Saturday, 29 March 2014

FLARE 4: Life's a beach

Well, the weekend is here and we're back in party mode at BFI Flare, which wraps up on Sunday night. There's been a great atmosphere at the Southbank over the past week, with an open and friendly collection of all kinds of people. And there's a celebratory feeling too as England equalised marriage for gay and straight couples at midnight on Friday night. Here are some more programme highlights...

Reaching for the Moon
dir Bruno Barreto; with Miranda Otto, Gloria Pires 13/Br ***.
This beautifully made Brazilian drama tells a true story with sensitivity, bringing real people to life with a spark of personality. It's all a bit melodramatic, with surging emotions and soulful torment on every side. But it gives us an insightful glimpse into a momentous time and place. Set in 1951, it's the story of American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Otto), who travels to Rio to visit her university pal (Tracy Middendorf), who's living in idyllic splendour with her girlfriend, the noted architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Pires - pictured above with Otto). And it's the growing connection between Elizabeth and Lota that fuels the movie, complete with mercurial mood swings and deep jealousies. The plot takes some dark turns along the way that feel a bit overplayed, but Otto and Pires are terrific, as are the gorgeous Brazilian settings and the political and historical touches that give the film a sharp period context.

dir-scr Chris Mason Johnson; with Scott Marlowe, Matthew Risch 13/US ****
Set in 1985 San Francisco, this involving drama captures a brief period in time with sharp introspection, focusing on characters who aren't sure how to react to the advent of Aids and the first possibility to test for HIV infection. Although in many ways the film works better as an internal journey than as an Aids drama, it's strong physicality is haunting. The movie focuses closely on Frankie (Marlowe), a young dancer who freaks out when he thinks he has a cold - after all, that's how it began with Rock Hudson! Through his interaction with fellow dancers, specifically the more sexually outgoing Todd (Risch), Frankie finds the inner strength to admit his fears and do something about it. This story is so locked in its time and place that it's tricky to see the relevance today, and sometimes filmmaker Johnson gets a bit preachy about safe sex issues. But he also keeps everything grounded and natural, letting the actors faces say more than the dialog. And the dance milieu adds a terrific physicality to the whole film.

My Prairie Home 
dir-scr Chelsea McMullan; with Rae Spoon 13/Can ****
With a sharp sense of humour and innovative filmmaking, this documentary uses all kinds of witty touches to tell the story of musician Rae Spoon, who talks about growing up in a strongly religious home in Calgary as a person of indeterminate gender. Yes, Rae is neither a he nor a she, and chooses to use neutral pronouns, which means we should refer to Rae as "them". But Rae is also a gifted music who expresses their life story through songs that blend a country music style with hints of grunge and punk. Meanwhile, filmmaker McMullan shoots these scenes with loads of style, hilariously depicting the lyrics in ways that are strikingly telling and bring out both the knowing absurdity of Rae's poetic observations as well as the everyday truths we can all identify with. This makes the film both wonderfully entertaining and strikingly important.

dir-scr Malcolm Ingram; with Steve Ostrow, Edmund White 13/US ****
Telling the story of New York's iconic Continental Baths, this documentary is a remarkably entertaining look at a transformative community centre that launched the careers of the likes of Bette Midler and Barry Manilow. The focal point is owner Steve Ostrow, a colourful figure whose life took a series of surprising twists and turns before, during and after he ran the club from 1968 to 1974. And in addition to discussing the celebrities who hung out there, Ostrow also observes the way New York society changed around the club over the years. The film is whizzy and energetic, a lot of fun to watch due to the terrific archive footage and eye-opening anecdotes. And it also has something important to say about America's obsessive attempts to control people's bodies by prohibiting sex. And more than that, the film clearly shows how important gay culture is in society at large.

Stranger by the Lake
dir-scr Alain Guiraudie; with Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou 13/Fr ****.
What starts out as a subtle drama exploring male sexuality quietly shifts into a Hitchcockian thriller, with big questions about the tension between lust and morality. Set in a gay cruising site at a naturist beach, the film isn't for the faint of heart. But its themes are bigger than the controversial setting... FULL REVIEW >

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