Monday, 31 March 2014

FLARE 5: Family ties

The 28th BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival came to a close last night with the Sundance and Berlin winner 52 Tuesdays, presented at the screening by director Sophie Hyde before we all wandered down the road for another raucous festival party. The films this year have been remarkably strong, with several films being picked up for mainstream distribution over the coming months. And as always, the best thing about this festival is the chance to hang out at BFI Southbank meeting filmmakers, actors and other industry friends to chat about the movies and life in general. If only life was like this all the time! Although at my age the nightly parties take their toll! Here are some final programme highlights...

52 Tuesdays
dir Sophie Hyde; with Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Del Herbert-Jane 14/Aus ****
Del Herbert-Jane Shot over a year exactly as depicted in the narrative, this film has a strikingly realistic approach to its story, letting events and personalities blossom in unexpected directions. And even though it's set out as an exploration of gender identity and family connections, the film actually turns out to be a remarkable exploration of adolescence. Set in Adelaide, the film centres on teen Billie (Cobham-Hervey) who goes to live with her dad (Beau Travis Williams) for a year while her mum Jane (Herbert-Jane - above with Cobham Hervey) transitions into James. But they meet each Thursday to stay in each others' lives. Along with their changing relationship, Billie makes two new friends (Imogen Archer and Sam Althuizen) who challenge her to push her own limits. And this is where filmmaker Hyde (right with BFI Flare programmers) cleverly throws us off balance, as we realise that Billie is going through exactly the same issues every teen must deal with, and her mother's sexuality and gender has little to do with any of that. All of this is shot with an earthy, natural approach that really gets under our skin.

The Last Match 
dir Antonio Hens; with Milton Garcia, Reinier Diaz 13/Cub **** 
This Cuban drama tackles some big issues with honesty and sensitivity, even if the clanking gears of the plot begin to feel like a distraction in the final act. But the film has a sunny, gritty tone that gives us a remarkable glimpse at life in Havana, including a culture that makes it tricky to be yourself. It centres on Yosvani and Reinier (Garcia and Diaz) who play together on a local football team. Yosva is engaged to his girlfriend (Beatriz Mendez) and lives with her black market trader dad (Luis Alberto Garcia); while Rei has a wife (Jenifer Rodriguez) and baby and lives with his feisty mother-in-law (Mirtha Ibarra). So when there's a spark of attraction between the boys, they immediately reject it. Although Yosva finds it difficult when he realises that Rei sleeps with male tourists for cash ("I'm not gay," he insists, and indeed his mother-in-law encourages him). The relationship between these two guys is subtle and realistic, then a distracting loan-shark plot-thread takes over the final act. It's not remotely necessary, pushing the narrative in moralising directions that tell us more about Cuba's movie industry (and its society) than the filmmaker probably realises.

dir-scr Hilton Lacerda; with Irandhir Santos, Jesuita Barbosa 13/Br ****. 
Bursting with energy and passion, this lively Brazilian period drama expands to cover a variety of characters and storylines as well as both artistic and political themes. And it comes together like a visceral symphony in which flawed people find their voices in ways we don't always expect. Set in 1978 Recife, it centres on a lively theatre troupe that's always in trouble with the dictatorship government for its radical programming. And things get a bit personal when the show's host (Santos) falls for a young soldier (Barbosa). The main idea of the film is that sexuality isn't nearly as cut and dried as we would like it to be. Putting people into boxes never works, and it's even more dangerous when we try to force ourselves into one. These ideas play out in a plot that's messy and boisterous, allowing the characters to really grapple with their own journeys, which stubbornly refuse to travel in predictable directions. The film is packed with hugely entertaining musical numbers and the kind of crowded, unpredictable plot that holds our attention. And these are such complex characters that it's impossible not to see ourselves in here.

dir-scr Marco Berger; with Manuel Vignau, Mateo Chiarino 13/Arg ****
Like Berger's previous films Plan B and Absent, this gentle drama takes an askance look at attraction between men who perhaps aren't quite ready to take the plunge, as it were. Beautifully shot and edited with a patiently escalating pace, the film pulls us in to a story we can easily identify with. It's set over a summer as two young men (Vignau and Chiarino) who knew each other as young boys reacquaint themselves with each other and try to ignore the creeping attraction they now feel for each other. Berger has a special skill for capturing the physicality between men who are struggling to fit into the macho side of Argentine society. Furtive glances, awkward touches, hesitant conversations all add up to a powerful mix of unacknowledged attraction, both lust and something potentially deeper. And the cast is terrific at capturing this subtlety, as well as the insecurities these men feel about themselves.

The Out List
dir Timothy Greenfield-Sanders; with Dustin Lance Black, Ellen DeGeneres 13/US **** 
A series of 16 openly gay men and women chat to the camera about the issues they feel strongly about. Most resonant is Black, whose military/Mormon/Texan background gives him an unusual perspective to go with his emotional passion about the issues. And his comments are echoed in striking ways by familiar faces like Degeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, Wanda Sykes, Wade Davis, Cynthia Nixon and Jake Shears. Each has a very personal story that holds our attention and puts the focus on equality in society. Even so, the film as a whole feels a bit simplistic and over-thought - why not let these people express themselves by where they are speaking rather tin front of an this anonymous grey wall? Still, it has real power in what these people have to say, which makes it essential viewing. And it would make a great ongoing YouTube series.

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