Friday, 11 April 2014

BFI Flare 2014 - Movie Reviews

So it’s almost two weeks now  since the brilliant 52 Tuesdays closed BFI Flare 2014 (formerly the London LGBT Film Fesival) and what a festival it was, showing a range of shorts and documentaries, at least 50 feature films from all over the world, and a series of interactive media events.

I managed to get to see 10 of the films that were showing, though there were plenty of others I’d have liked to have seen, had I had the time.

First and foremost was the film chosen to open the festival.  Lilting is a gently moving piece about bereavement, grief and colliding cultures, beautifully scripted and played and directed with a sure hand by Hong Khaou. The way in which he dovetails past and present, real and imaginary, whilst making sure the movie flows seamlessly was really quite special. He was immeasurably helped by some superb performances, especially Ben Wishaw’s deeply broken Richard, reeling from the recent loss of his boyfriend Kai, a performance superbly seconded by Cheng Pei Pei, as Kai’s mother Junn, a Chinese-Cambodian woman who has never come to terms with the English world she was thrust into. She has never learned to speak English and Kai was her only connection with the alien world she finds herself in. Despite their closeness Kai had never felt it possible to come out to her, leaving Richard with the impossible task of wanting to do right by his lover’s mother without divulging the true nature of their relationship. Wonderful supporting performances too from Andrew Leung as Kai. Peter Bowles as the Englishman Junn befriends in the home she is living in, and Naomi Christie as Vann, the translator Richard employs for Junn. Subtle, poetic, almost unbearably moving without being mawkish, this is a must see. (5 stars)

Pierre-Gabriel Lajoie and Walter Borden in Gerontophilia

Toronto based filmmaker Bruce LaBruce is no stranger to controversy, and so it is that, in his latest movie, Gerontophilia, he turns to the subject of age gap relationships, which, according to LaBruce transgress a very strong cultural taboo. Lake is an unusual young man with an unusual fetish. Though he has a girlfriend, he is attracted to old men, a fetish he gets the chance to pursue when he starts a job as an orderly in an old people’s home. Whilst in the home, he is appalled at the way the inmates are treated and strikes up a relationship with Mr Peabody, weaning him off the medication that keeps him easy to manage, and eventually helping him to escape so they can set-off on a road-trip together. So far, so good, but for me the problem at the heart of the movie was that the central relationship between Lake and Mr Peabody didn’t really ring true. Maybe Pierre-Gabriel Lajoie had been encouraged to play Lake with a sort of wide-eyed innocence throughout, but it made it hard to believe that there was a strong sexual bond between the two men. However, with the veteran Walter Borden putting in a wittily amusing performance as Mr Peabody, it is a very enjoyable film, as much about how modern society responds to old age as it is about age-gap relationships. (3 stars)

Age and aging were some of the concerns of Rosie, a Swiss film, directed by Marcel Gisler, in which gay writer Lorenz and his sister Sophie squabble and ultimately reconcile about what to do with their aging alcoholic mother, Rosie, splendidly played by Sybille Brunner. Plenty of family skeletons fall out of the cupboard as Lorenz tries to get to the bottom of the rift that existed between his mother and father, a rift that coloured his and his sister’s childhood. A touching and eventually uplifting movie about family with a sly, gentle humour. (4 stars)

Providing quite a contrast to these was Charles Lunn and Todd Verrow’s documentary Age of Consent, which tells the story of The Hoist, one of London’s few remaining leather bars, which opened in 1996. It being the story of a sex club, we get to see plenty of sex, some of it quite graphic. Ultimately, though, it turns out to be not only a fascinating glimpse into London’s leather scene, but a history of gay sex since decriminalisation. Did you know, for instance, that there were more convictions for gross indecency in 1989 than there were in 1966, the year before homosexuality was made legal for “consenting men in private”? The “in private” part was something the police vigorously enforced it would seem, often using pretty policeman to entrap gay men and secure a conviction. Against a backdrop of leather men grunting and groaning with pleasure, Peter Tatchell talks eloquently, as ever, about the continuing battle for equality under the law; co-owners Kurt Striegler and Guy Irwin tell us all about how the club got started., and some of its regulars tell us what makes the club special for them. There are no doubt those amongst the gay community (like James Wharton who was only recently proposing the closure of all gay saunas) who will find the goings on in the club quite disgusting, but surely the point is that we should all have equality before the law, whatever our sexual preferences, a fact that was brought brilliantly home by this excellent documentary. I do hope it gets an official release. (4 stars)

Also receiving its first London showing was a Cuban film La Partida (The Last Match), directed by Antonio Hens. This is a bleak tale of young men from the slums in Havana. Though many of these young men identify as straight, it appears there is no shame in befriending and having sex with older rich tourists for money. Rather than being the exception it is the norm, and the women know and accept what is going on. Yossani and Rey are friends, playing on the same local football team, but they find themselves becoming physically and emotionally drawn to each other with typically tragic results. Though men having sex with others for money is accepted, two men in love is not. The two young actors Milton Garcia and Reinier Diaz give great performances in this brutally realistic drama. (3 stars)
You can find reviews of some of the others I saw in TheGayUK’s archives, but it was good to be reminded of Michael Douglas’s Emmy award winning performance as Liberace in Behind the Candelabra, the delightfully amusing G.B.F., the mesmerising thriller Stranger By The Lake, and the harrowingly moving documentary Bridegroom.

The festival ended on a high note with an Australian movie (directed by Sophie Hyde) called 52 Tuesdays, a remarkable movie about a woman, Jane (Del Herbert-Jane) who, having put it off for years, is finally going to transition from female to male. James decides that to do so he needs some ‘me time’ so suggests that his daughter Billie (Tilda Cobham-Harvey) goes to live with her father for a year. They make a pact that they will meet every Tuesday. Seen mostly from the point of view of Billie (a blisteringly brilliant debut from Cobham-Harvey), we go through every painful moment of James’s process and Billie’s difficulties in understanding and coming to terms with what is happening to her mother, meaning that Jane’s transition to James is set against Billie’s transition from child to adult.  The physical facts of hormone treatments and surgery Billie finds relatively easy to deal with, the emotional changes are more complex and more confusing. Shot over 52 actual Tuesdays, the non-professional cast were given their scripts a week at a time and only saw the scenes they were actually in. This unique and original drama deservedly won Sophie Hyde a best director award at Sundance, and brought what had been a great event to a fitting close. (5 stars)

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