Sunday, 24 March 2013

LLGFF 5: Enjoy the steam

The BFI 27th Lesbian & Gay Film Festival came to an end on Sunday night with the gala screening of Margarita, a warm comedy-drama from Canada about one of the festival's recurring themes: the rights of gay couples to live together legally (see also I Do, below). The final party was a terrific night of just hanging out with filmmakers, journalists, festival programmers and friends. Here are six more film highlights...

dir Dominique Cardona, Laurie Colbert; with Nicola Correia-Damude, Claire Lautier 12/Can ****
Some serious drama and complex interaction adds depth to this breezy romantic comedy. The film feels effortless and perhaps a bit slight, but has plenty of depth to let us see ourselves in each scene. And as its six characters cycle around each other, there's just enough farce to keep us smiling. The plot centres on nanny Margarita (Correia-Damude), who has been part of a Toronto family for six years raising 14-year-old Mali (Maya Ritter) while running the entire household for doctor Gail (Lautier) and dentist Ben (Patrick McKenna). But the economic crunch means that Margarita is being let go, which sparks a crisis for everyone, especially her girlfriend (Christine Horne). Refreshingly, the characters' sexuality is irrelevant in this story of open-minded people who are all seeking the best possible solution, despite their self-interest or inability to let go and ask for help. The filmmakers keep the tone snappy and realistic, allowing the excellent cast to have fun with the relationships. It may be a bit soapy, but it keeps a smile on our faces.

I Do
dir Glenn Gaylord; with David W Ross, Jamie-Lynn Sigler 12/US ***.
Although it's somewhat overcomplicated, this romantic drama touches on some big issues while telling an engaging story about people who hold our attention. At the centre is Jack (Ross), a New York photographer who puts his life on hold to help his widowed sister-in-law Mya (Alicia Witt) raise her daughter. Seven years later he finds out that his visa won't be renewed, sparking a panicky need to stay in the US as he asks work colleague Ali (Sigler) to marry him. Both of them are gay, and things get complicated when he meets a charming Spaniard (Maurice Compte) and starts ignoring Ali. The film is nicely written and directed, with a relaxed pace and grounded characters. And it's nice to see director Gaylord and writer Ross avoid pushy emotions and preachy moralising, although a few plot points strain the realistic tone. Ross is a bit too good-looking at the centre, but his relationships with both Witt and Sigler snap with warmth and awkward edges, while his relationship with Compte is nicely understated. The final act is a little overwrought, with a series of wrenching decisions and difficult ramifications. But in the end we're both entertained and challenged to think about the issues.

Beyond the Walls
dir David Lambert; with Matila Malliarakis, Guillaume Gouix 12/Bel ****.
While it may seem like a trip into a more extreme side of sexuality, this beautifully played Belgian drama is actually a revealing exploration of the push and pull of relationships. Whether you can identify with the details of the story or settings, the ideas and interaction resonate strongly. It's about two men - Paulo and Ilir (Malliarakis and Gouix) who are just starting out a relationship when a twist of fate changes everything. As their new flush of romance is suddenly tested to the limit, Lambert captures the nature of relationships in a way we rarely see on screen, as these two men go through cycles of power and control, devotion and helpless adoration. And while there are moments of gentle humour and warmth, the film is unafraid to head into some very dark corners. Fortunately, the actors remain grounded and raw, creating a genuine sense of chemistry between them. And Lambert refuses to allow us to put them into boxes, playing with the boundaries of relational control is so truthful that it haunts us long after the story ends.

dir Marcal Fores; with Oriol Pla, Augustus Prew 12/Sp ***
It's difficult to imagine a teen movie much darker than this moving, evocative Spanish film. Although just a bit of lightness might have helped make it more engaging. As is, it's artfully made and packed with solid performances, but so gloomy that it's difficult to identify with the characters. It centres on 17-year-old Pol (Pla), who lives with his big brother (Javier Beltran) and attends an international school with a helpful teacher (Martin Freeman) and two feisty best pals (Dimitri Leonidas and Roser Tapias). Bit it's the new kid in school, Ikari (Prew), who's causing a stir. And Pol's secret crush on him, along with his ongoing struggle with day-to-day events, sends Pol into a private fantasy world in which he is accompanied by his teddy bear as he walks through the woods. Yes, the film is a swirl of internalised fantasy and gritty reality that sometimes doesn't quite gel, and the relentlessly serious tone isn't easy to take. But the beautiful imagery and poetic quality of the filmmaking and acting make it worth a look.

dir Jun Robles Lana; with Eddie Garcia, Rez Cortez 12/Ph ****.
A charming black comedy, this Filipino drama is packed with vividly memorable characters beautifully played by an exceptional cast. It also touches on some very big issues without ever being preachy about them, quietly stirring our thoughts and emotions with a gentle slice of life. It centres on Rene (Garcia), a retiree who lives alone with his dog Bwakaw. He's "older than the Filipino constitution" and is probably more likely to bite someone than Bwakaw is - everyone knows him as the town grump, as he acerbically insults everyone he meets. Then a series of life and death events begins to eat away at his cynicism, which is a result of a life of suppressed desires; he only admitted to himself that he was gay at age 60 and has never been in love. The film is simply delightful, with moments of raucously incorrect humour balanced by earthy emotion. Everyone in the film is thoroughly enjoyable, including the shifty looking taxi driver (Cortez) who becomes Rene's unlikely friend, a nosey neighbour, a senile ex-girlfriend and the camp cross-dressers at the local hairdressing salon. And as it goes along, it really gets under our skin because we can see so much of ourselves on-screen.

Mr Angel
dir Dan Hunt; with Buck Angel, Elayne Angel 12/US ****
Warm and intimate, and surprisingly inspirational, this snappy little documentary not only chronicles the life of an unapologetic original, but also makes a bold statement about the destructiveness of being forced into one of society's boxes. Buck Angel describes his childhood as a tomboy, then modelling career as a young woman before he became a man and started making porn. But he doesn't have male genitalia, which makes him seriously confusing for people who want to force him into a stereotype. His whole goal is to say, "It's OK not to fit in the box." And he works with his trans wife Elayne to break down barriers. The cameras follow him to Berlin, Vegas and home to Mexico, including footage from his childhood, so we see him age from a young girl into a 40-year-old muscle-man. And along the way, the filmmaker expands his approach to look at other men and women who blur the lines of gender. The result is important and hugely provocative, since it challenges our preconceptions and forces us to accept these people where we understand them or not.

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