Tag: lgbtq

Floating Skyscrapers


Floating Skyscrapers (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk), training as a swimmer for a decade and a half, meets Michal (Bartosz Gelner) outside a gallery and two share a joint. There is certainly a romantic connection there but it just so happens that Kuba has a girlfriend, Sylwia (Marta Nieradkiewicz), and they are living together. Eventually, Sylwia catches on what might be going on between the two men but she cares for Kuba too much to let go so easily.

“Floating Skyscrapers,” directed by Tomasz Woszczynski, is so lacking in energy that it never gets a real chance to become an interesting drama. There are plenty of shots of geometric figures, people sitting around saying nothing and naked bodies in bed, but the emotion the picture manages to capture is monotone, bordering on soporific. It is an LGBTQ dramatic film that fails to appeal to anybody outside of the community.

The three lead performers are physically attractive but there is nothing particularly poignant about their characters. The central plot revolves around the two men wanting to be together while everyone else disapproves. There is a hint of social commentary about the Polish culture’s current attitude toward homosexuality but it is not expounded upon in a rich and rewarding manner. The subplot is typical and expected: Kuba and Michal coming out to their families and we observe how the parents respond. The same subplot have been done in similar pictures and much more effectively.

There is only one scene that is executed just right. It involves Kuba, Sylvia, and Michal sharing a meal. Each of them knows exactly what is going on with whom but not one bothers to bring up the source of each of their frustrations. We have all been in a situation like this. It is awkward and uncomfortable—the scene perfectly captures Sylwia’s seething animosity, Michael’s embarrassment, and Kuba’s disbelief that his two lovers are in the same room and breathing the same air.

The ending is a severe miscalculation which underlines the weakness of Tomasz Woszczynski and Tomasz Wasilewski’s screenplay. For all the three characters’ misery, they—and the audience—deserves an answer as to what might happen among them. Instead, the movie simply ends just when it is becoming interesting for having presented game changers that might alter the rest of the principal characters’ lives.

“Plynace wiezowce” need not be colorful or even vibrant to be worthy of our time. However, it is expected, as in any other movie, that themes be ironed out without having to revert to old-fashioned treatment of gays and lesbians on film. The writers should have strived to make the characters fresh to the point where we are curious about them despite the love triangle. This is neither a modern nor a forward-thinking film.

Giant Little Ones


Giant Little Ones (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Keith Behrman’s “Giant Littles Ones” is not a reductive LGBTQ picture in which the main character simply learns to come to terms with his sexuality by the end of the story. While it does end on a hopeful note, the messages it imparts—about teenage sexuality, friendships, romantic feelings, and even one’s relationship with parents—are far more nuanced than mainstream films that just so happen to have queer elements in them. It is effective precisely because the characters we meet are specific, layered, and flawed. And, like real people, they do not always express what they feel or think even when situations demand that they do.

The main conflict sprouts from two best friends, Franky and Ballas (Josh Wiggins, Darren Mann), who engage in a sexual activity. The latter feels so guilty about it afterwards that he chooses to tell his girlfriend (Kiana Madeira) a lie that inevitably goes around school. The former, on the other hand, does not consider what occurred to be embarrassing or something to feel ashamed about. For the majority of the picture we observe Franky and Ballas’ friendship crumble at first in small ways then in significant ways just as suddenly. Great tension builds as the two formerly inseparable teenagers, both clearly hurt by the snowballing turn of events, learn to find and forge their own paths.

There are times when the screenplay is so sharp that we become convinced that the friendship is possibly forever broken. Yes, we see intense homophobia, ugly words, and violence, but there is a constant message that sometimes a friendship must die in order to give rise to new, healthier ones. Some are played for laughs, like Franky’s connection with Mouse (Niamh Wilson), a classmate who tends to dress in what is considered to be masculine clothes—in addition to wearing a strap-on or tube socks beneath her jeans in order to create the illusion that she has a penis. Not once is she labeled as transgender. It is refreshing; it fits the theme surrounding the teenagers attempting to find themselves.

Others are shown under the light of great sadness. I was particularly moved by Natasha (Taylor Hickson), Ballas’ younger sister, who has a reputation at school for being promiscuous. Derogatory names are written on her locker. Ballas, although a popular athlete respected by his peers, never comes to her aid or to provide emotional support—not even at home. We see her drink alcohol as if it were water; there is a detached look in her eyes. Her parents, although they mean well, seem to be unaware of how incredibly sad and lonely she is. But Natasha is not at all incapable recognizing when somebody needs someone to talk to, to lend a helping hand. Her conversations with Franky are standouts because the words and feelings they share sound and feel real. There are instances when silence communicates more than enough.

The most compelling performance on screen is delivered by Kyle MacLachlan, Franky’s gay father who lives with man. We are reminded more than once that Ray is an observer who has more than a handful of things to say—he wants to protect his son so desperately—but must restrain because his relationship with his family is precarious. For one, his former wife (Maria Bello) still feels betrayed for having married a woman who turns out to be attracted to other men. (Notice it is rare for the two to make eye contact.) Secondly, Franky, too, disapproves that his father is gay. Or perhaps not. Maybe it is because he feels abandoned due to Ray choosing live with someone else and lead a non-traditional lifestyle. Or that maybe he feels such a close connection to his mother that he, too, feels her feelings of betrayal. Or maybe it is all of these things. Therein lies the strength of this film: it is complicated, messy, painful, and real.

The writer-director makes the correct decision to leave the story on a satisfying note without succumbing to the pressure of solving every conflict in a way that is neat or proper. It is not a straightforward coming out story like “Love, Simon” but the two would make a strong double feature because they are so different—in look, mood, feeling, the characters we come across—that they beg to be compared side-by-side.

More discerning viewers, however, would recognize that, in a way, they complement one another. Both contain beautiful details. In this film, for instance, a genuine moment of connection occurs between father and son in a walk-in closet—the father just outside of it and the son standing inside wearing blazer—a gift from Ray—that might as well be a suit of armor.

Out in the Dark


Out in the Dark (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Here is an LGBTQ film that aims to tell a story from a specific perspective, not just offering yet another typical love story that hits the expected sweet spots which then paves the way toward a doorway of happily ever after. Instead, it aims to show aching truths and confounding realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how the deeply-rooted strife affects the every day lives of those who happen to come across love.

Co-writers Yael Shafrir and Michael Mayer, the latter directing the picture, tells the story through a fresh lens and provides voice to a difficult and sensitive subject. In the middle of the story that commands a quiet power, I wondered why we are not provided more stories like this in the west. By putting a face on numerous assumptions and impressions we hear from the news and politicians, perhaps then we would care more about specific conflicts in the Middle East, especially ordinary people who simply wish to get on with their lives. Despite the film’s shortcomings, such as moments of melodrama with family members and ill-paced chases, its angle remains exciting until the final image.

Palestinian graduate student Nimr (Nicholas Jacob) and Israeli lawyer Roy (Michael Aloni) share wonderful, immediately believable chemistry. There is seemingly minimal effort in how the performers interact, whether they are sharing drinks at a bar amongst queer friends or the two of them just hanging out in the apartment. It is in how Jacob and Aloni look at one another in the eyes, perfectly capturing that particular manner of regarding someone from moment of chance meeting until a couple of weeks of getting to know each other—like every moment is to be savored, relished, memorized.

This romantic approach provides the audience a strong core, something to hold onto, to root for, as seemingly unstoppable external forces, like being forced out of the closet by the Israeli Secret Service and complications with one’s student visa, gather even more power to crush the newly established relationship that we grow to cherish and hope to see grow and evolve. I admired that the picture abstains from providing quick and easy solutions to complex problems; even by the end we are left hanging with a handful of questions. However, we do not feel cheated by its denouement because although problems remain, the tone implies hope.

“Out in the Dark” is uninterested in taking sides or placing blame. Rather, it takes a humanistic approach by creating a portrait of those caught in the crossfire of judgment, threats, and violence. Notice its ability to balance romantic elements with gritty, uncompromising situations often found in suspense-thrillers. These extremes, to my biggest surprise, fit together quite beautifully here. It is exciting to think about the possible stories writer-director Michael Mayer has yet to tell. He’s one to watch.

Absent


Absent (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Martín (Javier De Pietro) hurts his eye during swimming class so his coach, Sebastián (Carlos Echevarría), drives him to the doctor. It seems to be only a minor irritation so the teenager is discharged. By the time Martín and Sebastián finish at the hospital, however, everyone has gone home. This is a problem because Martín is supposed to spend the night at a classmate’s house—who did not bother to wait—and his grandmother has already left town. Martín is not given a spare key. After a few hours of exhausting avenues to get rid of the student, it seems as though Sebastián has no choice but to allow Martín to stay in his apartment. Unbeknownst to Sebastián, this is all a part of Martín’s plan so they can be alone.

Written and directed by Marco Berger, “Ausente” is a very confused movie about an adolescent attraction toward someone twice as old and eventual feelings of guilt that surface. It lacks a bridge between the two extremes and so the internal and external conflicts fail to translate in a way that is moving or, at the very least, sensible.

We are supposed to have an understanding of Martín’s attraction to his coach, but he is made to be a master manipulator until well past the halfway point. While De Pietro is strong at exuding a mix of menace and sexual desire with his glances to the point where we can almost feel like his eyes are undressing his victim, his capacity for darkness is not what the film is ultimately about so it is curious why the writer-director spends so much time making him out to be someone he is not. It is confused tonally because the story is a drama at its core but it utilizes thriller elements to capture our interest. As a result, the conflict between Martín and Sebastián appears phony.

The film seems unable to discern between true sensuality and cheap sexuality. For example, when the coach finally invites his student over to his place, as the material attempts to build attention through the neighbors’ prying eyes, there are a handful of shots of Martín’s body parts, from his groin area to his buttocks. If the goal is to titillate, which is fine, it is not handled in a way that feels right to the material. The fact that the student is underage is always in the back of our minds. It is neither sexy nor seductive. It is creepy.

After an awkward night, never mind that the material does not go in any interesting direction. It fails to take off completely. There are at least half a dozen wasted scenes where Sebastián and Martín eye each other from across the room and we are made to wait and wonder whether the screenplay has something else up its sleeve. Since we do not know the two main characters as people, the twists and realizations feel nothing but creaky machinations of a plot that is desperate to end but does not know how.

The problem in experimenting with different genres is that it is easy to create an imbalance with the ingredients. “Absent” tries to do something different but since key elements do not complement each other, it meanders well past the point where we stopped caring.

Grande école


Grande école (2004)
★ / ★★★★

Paul (Gregori Baquet) has been accepted to a prestigious school which has a reputation of training graduates that become highly successful. Though his decision to room with two other guys, Louis-Arnault (Jocelyn Quivrin) and Chouquet (Arthur Jugnot), over Agnès (Alice Taglioni), his girlfriend, seems practical initially, perhaps there is another reason. Agnès suspects that Paul is attracted to Louis-Arnault. Though he denies it intensely, Agnès proposes a bizarre bet: if she beds the roommate first, Paul must stop his attraction to men; if Paul beds his roommate first, Agnès will leave the relationship in peace.

Though “Grande école,” written for the screen by Robert Salis and Jean-Marie Besset, is not just another LGBTQ movie about a person who must learn to accept his sexuality, as it unfolds, one wishes it were more ordinary—or simpler. In its attempt to be one thing and everything at once—tackling a range of topics from sexuality, race, and class—it ends up being a confused and confusing picture without a strong dramatic pull. Over time, it becomes nothing but a collection of scenes where the actors show they have memorized their lines well.

When the characters end up making speeches, it starts to feel too much like a play. Though the material is originally from the stage, and it might be a very good one, what may work there is not necessarily effective on screen. It requires a completely different energy, flow, and momentum—both in front and behind the camera. Here, though scenes take place in different milieus, the environment is almost negligible.

It should have paid more attention on the human element. What is the main source of Paul’s unhappiness? Is it because he attends a distinguished school but not necessarily passionate about what he is learning? Is his girlfriend too overbearing and at times emotionally distant even though she seems to be around all the time? Or is it because he is tired of constantly being ashamed and having to hide his attraction to men?

The last question is most interesting because many scenes—those tinged with the most humor and sadness—revolve around his bisexuality. For example, when Paul decides to hang out with Mécir (Salim Kechiouche), an Arab who works at the school, in public for the first time, his joy is almost infectious. When they kiss, it is a jolt in our stomachs. When Paul chooses to hold hands with Mécir, it feels like personal moment because we finally see him not feeling scared or being embarrassed or needing to put a front in order to impress whomever is watching. Meanwhile, discussions about class, business, and politics are extremely and unbearably dull in comparison—it does not help that the musings fail to go anywhere worthwhile.

“Grande école,” directed by Salis and based on a play by Besset, is especially problematic in the second half because it does not seem to know how to resolve its story. Characters end up declaring their feelings to the camera. When I saw tears, I sensed performances rather than a true expression of characters’ emotions.

The Fluffer


The Fluffer (2001)
★ / ★★★★

When I watch a movie that takes a look behind the scenes of the adult entertainment industry, I expect to come out of it feeling a little dirty. But I expect to receive a little bit of insight, too, whether it is about the businessmen—or businesswomen—who control what makes it into the final product or about the psychology of performers who are required to shed their inhibitions and clothing in front of the crew and unblinking cameras. Otherwise, if these elements are largely absent, what is the point of taking us into that world? If it is solely for the sake of sleaze, well, then we might be better off watching pornography.

It is curiosity why “The Fluffer,” directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, was made in the first place. It is toothless in satire, the overt comedy is seldom funny, and the characters seem to be skeletal constructs of real people in the industry.

Sean (Michael Cunio) has recently moved to Los Angeles with the hopes of making into Hollywood’s film business. While waiting to snag a job, he spends his time catching up on classic movies by renting tapes from a video store. His intention is to check out Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” but he when he opens the case in his apartment, the tape is labeled “Citizen Cum.” He decides to put it into the VCR anyway. One of its lead stars is Johnny Rebel (Scott Gurney) who captures Sean’s interest immediately. While he waits for his big break, he decides it will be a good idea to work as a cameraman for the pornographic company that consistently hires his latest obsession.

One part of the problem is the casting. While Cunio is a capable actor, perhaps the best in the film, he is too good-looking and appears too intelligent to pass as someone who cannot get a job—any job—outside of porn. It would have been more believable if an actor that is cast either looks like a regular Joe but clever or handsome but comes off dumber than a pile of bricks. An actor who commands both is neither as interesting nor seems to fit the role of Sean as someone who lacks one or both qualities.

The older gentlemen (Richard Riehle, Tim Bagley, Taylor Negron, Robert Walden) in charge of who gets cast, where the sex scene should take place, and what ought to make it through the editing room do not get enough screen time. They are also underwritten. They are reduced to playing bumbling and arguing man-children which is frustrating because they obviously would not have had their positions if they were not smart, knowledgeable, hardworking, likable or cutthroat. These men should have been key to Sean’s education about the film business—whether he decides to stay working for the sex industry, somehow makes it into Hollywood, or leave his dream altogether and settle for something else.

Instead, the picture is mired in a one-sided attraction between Sean and Johnny. It is without focus, only to be blurred further by subplots—one about a pregnancy, the other about a potential boyfriend for the protagonist—that are as dramatic as they are without entertainment value.

All the while, my mind keeps going back to Silver (Adina Porter), a black woman who happens to be a lesbian working in gay porn. Porter demands attention because her delivery of lines has a strength, hinting that her character is jaded but clinging onto the idea that staying at her job is practical for monetary purposes. I wanted to know more about her because the essence of her story is relatable to a lot of people.

Based on the screenplay by Wash Westmoreland, “The Fluffer,” the person who gives a performer fellatio in order to keep his penis erect during filming, goes around in circles. It takes place somewhere that should be interesting but it fails to do anything with it. We walk away from it, taking away nothing we don’t already know.

Eyes Wide Open


Eyes Wide Open (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

After his father dies, an Orthodox Jewish man named Aaron (Zohar Shtrauss) takes over and reopens his father’s butcher shop. From his demeanor, he has not yet completely come to terms with his father’s transition. There is a languidness and sadness behind every movement he executes. He consistently looks down as to avoid contact of any sort. When a customer comes into the shop, he looks up and engages slightly to maintain professionalism. Still, life must go on for he has a family to look after.

Based on the screenplay by Merav Doster, “Einayim Petukhoth” is not about a quickly evolving plot. It likes to take its time to show how a specific Jewish community in Jerusalem lives, thinks, and deals with problems—conflicts in direct opposition to the word of God. There is violence—physical, in the looks given, through rumors passed from one person to another, and the unsaid—and not once does the picture offer an easy solution.

Aaron hiring Ezri (Ran Danker) to work as an apprentice in the butcher shop drives the plot. While the former is highly respected in the community, the latter is not only a stranger from out of town but it appears as though he has a history: being kicked out of an educational institution for having performed “too many good deeds,” a euphemism for being a homosexual. But the movie is not about sex or love. It is about repression.

The religious hypocrisy is unveiled in one of the key scenes involving a leader who lectures his class about how God considers people who abstain as sinners. For example, a man who does not drink wine when it is available is a sinner for God does not want man to suffer. But the explanation does not make much sense to Aaron. He argues that abstaining from immediate pleasure ought to prove one’s devotion to God. Aaron, like new apprentice, is a homosexual. His act of not acting on his homosexual needs and wants is a challenge to be endured. He believes his sacrifice will bring him closer to God.

I watched the picture in rapt curiosity. The subject matter is compelling because in the center lies a man who is so willing bury who he is that he prevents himself from living. He has a beautiful family but notice that he interacts with the children only occasionally. His wife (Rivka Fleischman) getting attention—except compliments for her cooking—is rarer still. Later in the picture, Aaron admits to a rabbi (Isaac Sharry) that prior to Ezri’s arrival, he felt dead inside. I admired that the film does not result to the butcher and his apprentice experiencing complete happiness via a ridiculous montage. The more touching moments are very brief, hidden from the world, and often shared in silence. The suffocating influence of their conservative community never goes away.

At the end of “Eyes Wide Open,” directed by Haim Tabakman, we wonder about Aaron’s future as a father and husband with a responsibility to his family, as a man who loves God, and as a human being who is aware that he is not happy. How long will he be able to keep it up? I stared intently at the water in the final shot. The image fades to black.