Tag: lgbtq

A Jihad for Love

A Jihad for Love (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★

“A Jihad for Love,” directed by Parvez Sharma, gives us a peek into the lives of Muslims who happen to be homosexuals. Since it widely believed, from the common people to high scholars, that the Quran forbids homosexuality, Muslims who love and are devoted to their religion, Islam, who also consider themselves a part of the LGBTQ community are marginalized, punished, and condemned. Others are put to death.

I do not know much about Islam or what is or is not stated in the Quran, but what I do know is that the Muslims that I have met are kind people. So when I learn about acts of violence toward homosexuals and other minorities related to the Islamic culture in the news, I cannot help but wonder and ask questions. How is life really like for LGBTQ people on the other side of the world? When confronted with questions about homosexuality, how will people who have studied the Quran for many years respond to them?

The documentary lays out the essence of the religion and its followers but only to an extent. Its main focus is on the struggle of those who are treated as outcasts as well as their personal endeavors when it comes to reconciling their theology and being gay.

Particularly memorable is Muhsin Hendricks. He is out of the closet in a very public way and we listen to the radio broadcast of people calling in and expressing their outrage. Some say he, an embarrassment, has no right to be calling himself a follower of Allah. Others demand that he receive physical punishment or be put to death. When he asks his daughters, aware of their father’s homosexuality, if they think gay people should be put to death, the way they answered, not necessarily the content of their responses, is heartbreaking. They are torn from having to choose between their inherent feelings for their father and what they are taught to believe is right or true. A lot of us are not required to make a choice.

Maryam is a lesbian who, in my opinion, clings onto semantics and contradictions in order to be able to live with her sexuality. According to the sacred writing, sexual relations between people of the same gender, specifically between men (never mind the intended context from when it was written), is forbidden. She says she allows herself to love another woman without the physical act—sex—that comes with the relationship. In essence, because she abides by the technicality, she is not committing a sin in the eyes of God.

We may not understand or agree with her point of view completely, but the film does a good job capturing her sadness. We are allowed to sympathize with her. We recognize that she is trapped and perhaps will remain that way for the rest of her life.

The film stays away from showing physical violence committed against homosexuals. The daggers are embedded in the words, the intonations, and the looks given by a respected elder to the homosexual sitting a couple of feet from him. Gay Muslims having to find refuge in other countries out of concern for their safety, as well as their families’, and then later talking about how they miss home and their loved ones via telephone pack a sting, too.

One of the subjects asks, “Why do [people] think the sky has to be the same color for everyone?” It is an excellent question. But I think the reason is this: a lot of people define their lives by following the “right” thing even if a part of them feels that a longstanding rule or belief might be wrong. It is more convenient to overlook or to ignore or to lash out than to consider a challenge, to think about it critically, and to engage in a calm and fair evaluation. Such is the dark side of blind faith.

The Sum of Us

The Sum of Us (1994)
★★★★ / ★★★★

It is Friday night and Jeff (Russell Crowe) can barely contain his excitement and nervous energy. He feels it is time to approach the person he has had his eye on, a fellow named Greg (John Polson) who frequents the same pub as him. Jeff lives with his father, Harry (Jack Thompson), who is aware and has accepted his son’s homosexuality. Harry, too, a widower, is searching for love. With the help of a dating agency, he meets Joyce (Deborah Kennedy), a clean and proper woman. With plans of taking their relationship further, Harry wonders if the new belle in his life could accept the truth about his only son.

Many LGBT-themed movies center around the idea of parents finding out the truth about their son or daughter, wrestling with the idea, and coming–or not coming–to terms with it, so it is most refreshing that “The Sum of Us,” based on the play and screenplay by David Stevens, is about a father and son who have gone through the coming out experience. The attention is now toward other people, who may or may not be accepting of lifestyles outside the sphere of heteronormativity, and the familiar fear of rejection.

Harry and Jeff address the audience directly about their thoughts that go unexpressed, equally effective as a comedic and dramatic tool. When one gets very annoyed from a barrage of ill-timed jokes, the other stops and turns toward the camera thereby having a chance to let go of the remaining quips. Conversely, when something is too painful or ought not be expressed to someone else at a particular moment in time, the asides force us to get closer to the sensitive situation by allowing us to absorb what a character is thinking fully. The temporary disruptions from the flow of the story is utilized with balance and control.

The most memorable portion of the screenplay involves Greg being invited by Jeff to his home. Although Harry serves as comic relief, often popping out of the blue and blabbering on about so-and-so, completely putting a halt on the romantic tempo between his son and the visitor, his presence is always welcome. I could not help but be touched by how good the father is to his son. They get on each other’s last nerves once in a while but their love for another is never doubtable. I wished more movies would show a father and his gay son or daughter interacting like a normal family. Notice that the essence of their conversations, if and when sexuality is brought up, is about feelings that are universal, not the stereotypes that conveniently fit under “gay,” “straight,” “masculine,” or “feminine.”

The flashbacks, shown in black and white, are designed to further our understanding of father and son. With Harry, most important is his first time experience going to a gay pub after he learns about his son being attracted to other men. With Jeff, he recollects spending fun times with his late grandmother (Mitch Mathews) and the implications behind Gran having a live-in partner named Mary (Julie Herbert). The common thread is curiosity and the past is used to weave a bridge to make sense of the present.

Directed by Geoff Burton and Kevin Dowling, “The Sum of Us” is ultimately about the love within a family, not “gay” love or “straight” love. It avoids easy solutions to complex circumstances, but at the same time it is brave enough to make us laugh when things take a serious turn. It is a way of coping, a slight nudge to remind the good that remains.

Butterfly Kiss

Butterfly Kiss (1995)
★ / ★★★★

Eunice (Amanda Plummer) goes into petrol stations and tells the receptionists she is looking for a record. She cannot remember the title of the song so she hums it. After getting a response, she proceeds to ask if the person she is speaking with is named Judith. When her guess is incorrect, Eunice gets upset and kills the woman before her. When the disturbed Eunice encounters Miriam (Saskia Reeves), the outcome is different. Miriam takes her home for the night, they sleep together, and they eventually embark on a cross-country road trip.

Halfway through “Butterfly Kiss,” directed by Michael Winterbottom, I began to wonder if the picture was doing anything for me. Is it supposed to be a drama about a killer and her accomplice? A love story between two women? A dark comedy about lust, how it blinds, and how it renders the inflicted incapable of being tethered to her morality? Is it a portrait of two fractured minds meeting, melding, and fracturing? It could be any one, a combination of a few, or all of these things. I just did not care.

Events unfold for the sake of the plot but the film is photographed flatly. There is an umbrage that follows the two characters which grow increasingly monotonous. It does not flinch when the central characters go through emotions such as joy, anger, confusion, or heartbreak. The minds of Miriam and Eunice are obviously detached from reality but it does not mean our relationship with the film ought to be disconnected, too.

The so-called build-up to the shocking kills are formulaic. A new face is introduced. There is a bit of tête-à-tête as words of flattery are thrown in the air. After a stranger engages with Eunice, the countdown begins. We are reduced to waiting for someone to deliver the fatal blow or a person entering the next scene with blood on her clothing. After the third kill, we know that no one will bother to do the right thing.

Miriam speaking to directly to camera, shot in black-and-white, is sandwiched between the gruesome murders and the couple arguing about trust. Her confessions are not revelatory or mesmerizing. They do not provide insight to her actions or inaction. She claims that she sees a goodness in Eunice but where is the goodness in leaving a trail of bodies from one pitstop to another? Eventually, it begins to feel like a bunch of irrational rambling.

If there is one thing that is undeniably strong in “Butterfly Kiss,” written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, it is Plummer’s performance. She demands attention because, through her body language, she is able to construct a reality where Eunice is capable of anything. She is not afraid of rules or repercussions. Every line delivery has a fiery swagger that threatens to turn into a wildfire. Her eyes are razor sharp, willing to tear someone into shreds with a blink. It is unfortunate that the film is an interminable bore because Eunice is a specimen worthy of assessment under a different set of lights.

Blue is the Warmest Color

Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) knows she is more attracted to women than men, but—with a little push from her friends—she decides to date a male classmate (Jérémie Laheurte) who shows genuine interest in her. They get intimate eventually but being with a man fails to satiate her physical and emotional needs. Adèle does the right thing by choosing to break up with the guy before any more of their time is wasted. Later, the high school student meets Emma (Léa Seydoux), an artist with blue hair. Emma is exciting, challenging, and present. Adèle, very young and idealistic about love, falls hard for her new friend.

“La vie d’Adèle,” also known as “Blue is the Warmest Color,” falls short of being truly special due to an unjustified bulky running time. The first hour does a wonderful job in showing a series of scenes that communicates Adèle’s unhappiness through mind-numbing routines that offer little excitement or fulfillment. She is young and alive but not really living. She wants to be loved by another person but she may not be ready because she is anxious—uncertain at times—about acting on her homosexual impulses.

The film captures how it is like to be young and questioning. Exarchopoulos plays the lead character with a nice blend of naiveté and toughness but at the same time one who is undergoing an emotional turmoil so chaotic, we feel Adèle consistently being on edge—that she might explode any second. Adèle has a group of friends but the girls are not the kind to keep secrets. Her parents are very traditional. The works of literature she reads offer no solution. She is alone and we understand her being thrilled when she finally finds someone with whom she feels she can connect with on an honest and deep level.

Adèle is written smart and so is Emma. Seydoux makes fresh choices in playing the girlfriend. Emma is the tougher and more experienced of the two but there is vulnerability to her, too. The early stages of the blossoming romance are most interesting to dissect because it can be argued that Emma is as scared as Adèle to be together. The material suggests that perhaps Emma has been hurt in the past. We feel her weighing if it is worth putting her guard down and allowing a new person—a high school student, no less—into her life and create something healthy, something both of them can be happy with.

The director, Abdellatif Kechiche, is fond of close-ups. Such a technique is appropriate in a film like this because it relies on us to interpret a well of tiny emotions drawn on faces. The camera being up close and personal urges us to want to hug the characters when they are weak and have no one to confide in. Conversely, it makes us want to push them away when they have betrayed themselves or each other’s trust. By placing our perspective so close to the characters’ faces, like how their heads are always only inches away from one another, we are, in a way, in a relationship with the two women.

There was a lot of hubbub about the “explicitness” of the sex scenes. I find this frustrating because some discussions make it sound like what is shown on screen is pornographic. Sure, the images leave little to the imagination and the love scene is allowed to run longer than expected, but I found it appropriate. To me, the scene embodies Adèle’s true sexual awakening. It is the time when she—who has yearned for so long to be with someone who understands her emotionally and physically—reaches raw sexual freedom, attaining true happiness with a person with whom she does not have to pretend.

“Blue is the Warmest Color,” based on Julie Maroh’s graphic novel, takes several missteps some time in the middle—a handful of scenes that take place a few weeks or months within Adèle and Emma’s relationship. I found them repetitive. They bored me. Many ought to have been excised to keep the rhythm going. For instance, I did not see much point in the two women visiting each other’s families other than to incite obvious tonal differences between the two households. As a result, we expect to see parents in the latter half—when several years have passed since the lovers met—to see how they, too, have or have not changed. Alas, there isn’t even a mention of them.

Alex Strangelove

Alex Strangelove (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

Fifteen to twenty minutes into the picture, I was convinced that “Alex Strangelove,” written and directed by Craig Johnson, would have nothing to offer other than Disney Channel-like conflicts, characters, and sense humor—but not from the creative and daring Disney shows from late 1990s and early 2000s… Rather, from those shows released during the mid- to late 2000s that inspire viewers to roll their eyes due to cheese overdose. But something unexpected happens during an expected high school party—thrown by the drama kids, no less. As it begins to unbox the central conflict of the story, the main character discovering that it is possible he might be bisexual, the picture suddenly comes to life.

There are plenty of coming out stories but not too many stand out. One of the main reasons is a lack of authenticity. In order for this type of story to resonate, it must be believable, from the look of the high school environment and the cast playing certain types of teenagers to the variegated conflicts the characters must grapple with, especially when it comes to the person coming out of the closet and those within his or her inner circle.

While this film does not stand strong among teen-centric LGBTQ+ films like “Get Real,” “But I’m a Cheerleader,” “The Way He Looks,” “Beautiful Thing,” and “Summer Storm,” it gets one thing exactly right: It is compassionate toward both the person dealing with his sexuality and those around him. There is no villain here other than one’s crippling shame and fear—two elements so powerful that Alex is unable to ask himself even the most basic questions regarding his sexuality and to answer questions asked by his peers. Perhaps one of the best parts of the film is when his girlfriend confronts him about not having known or even suspected that he might not be heterosexual after seventeen years. Is that even possible?

Alex is played by Daniel Doheny and he turns the smart, kind, and neurotic class president into a believable person. Doheny shares great chemistry with Madeline Weinstein; the latter is not simply the suspicious girlfriend who nags. She, too, has her own set of problems outside of her romantic relationship with Alex. I enjoyed that their connection is written in a way that it is rooted in friendship rather than one that is copied and pasted from a default template of teen romcoms. When one hurts, so does the other. The picture takes its time to underline this recurring theme. There is no doubt in our minds that their friendship would be able to weather the storm. The question is how their relationship is going to be sculpted.

While the film can be unabashedly crude for the sake of generating laughter, especially the gross-out scenes which almost always revolve around parties, notice its approach during the more dramatic scenes. It is quiet, patient, and the camera is still as it focuses on faces. It feels as though the camera is a friend who is there to be present, to listen, to console as the teens face challenges. By having the courage to trust on what silence communicates and to not move the camera in order to avoid distraction, the writer-director is able to create an intimate look into the teenagers’ lives.

“Alex Strangelove” has a few surprises up its sleeve. Even the boisterous best friend (Daniel Zolghadri) is given shadings. For instance, moments when he tells Alex that he can be difficult sometimes will likely remind the viewer of a good friend who does exactly the same when the occasion calls for it. As for Alex’ potential romantic interest, it is so nice that Elliot (Antonio Marziale) is written as a stable figure, one who does not need to change for anything, or anyone, or simply because the plot demands it. There is freshness to be found in this picture if one is willing to look closely.

Taxi zum Klo

Taxi zum Klo (1980)
★★★ / ★★★★

Frank (Frank Ripploh) is a thirty-year-old grade school teacher in Berlin who has consistently done a good job in keeping his private life separate from his work. He maintains a very active sex life by frequently visiting baths, restrooms, bars, and other places where he can hook up with other gay men. The responsibility of having to juggle the two spheres proves too much, however, when Frank decides to live with Bernd (Bernd Broaderup), a theater employee who was supposed to be just another one-night stand.

An autobiographical film written and directed by Frank Ripploh, “Taxi zum Klo” offers confronting images about the sexuality of gay men, but it is not created for mere titillation. Underneath it all is a tragedy because it tells a story of a man who is so accustomed to putting up walls so he cannot be read so easily that he ends up not knowing how to relate or connect with another person in a meaningful way. What he comes to know is the physical aspect of sex and beyond it is just darkness.

It certainly has shocking images, at least for its time and for those not exposed to the lifestyle, and, I must admit, I found some of them to be somewhat amusing. I admired that the picture dares to go to a place and is fearless in engaging the audience with details. For example, Frank visits a restroom, obviously a place where sex—one way or another—is involved, and sits in one of the stalls. To his left is a hole where one can observe another man stripping, masturbating, or whatever else. That hole is also used for oral sex. Though I could not help but snicker at what was happening on screen, the camera is unflinching, still, and determined to show what some gay men do—in the closet or not.

A recurring theme involves people being out in public—at a gathering or during a one-on-one conversation—and the exchanges being interrupted with images of sex. In an early scene, Frank and his fellow teachers spend the night out. At first, it seems to be just another scene designed to show that Frank is just another person despite his sexual orientation. On the contrary, and it remains open to interpretation, because of the intercutting scenes of someone masturbating—in color—and a group of men having sex—in black and white—I started to consider that Frank might have a degree of sexual addiction. Are those images thoughts that appear in his head while interacting with his colleagues? Though he seems to listen when someone is speaking to him, is he detached from what is in front of him?

And then there is Frank’s relationship with Bernd. The latter is ready for a commitment, so open in sharing what he hopes the two of them—together—will attain in the future, but the former cannot be bothered to look that far in time. There is a sadness and frustration to Bernd that he refrains from expressing because he is afraid that if he does, he would lose the man he loves. We may not agree with his approach but the mistakes and the dysfunctions of the relationship are interesting and so we are forced to look closer.

“Taxi zum Klo” is a brave and, in my opinion, a successful attempt of taking the subjects of homosexuality and homosexual acts out of the darkness. Though it may offend many due to some of its over-the-top images (there is a sequence that involves Frank urinating on a partner’s face), some going as far as labeling it pornographic, the characters are imbued with complexity that I ended up being more interested in their state of minds than what they do to satiate their carnal desires.

God’s Own Country

God’s Own Country (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Here is a film that explores what love is and its many definitions.

Filled to the brim with thick Northern England accent with no subtitles to guide the viewer, I was frustrated that I could not make out what was being said exactly by the dialogue. I felt my dissatisfaction grow when it becomes apparent about fifteen minutes in that although words are scant, they command importance. This is especially critical because our protagonist is a person who is closed off, desperately lonely, and an expert when it comes to internalizing his thoughts and feelings. So I tried a different technique in order to try to understand: listen to the dialogue but do not hang onto them. Let the images serve as a guide to make sense of the story and its characters. It quickly becomes apparent that this is the preferred avenue to absorb this film’s quietly disarming power.

The picture presents a definition of love as a romantic connection. Numerous LGBTQ+ pictures, especially generic comedies and bad dramas, appear to write the material around sexual encounters and sudden twists of fate that lead to a happy or tragic ending. Not here. There is emphasis on fear of being alone for the rest of one’s life because one is gay and in the closet, how this fear is perverted into numbness, unexpressed rage, and self-sabotage which then leads to a consistent self-denial of perhaps connecting and exploring with another person who just might help to break one out of this cycle.

Johnny (Josh O’Connor) is tasked to mind the farm after his father (Ian Hart) had suffered a stroke which led to his paralysis. Johnny is reckless, unemotional, and prone to binge drinking after a long day of work. So that Johnny will have help during the lambing season, Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), a migrant worker from Romania, is hired. Avoiding every trapping and predictable beats of the sub-genre, Gheorghe and Johnny establish a connection. Although they are far apart in personality, temperament, and view of the world, they actually like one another. Notice how writer-director Francis Lee employs minimal dialogue. Instead, emphasis is placed on how the two men look at one another, how they take up space when near each other, the silence simmering between them, and the amount of distance between their bodies when all they wish to do is embrace for hours.

The film, too, underscores love as passion for one’s work. In the beginning of the film, we assume that Johnny detests farm work through how he handles tools, interacts animals, the overall lack of regard on how well chores are done. In a simple but moving exchange between father and son late in the picture, we learn the truth behind Johnny’s actions. When it comes to Gheorghe, the elemental opposite of Johnny, it is ensured we appreciate details. We observe how he takes off the skin of a dead lamb, how he milks goats, how he cooks, how he operates machines. When Gheorghe is front and center of the frame, there is a much-needed moment of exhalation and tranquility. In other words, it is communicated to us, without relying on words, what Johnny sees in him.

Finally, the work highlights love as family. Again, the screenplay defies expectations. There is no critical moment in which Johnny must come out to his father or grandmother (Gemma Jones). There is no confrontation where one tells another that homosexuality is wrong due to some twisted moral high-ground or that because the Bible says so. Sometimes it is enough to show a person privately learning to come to terms with a knowledge or feeling one has. Furthermore, I loved that the writer-director is willing to show what stroke does to a person and how family rallies to take care of their loved one even through humiliating situations.

“God’s Own Country” is profoundly moving because it is filled with intimate moments. It requires the performers to communicate paragraphs using only their eyes or how they move their limbs just so (and when). On the other hand, it demands the viewer to be open to absorb the story, its vulnerabilities, quiet longings, and messages through unexpected means. Francis Lee should be proud for creating a standout directorial debut. I learned later that he grew up on a Yorkshire farm, and it shows. In some scenes, I could smell the blades of grass and the poetry whispered by the wind.

My Life in Pink

My Life in Pink (1997)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Plenty of movies make a whole lot of noise but ultimately end up being about nothing. Here is a picture that tries to explore a sensitive topic, in some cultures still considered to be taboo, one that will remain relevant for many decades to come.

“Ma vie en rose,” written by Alain Berliner and Chris Vander Stappen, is about a seven-year-old boy who is convinced that she is a girl. Ludovic (Georges Du Fresne) likes to dress up in women’s clothing, prefers to play with dolls rather than trucks, and at one point admits to her grandmother (Hélène Vincent) that when she is no longer a boy, she will marry Jérôme (Julien Rivière), a classmate and friend from across the street.

Transphobia is communicated in small and big ways. Some people make remarks without necessarily intending harm. For example, as children have “gender appropriate” toys on their desks during show-and-tell, Ludovic reluctantly takes out two dolls, Ben and Pam. Surprised with the kind of toys her student has just pulled out, the teacher asks, “You want to be like Ben and not Pam, right?” Then the teacher proceeds to suggest that Ludovic and a girl who sits in front of the class might make a good couple. And yet I wondered. Is the teacher’s intention to protect Ludovic from humiliation? By preventing the child from admitting that she wants to be like Pam and then disguising the situation with a joke, there is a good possibility that perhaps the teacher has Ludovic’s best interests in mind.

The escalation of the child’s lack of happiness from a social perspective is painted with truth and clarity. He loves who he is. It is those outside of himself who have a problem. Part of it is a lack of understanding. Most of the time, it is a lack of willingness to understand. The distinction between them makes up one of the most effective arcs in the story which involves Hanna (Michèle Laroque) and Pierre (Jean-Philippe Écoffey), Ludovic’s parents. At one point or another, they want Ludovic’s hair cut off so she can look more like a boy, tell her not to wear a dress because boys just do not wear dresses, and force her to see a psychologist to get her “fixed,” to set her “straight.”

There is a lot of pain and struggle in the seven-year-old’s life and I found it admirable that Alain Berliner, the director, does not flinch from it. It gets so unbearable for our protagonist that one point, she tries to commit suicide. I have no doubt that this scene will make an impression. A child attempting to end her life may appear to be some kind of an exaggeration in a movie. But if you look at the news and hear about children killing themselves because they are bullied at school for being different, you realize that this is a reality we are facing to today. And it will continue for many years until we learn to embrace—a level beyond tolerance and acceptance.

Somewhat distracting are the fantasy scenes. It is understandable that we experience Ludovic’s way of coping, but perhaps it is best to minimize them. I found that the seriousness is undercut by some humorous images at times.

“My Life in Pink” takes a subject and examines it without compromise. This way, we get a taste of the internal lives of the main characters and sympathize with them. It shows that dealing with one’s own or a loved one’s feelings of being born in the wrong body is never easy. In the end, there is no solution imposed on Ludovic. We simply look at her from above, hoping that she will be strong enough to overcome the hurdles yet to come.

Call Me by Your Name

Call Me by Your Name (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

To tell a love story without the expected words, phrases, and gestures meant to communicate specific thoughts, feelings, and private longings is particularly challenging to pull off, awkward and off-putting when executed even with the slightest hint of self-consciousness, but Luca Guadagnino’s surprisingly disarming “Call Me by Your Name,” based on the novel by André Aciman, makes it look like most graceful dance, so natural, delicate, and free of chains that prevent so many coming-of-age pictures from reaching their maximum potential. Here is a film that gets it right every step of the way, a rarity under any standard, clearly a modern classic.

Its postcard-like countryside images of Northern Italy makes us wish to jump into the screen and inhale the scents of verdant fruit trees, swim in the blue-green ocean, and allow the hot summer winds to caress every centimeter of our skin. Since the screenplay by James Ivory does not concern itself with delivering the usual beats and rhythms of the sub-genre, the picture takes its time to explore places, like a secluded area where water from the mountains accumulate, a plaza with a statue paying tribute to a lesser-known World War I battle, a welcoming neighborhood where one can stop by and ask for water after a long bicycle ride. It gives a feeling that, like the characters, we, too, are on vacation and so the feelings they have toward the place and one another are all the more resonant to us.

Notice how the material is not plagued with drama typical of LGBTQ romance films or romance films in general. The protagonist is never put in a situation where he must choose between two potential mates with opposite interests and personalities, no motormouth friend with her own subplot designed solely for comic relief, not even a typical event when one is forced out of the closet, often a bully’s doing, or by accident, likely to have done by a friend, ally, or possible romantic interest. No one dies from a disease, a freak accident, or suicide. Nearly every choice is fresh so it feels like anything is possible.

Because there is no distraction, the audience gets a chance to understand seventeen-year-old Jewish-American Elio (Timothée Chalamet) as an individual and as well as a person who just so happens to be attracted to another man, Oliver (Armie Hammer), a Ph.D. student from America who was invited by Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an archeologist professor, to assist with academic work. But because Elio, clearly gifted musically and a voracious reader, is a quiet and secretive person, we learn about him mostly through his actions and the objects he surrounds himself.

Notice how nearly every room is filled with books, many of which are worn with pages nearly falling out, how he is often writing or daydreaming, observing other people from a distance. Introspective viewers will almost immediately relate to this character and Chalamet ensures that Elio is on a constant state of change. We must catch up to the protagonist rather than simply waiting for him to change eventually.

The chemistry between Chalamet and Hammer is peerless. There is never a disingenuous or forced moment. Coupled with Guadagnino’s string of smart decisions to abstain from showing every intimate scene that Elio and Oliver share, a highly sensual, rather than crudely sexual, examination of young love is created. So many romantic pictures attempt to capture sensuality but often ending up false or, worse, sleazy. Here, the relaxed environment matches the effortless budding intimacy.

“Call Me by Your Name” resonates with me because it is filled with people, scenery, and experiences that I had or currently have in my own life. Particularly realistic and moving is the way Elio’s parents (Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar) are written and portrayed. They love and know their son through and through. They may not say it but they never fail to show it. They remind me of my own parents in how certain things may go unsaid not out of fear or worry but because it is not necessary, simply superfluous. Here is a film that leaves a great lasting impression.

Making the Boys

Making the Boys (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

“To be a dumb gay person is a luxury that was won for you by gay people who came before when being gay was so complicated and so difficult that dumb gay people didn’t last.” — Dan Savage

What did I think of the film “The Boys in the Band”? I enjoyed it because it does not bother with political correctness. The plot is simple: a group of gay men from different backgrounds, most of them friends but sometimes they cannot stand one another, gather for a friend’s birthday party. Over the course of drinking and partying, deepest insecurities are exhumed. The characters are allowed to be ugly in action, thought, and emotion. They are allowed to be honest, to hurt. Upon the play’s release, it showed that homosexuals—ceaselessly painted in the media as monsters to be feared, disgusted, and are deserving of damnation or as villains who are weak, deplorable, often psychotic—are human beings, too.

“Making the Boys,” directed by Crayton Robey, does a solid job in providing a canvass of the historical climate of the mid- to late-‘60s and connecting the time to Mart Crowley’s inspiration to write the game-changing play. It is interesting how the picture focuses on the dead ends he encountered. For instance, although he was around important Hollywood stars at the time, he felt out of place because somewhere in the back of his mind he had not done anything of value to deserve being in that circle. For those who have seen the play or the movie, understanding the playwright’s mindset holds importance because characters in “The Boys in the Band” have raging in insecurities that are kept hidden just underneath a thin veil of camaraderie.

Furthermore, the documentary paints a vivid picture of how difficult it was to gain support of gay-anything. Financial support was important but the more fascinating angle related to some gay men who were opposed to embracing the play—the very same individuals who wanted homosexual stories to become visible in mainstream media. There were riots and boycotting of the play. The argument was that it showed gay men under a negative light more often than a positive one. Maybe it is impossible for me to appreciate the argument fully now because I did not live through that tumultuous era. Personally, when it comes to the issue of visibility, seeing the good and the bad outweighs showing just the good or just the bad. That way, what is shown is one step beyond one’s expectation or fantasy.

There is not enough information about some of the cast. Appropriate time is given to Cliff Gorman (who gave a highly entertaining performance), Robert La Tourneaux, and Laurence Luckinbill, but the others are mentioned only sporadically. There are questions worth answering: Did the cast get along? Were a few of them difficult to work with? How did they get along with William Friedkin, the movie’s director who also happens to have a habit of firing people? What were their reactions to the play’s success? To the movie’s failure to garner the majority of the support of the gay community? When we are provided information about what had happened to their careers, it comes off too abrupt.

Having Crowley describe his recollections feels exactly right. I enjoyed how he paints a picture in our heads. Notice how he describes the difference in the number of audience, between opening night and the following night, who came out to see his play. He details how long the lines were, the atmosphere of being out there in the streets, what the audience carried with them. One can tell he is born a storyteller. He made me wish I was there to experience it all first hand.

Beach Rats

Beach Rats (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

With so many films for the LGBTQ community being so broad, often through the scope of silly-minded comedy, it is most refreshing when a work comes around that dares to be specific and treats its subject with utmost respect and sincerity. Here is a film that captures the crippling loneliness of a closeted young gay person—such a state of mind so overwhelming that every day people who happen to fall outside the heteronormative sphere decide to end their lives instead of having to endure another second of it.

Although “Beach Rats” does not involve suicide, writer-director Eliza Hittman is interested in capturing intense long-term emotions and states of mind that may contribute to such an action. The protagonist is a most desperate character—desperate to be seen for who he truly is by others, desperate to find a way to accept his sexuality, desperate to just be himself. And parallel to his desperation is a cycle of self-destructive behavior, every step leading to the opposite direction of what he hopes to achieve. But there is no judgement. The camera merely asks that we observe.

Harris Dickinson plays Frankie with an armor so thick at times that less observant viewers will likely miss the performer’s level of control. A one-dimensional approach to a stoic character might have proven toxic, but Dickinson is wise to allow just enough flittering moments of lightness, optimism, and romanticism to pierce the armor. These small but critical glimpses give the viewers a chance to imagine an alternate reality: How Frankie might have ended up a different person entirely had he the courage to come out and had he been provided unconditional support to help him get through any challenge that life bestows.

The picture’s photography is so beautiful. It is not shiny or glamorous—in fact, it appears to look grainy at times—but there is a timeless look and feel about it that is exactly right for the type of story being told. With the exception of images like fireworks and amusement park rides on Coney Island, the colors are, for the most part, dull, suffocating, giving the impression that existing rather than living is the norm.

Numerous shots of extreme close-ups, whether it be a corner of someone’s face or a body part, communicate the fractured or incompleteness of Frankie’s every day existence. We follow him doing the same thing when things go bad and not doing a thing that might steer his life in another direction. However, the screenplay ensures that we empathize with the main character even though some of his actions can be questionable. Like any other person, Frankie is capable of unnecessary cruelty. Sometimes cruelty comes in the form of doing nothing when doing something is morality right.

It is worth noting that “Beach Rats” is never meant to be titillating—a standout because many LGBTQ pictures feel the need to entertain such an avenue even though it does not have anything to do with their thesis. Here, observe how nearly every sexual encounter is something that just has to be done rather than to be enjoyed. It usually involves Frankie having to prove to others he is one way rather than another, to prove that he is something else other than what he knows to be true. It is a sad story and I admired Hittman’s focus when it comes to delivering what the film wishes to convey.

Love or Whatever

Love or Whatever (2012)
★ / ★★★★

Written by Dennis Bush and Cait Brennan, “Love or Whatever” makes an assumption that just because its target audience is the LGBTQ community, it can get away with sophomoric characterizations, an unbelievable plot, and badly executed jokes that either are not funny or downright stupid. The film will appeal, if one were optimistic, to those with an IQ lower than fifty or those who would rather sit through a movie with nothing to say rather than read something that might prove educational.

The clumsy plot is this: Corey (Tyler Poelle), a counselor, has bought engagement rings three months ago but since then is unable to find the courage to propose to his boyfriend (David Wilson Page). Jon comes to discover the rings eventually and is rattled because he does not at all feel ready to be in a committed relationship. He thinks he may be attracted to women as well and comes to the conclusion that it may be worth exploring that route. When Corey does propose to Jon eventually, the cat is out of the bag.

The performances all around are cartoonish, even histrionic at times, and so it makes that much harder to believe the already outlandish situations the movie presents. Jon is a child stuck in a muscular man’s body, Kelsey (Jennifer Elise Cox) is the loudmouth lesbian who sleeps with everybody she makes eye contact with, even Corey is portrayed as an anal retentive geek whose success is very much attributed to such qualities.

There is one rather likable character played by Joel Rush. Pete is a pizza delivery guy who becomes Corey’s romantic interest after Jon reveals he might be bisexual. Casting Rush is a good move because he looks like a stereotypical muscle head but the character is written as sensitive, intelligent, and compassionate. Over time, we understand why the protagonist comes to fall head over heels with Pete. However, the screenplay commits an important omission: The positive qualities that Pete sees in Corey so as to be convincing that the two really are a good fit.

Great romantic comedies rely on the audience fully connecting or relating to both people involved. Here, it does not work because we have an understanding of one but not the other. In the end, take wishful thinking aside, it would be reasonable to assume that Corey is simply an easy lay, desperate after a messy breakup.

Directed by Rosser Goodman, “Love or Whatever” is a cheap-looking, interminable bore with very low ambitions. It does not even get the love scenes right. The camera angles are awkward, almost pornographic, with a groan-inducing pop song playing shamelessly in the background.

Stranger by the Lake

Stranger by the Lake (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

“Stranger by the Lake,” written and directed by Alain Giraudie, is beautiful-looking mystery thriller involving a murder in a lake that just so happens to be a gay cruising spot, but the screenplay is not deep enough to warrant a thorough psychological examination of its characters. As a result, one gets the impression that having unsimulated sex scenes is a mere gimmick, designed simply to capture the interest of its intended audience. Telling a compelling story is left by the wayside.

The picture is not without a sense of humor. For example, as a man walks toward the lakeside, the editing makes it appear as though the men already there are like a pack of wolves, constantly on the lookout for potential meat to go after. It works as a commentary about the gay community and objectification, especially toward younger men. The material might have benefited overall if it had more amusing and intelligent moments like this. Instead, we get numerous shots of naked men sunbathing.

The person who witnesses the murder is named Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps). Perhaps the only interesting element about him is the fact that he refuses to report what he had seen. The reason is because he has fallen in love with the murderer, Michel (Christophe Paou), prior to the decisive moment. By turning a blind eye, it is natural that we grow increasingly curious about Franck’s motivations. However, the way the character is written is quite bland and he is not given many interesting things to do or say. Halfway through, he turns into a bore.

Over time, I began to wonder about the writer-director’s own motivations. I questioned if he really wanted to tell a story first and then attach sex scenes around it, or the other way around. While I welcome nudity and sex in the movies, especially when the subject matter demands them, I found the usage here to be gratuitous and distracting. The final product might have been a potent thriller if more time and effort had been given to develop the characters fully, construct well-executed chases, get us to feel morally guilty for following a protagonist who fails to do the right thing time and again.

“L’inconnu du lac” is just another sexually explicit but inconsequential LGBTQ-themed picture even though it may not seem like it at first glance. Look closely. Although it does take some risks, like daring to have an unconventional ending, such bold decisions do not make up for a lack of suspense, banal dialogue, and characters we do not feel we understand inside and out.

Parting Glances

Parting Glances (1986)
★★★ / ★★★★

Robert (John Bolger) is set to live in Africa for two years due to a work-related assignment. His boyfriend, Michael (Richard Ganuong), is not exactly happy with the upcoming change especially since it means Robert will not be present when Nick (Steve Buscemi), Michael’s best friend whom he also happens to have romantic feelings toward, inevitably goes through the late stages of AIDS.

“Parting Glances,” written and directed by Bill Sherwood, is neither a cheap LGBTQ picture where the dramatic elements function on a level of soap opera nor is it a comedy where the jokes have easy targets and the situations can happen only in fantasyland. Instead, it finds a pulse that rings true: the fear of losing a friend.

Dropping into the lives of gay men in New York City, the film is not interested in clean introductions and proper resolutions. It goes where Michael goes—the apartment Michael and Robert share, a dinner with Robert’s boss (Patrick Tull), a goodbye party thrown by Joan (Kathy Kinney), Nick’s depressing apartment—and we are there with him as he engages in conversations with people with something or nothing at all to say. When the camera stops moving and there is little noise in the background, Michael—and the audience—is reminded of the sadness and frustration he tries to keep at bay.

The picture could have had an unnecessary subplot but the writer-director is one step ahead of our expectations. Although a character named Peter (Adam Nathan), a college student who works at the record store that Michael frequents, is introduced and on screen for a good amount of time, there is not one scene where he is forced into the plot. He suggests to Michael that they ought to go out on a date, but he gets brushed off on more than one occasion. Peter is not told why but what matters is we know the reason.

Buscemi does not play his AIDS-infected character as a pathetic, wilting figure. He makes a fresh choice by not showing Nick as physically sick. Remove the dialogue and it is highly unlikely one can guess he is living with a fatal disease. By playing the character like a healthy person—having us see him full of life—it underlines what will soon be taken away.

The story touched me because the images reminded me of a friend who was taken too soon. In a way, I saw myself through Michael because he gets to do things I wish I had done. He gets to embrace his friend tightly. He expresses how much he loves Nick and how much he will miss their friendship.