‘Fair Haven’ got me. In my youth, I had a lot of dreams of what I want my life to be like. And some of those dreams have true, and some I still hoping for. But I am realist as well, and honest enough to say that there are dreams I had that will never true. So I can’t help to identify with the character of James, played by Michael Grant. He is 19 years old, ready to start his life.
But he had a detour. He was sent to ex-gay convertion therapy, and has pretended that he has been ‘healed.’ His father spent his tuition money (He got accepted to Berklee School of Music in Boston) and is now back in his rural Vermont town. His father wants him to abandon music and work at their apple orchard.
It’s all predictable, you may say. But Grant’s heartbreaking performance is so believable, and the directions so effective that even though we know where the film is eventually go, the journey hits every mark effectively. Sure this plays like a upgraded gay Lifetime movie of sorts, (Gregory Carradine and Tom Wopat are both here ) but such a bad thing?
I think I am now definitely a fan of actress Riley Keough. I know she is great in STARZ’s ‘The Girlfriend Experience,’ and she is wonderful in So Yong Kim’s ‘Lovesong.’ She has one of the most expressive faces, and she uses them intelligently – a look, a glance conveys a myriad of emotions with her. In this film, she plays Sarah, who has been friends with Mindy (Jenna Malone) since they were kids. But is there something more to their friendship? In the film, as is most of the time in real life, feelings are complex, and is even complicated by attachments, and life choices. Sarah and Mindy connect at one point, and they kiss, but both are afraid to face their feelings. Cut to three years later as Sarah goes to Tennessee for Mindy’s wedding, as she senses ambivalence in Mindy’s commitment. Is this the perfect opportunity for them to finally acknowledge what they feel, if indeed they feel something for each other.
Obviously, the gay undertones in this film is there, but it is never said out loud. Perhaps that speaks of gender fluidity with this new generation, after all love is love, right? No need for labels. This is one of those stylish films where there seems to be not much action, but more about character pieces. You feel like you really got to know Sarah (and Mindy) even though you don’t really see their life journeys. I liked it for its contemplative tone, as it makes you think about choices you made, roads you didn’t follow. And if only to see Keough in action, it’s worth a view.
‘Four Days in France’ (‘Jours de France’) is one of the weirdest movies I have seen in a long time. It is one of those films that is truly hard to describe. Directed by Jérôme Reybaud, this premiered at Venice Film Festival. It stars Pascal Cervo as Pierre Thomas. At the beginning of the film, Pierre leaves his lover in the middle of the night, and starts driving through Central France. We don’t know why he is doing this – we get a very vague idea in the end. As he goes through the different rural cities, he goes to rest stops and cruising areas looking for hookups. Most of the time he is aided by the ever-reliable phone app Grindr, where he ‘meets’ the men of Central France (Are there really that many there?) There is the idea that he has sex with a whole lot of them, but curiously he doesn’t. He meets a lot of other people along the way – his French teacher from childhood, a young gay man who wants to move to Paris, an older lady walking to the market.
And then there’s his partner, who (again) uses Grindr to track him down. That familiar notification notice of Grindr is ever ubiquitous here, if Pierre isn’t listening to classical music. One can find this film very tedious, pointless even. At times I did as well, but I have to admit I also liked the languid pace of the film, and was amused by the quirky characters he met, even if most of the set ups were quite contrived. This film runs at least 140 minutes, and you feel its length. Oddly enough, though, I felt that my time wasn’t wasted.
Argentinian Director Marco Berger, in his 2014 movie ‘Hawaii,’ teased his audience on a will-they or won’t-they angle, and in his new film ‘Taekwondo’ (which he co-directs with Martín Darina) he does the exact same thing. Germán (Gabriel Epstein) is invited by his friend Fernando (Lucas Papa) to an all-boys summer vacation in a resort town near Buenos Aires. He doesn’t know why he was invited – he senses that Fernando is into him, but he gets a lot of mixed signals, not just from him but from his posse in the house. He even asks, is he even gay? We find out that Germán is, via his phone conversation with a friend and we spend the rest of the movie testing our gaydar if Fernando is. All things seem to point that way, but are we really sure?
The ‘tease’ here can be frustrating and it is compounded by Farina’s penchance for closeups of the male genitalia, and when we are kind of certain things are going a certain way we get sidetracked. We also get to see how other cultures are more comfortable with their sexualities, as we see the whole group of men here always in various states of undress, and can you imagine an American movie – even a gay one – do that? I read of a study recently wherein straight men get more sexually flexible when they are drunk, and we sense that homoerotic tension here as a group of guys drink, shoot the breeze, and tell sexually sated stories with each other. As I said, this film will try your patience but it is thoughtful and there is a nice payoff in the end. Epstein and Papa are pretty to look at (everyone here is, actually) and the dialogue is nice and easy going – its languid pace makes you really feel like you are on this vacation with them. I don’t know if I would recommend it to everyone, but for the lovers of gay independent niche projects, this a big go.
One of my first real pleasant movie surprises this year is ‘Handsome Devil,’ an Irish feel good coming of age/coming out movie. You would think at this point of my life I have already had my fill of these kinds of movies but I guess my jaded heart still hasn’t ceased from feeling because I found myself balling while watching it – tears of joy, because I got so involved with the characters.
There’s nothing new here, bur we have great performances, starting with Fionn O’Shea as Ned, the outsider who is geeky and nerdy but with a musical heart of gold. Then comes Connor (Nicholas Galitzine) as his new roommate – expelled from another boarding school because of fights, and they form an unlikely friendship. Circumstances dictate this friendship to be compromised, and revealing more would be criminal.
You will find yourself very caught up with this, and it’s one of those movies where you are tearing up while you are still laughing. It’s treacly, and preachy – probably to the choir – but it is ultimately uplifting and you will be clapping your hands by the end credits.
Father-Son movies touch me more than usual, and Polish/German Director Piotr Lewandowski’s film ‘Jonathan’ hits me right to my core. Watching it felt like being punched in the stomach. Jonathan is a young man who is taking care of her father, who is terminally ill with cancer, on his second stage of chemotherapy. He has given up his life and made sacrifices to take care of his father. But his father has one big secret he hasn’t told Jonathan: he is gay. And this movie demonstrates that in order to let go of life, you have to put life in one last time.
Jonathan is played by Jannis Niewohner, and he is a most beautiful male specimen. Lewandowski knows this and photographs him in the best light – you cannot help but fall in love with his character: handsome and sensitive, caring for his ill father. When the secret is finally revealed to him, you feel his anguish, and it doesn’t hurt that Niewohner is a fantastic actor, taking you to different emotional journeys throughout the film. But ultimately, the film is about someone waiting to pass, and I don’t know if I could bear watching this film again. But if you are in the mood to make sure you still feel your heart, nothing is better.
‘The Pass,’ directed by Ben A. Williams, was adapted for the screen by John Donelly, from his hit p lay at Royal Court. While I did not see the production, I have read that his adaptation is pretty faithful to his original work. The resulting movie is a little claustrophobic, to be honest, and its wideness doesn’t help it – at times the action left me a little bored, and a lot of the British slang went over my head. But make no mistake, this is a great and important piece of film, and it is anchored by two fine performances – Russell Tovey (Jason) and Arinze Kene (Ade)
The film is broken in three portions, all five years apart: the first third is set in 2006 in a hotel room in Bucharest – both Jason and Ade are holed up before a game in the morning, and clad only in their underwear, verbally spars with each other. But all sense that there is more as the tension – sexual above all – is insurmountable, and you just know it will have to combust at some point. And it does. The film moves to five years later as Jason gets embroiled in a sex video scandal with a stripper, in his elaborate plan to beard in order to hide his sexual orientation. The last third is set in another hotel room, as he and Ade face each other again after ten years.
I loved the last part most of all, as it turns very emotional and both characters have to deal with their emotions – unrequited, unexpressed, unfiltered. Tovey is a marvel here – giving a richly textured performance of a man who has to hide behind a machismo persona. But I think what makes his performance work is because he has to react to kene’s subtlety – his glance here, his look there sometimes says more than the long dialogues, which sound stage-y a lot of times. I found myself thinking about these characters a lot, and what would happen to both. This film has some limitations, but overall it will touch you.