses behind the scenes, archive interviews and never-before-seen performance footage. It's an engaging, funny and surprisingly moving doc that never tries to be anything more than the celebration of an icon.

White Night
dir-scr Leesong Hee-il; with Won Tae-hee, Lee Li-kyung12/Kor ***.
With minimal dialog, this is a film about feelings, focussing intently on its central character's dark reckoning with his own vengeful soul. Wongyu (Won) is a flight attendant based in Germany who returns home to Seoul for the first time in two years to see his ex-boyfriend. But their meeting doesn't go as planned, leaving Won to stew alone over a violent homophobic attack they experienced years earlier. While he plots revenge against the thugs, who have just been released from prison, he has an anonymous sexual encounter with Taejun (Lee) that takes a series of surprising twists over one long night. The film is beautifully shot and edited to force us inside the minds of the characters. This makes the story strongly evocative as these two young men bristle against each other, bringing up sharp, painful memories as well as some tenderness and hope. It's the kind of film that isn't too obsessed with plotting, instead letting the story meander in ways that leave us thinking.

Laurence Anyways
dir Xavier Dolan; with Melvil Poupaud, Suzanne Clement 12/Can ***. 
With each feature, 23-year-old Dolan gets more ambitious. This third time out, the unusually gifted filmmaker pushes things just over the edge into self-parody, but still tells a powerfully provocative story with a strong emotional undercurrent... REVIEW >

Keep the Lights On
dir Ira Sachs; with Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth 12/US ****
This gorgeously shot and edited film is an incisive exploration of two people struggling to make a relationship work over nearly a decade. Its honest perspective makes it thoroughly involving, even if it turns dreary in the final act... REVIEW >

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