It’s 1987, and Martial Law has jiust been lifted in Taiwan. The setting is an all-boys Catholic school, and this is where we first see Birdy (Jing-Hua Tseng) and Jia Han (Edward Chen) as high schoolers. One os an outcast, the other is popular. And against all odds, they fall in love, but this love is never spoken, and not really acted upon. Such is the premise of ‘Your Name Engraved Herein,’ the most successful LGBT film in Taiwan’s history. I guess nowadays they call the genre BL (boy love) and it’s so accepted now that the film broke box office records even in the midst of the pandemic.
I thought I had already gone wary of gay films where one character is long-suffering, and the story consists of one-sided unrequited love affairs (really, it has become so tiring for me) but director Kuang-Hui Lui focuses on the love story that you cannot help but be swept by it. It is set at a different time of course, where this love is still a love that dare not speak its name. I cannot help but be touched by it, and I am probably around the same age at the time as these characters were. The film felt true, even if at times the melodrama is so pronounced it feels screechy. So cue in the melancholy music and I am there. And I bet you will be too. So go fire this up on Netflix and have a good cry.
Vigo Mortensen makes his directorial debut in ‘Falling,’ and it is notable that this film was featured in several film festivals: Sundance, Cannes, Toronto and San Sebastian. The film is a story about a son (Mortensen) and a father, played by Lance Henriksen. Specifically it’s about a homophobic father and his gay son who has to take care of him. Needless to say, that set up piqued my interest, and was so looking forward to seeing this.
I knew this was going to be heavy, but perhaps it was way too heavy for me right now. It did feel like you were spending time with a belligerent elderly who is spewing bile remarks non-stop. It took my patience to even sit through some of the scenes, and I couldn’t help but keep wishing for the film to end. Perhaps the acting was too good and so believable? Mortensen plays his role subtly, a contrast to Henriksen’s over the top, and hysterical performance.
The film also lacks a bit of narrative. It gives us flashbacks to when the son was a kid, but the present story doesn’t bring you anywhere, and while I like a lot of the directorial choices, I am left to wonder what the film is trying to say.
I have to say, I was quite taken by Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox’s new film ‘Sublet.’ I found myself tearing up from it, really touched by it.
Part of it may be my sense of wanderlust. I used to do one big trip a year and obviously couldn’t do this year. The film is a great ‘trip,’ in a sense. John Benjamin Hickey plays a NYT travel journalist (‘The Intrepid Traveler’) who goes on a trip to Tel Aviv. And in the film, we get a real sense of Tel Aviv, and in that sense the film is such a traveler’s experience. You do feel like a tourist who finds a little more about yourself after a trip – and this is what most good travels do to you. I have been to Tel Aviv, and learned more about it from this film than my (admittedly brief) stay.
Hickey also plays someone more or less my age, and I can identify with a lot of the things he is going through, emotionally. He comes in coming from a little bit of heartbreak, and is a little lost. He finds an unlikely friendship with Tomer, who is renting the apartment he booked. They connect, and teh film sort of becomes a two-ships-in-the-night kind of thing. I was a little less impressed with this part of the film – I never got a real clear sense in what they connected at, for example. But Hickey and Niv Nissim (who plays Tomer) are quite good actors, and they have great chemistry together that you can’t help but get swept by them. And of course, the characters in the end learn a little bit more about themselves from each other. As I said, it was great to see a middle-aged gay man as the emotional core of the film. This film made me feel ‘seen,’ as the kids would say nowadays. And it made me long for those days when I can travel again, and maybe peel a layer of emotions within me.
A lot of people have compared Francois Ozon’s ‘Summer of 85’ to ‘Call Me by Your Name’ so of course I would be in for that. This film is a young love story set in Northern France, with the sea as the background, so you would think it’s a sun-filled Summer romance kind of film, I mean, even the title suggests it. But we see from the start there is something darker there, as we find out something already has happened to one of the lovers, David, played by Benjamin Voisin and his lover, Alex, is being blamed for it.
As a love story, the film is very sweet but devastating. It I sweet and tender in it core, and you are swept away by David and Alex as they meet, and fall in love with each other. The actors have great chemistry, and look great together, and you fall in love with them too. But on film, the characters aren’t rally fleshed out well enough to give them depth, and the sudden shifts in tone (noir, thriller, comedy, drama) from one scene to the next felt jarring.
Still, I recommend it – all in all you will feel the passion of the actors as they fall in love, and everything and everyone looks beautiful here.
Sometimes all you need is a good love story. In the heart of Heidi Ewing’s ‘I Carry You With Me,’ there is a poignant love story that starts in the 90s and transcends to today. Ivan (Armando Espitia) lives in Pueblo City, Mexico and has dreams of becoming a chef. HJe went to culinary school there but isn’t getting his break – he is cleaning toilets at a restaurant. One day he meets Gerardo (Christian Vazquez) and the two fall in love. Everything is fine, but Ivan is fixated on his dream, and thinks the only way he can achieve it is to cross the border.
Ivan ends up in New York City, and after some trials, Gerardo is able to follow him. They start to build a life, even opening up a restaurant. But of course, they are both undocumented, and Ewing shifts the film from a narrative to a documentary, interviewing both gentlemen as they struggle to be able to leave and visit Mexico without disrupting their lives. As I said, this is a pretty rich love story, full of twists and turns, and with a satisfying outcome. A lot of reviews I have read have been jarred by the sudden change of tone in the final part of the movie, but I did not mind it. It was good to see the ‘characters’ as real people towards the end, and for me it even makes their story more meaningful.
Rodrigue Jean’s ‘The Acrobat’ is definitely a movie you will either love or hate, and to be honest, my feelings vacillate between the two. It’s a story of two men who unexpectedly meet, and their relationship becomes intense quickly. But their relationship is cold, perfectly matched to the old Montreal weather where it is set. These two people hurt each other to show their affection, or is it the other way around? The director doesn’t make it clear.
Parts of the film are hard to watch – there is explicit sex, but it never feels like pornography. There are scenes that made me wince, while others touched me. I don’t know really if I could relate to the relationship between the characters, but I can certainly relate to their personal stories – one has to take care of his sick mother. To be honest, there are parts I really don’t know if I understood. There are feelings shown here between the two mean that I really do not understand. But such id life, right?
Two souls passing in the night – this genre of love story always gets me. In Oscar Zuniga’s ‘Los Fuertes,’ this story is set in picturesque Southern Chil, Valdivia to be exact, and the gorgeous setting enhances the story of two people meeting, falling for each other knowing that this probably will not be forever. This film is a testament to enjoying the connections we have right now.
And that’s it, that is basically the plot of the film. While at first the simplicity made me want a little bit more, I enjoyed the simple subtleties in the characters’ connections. It helps that the two leads, played by Samuel Gonzales and Antonio Altamirano have chemistry for days. You see them and you really believe these two souls are in love with each other. I love the small intimate details – the pregnant glances, the way one massages the other’s scalp while the other is sleeping – these may be minute, but they contribute to the overall feel of the film. And it makes the ending more poignant, and touching.
Jeremy Hersh’s ‘The Surrgate’ is one of the most thought-provoking films I have seen this year. It has become fairly common for A-gay couples to have a child, as if it’s an added accessory, and I can’t help but think and wonder if some of those couples are really on- board with raising a child, or is it all for ‘appearances’? In the film, Jasmine Batchelor plays Jess, a young woman who agrees to be a surrogate for her close friends. All is fine and dandy until they get a results of a test indicating the child will probably be born with Down’s syndrome.
And then things change, naturally, The couple realize they may not have the financial well-being to bring this child in a world with this suddenly more difficult situation. Batchelor is fantastic here, one of those ‘finds.’ Once they may a decision about her well-being, she spirals into a loop of different things. She wants to make her own decision about the fetus, her family has concerns about her being a single black mother, a cliche she did not want to be lumped under. Hersh present this all without judgement – one minute you are on one side, the next you are on the other. These characters are all complex, and they are all real. The cast is made up of theater performers, so they shine in the dialogue driven scenes, making you ache for what they are feeling. The film leaves you with a heavy heart.
It’s funny how one movie tackles the same subject and can have a much different tone. In Rachel Goldenberg’s ‘Unpregnant,’ a young woman Veronia (Hailey Lu Richardson) also finds out that she is pregnant. But there’s no dilemma here, she wants to terminate the pregnancy, and there is no question that it is ultimately the best decision for her – she is young, has teh world ahead of her, and has worked her ass off for everything she has been working for. She has a boyfriend who’s dumb but in live with her, so it would have been an easy out, but no, she had no plans of spending the rest of her life with him anyway.
She then asks her former bestie to take a road trip with her from Missouri to New Mexico. Her state requires her to have parental consent to terminate her pregnancy, and her ultra-conservative parents will never go for it. The movie then becomes a road-trip one as she travels several states to get to New Mexico. here’s where the film got a little dicey for me. Call it weird, but I am not the biggest fan of road trip movies – the journeys are never believable to me, and the ones here are no exception. Do you really meet those interesting people on the interstates? While I like the spirit of the film, it took a bit for me to get there, but nevertheless the film was mostly enjoyable anyway, thanks to the great performances – Richardson is charming and radiant. I bet some people will really despise this film based on their religious and political beliefs, and good, maybe it will get them to think.
Matthew Fifer’s ‘Cicada’ is one of the featured films from thsi years (kinda virtual) Outfest 2020. He directs, stars and writes in this film about a gay millennial in New York City. It is one of those films that is difficult to categorize – there are both comedic and dramatic elements in it, and is quite heavy in theme. It is also a little abstract and at times too obtuse to figure out.
But the film got me thinking. It initially made me a little detached from it, but as I thought about it more, felt it creep up on me. His character, ben, is tortured – he has been sexually abused and has to deal. He spends most of his days and nights in random sexual encounters with men and women.
But things change when he meets Sam, and they try to embark on a relationship. he comes with his own set of issues – he hasn’t come out to his family yet. All of this is filmed gorgeously and you feel their worlds crumble even as they try to patch it up. There’s a sense of dread here, and you try to insert your own kind of hope in it.
A bunch of show tune loving teenagers putting on a show? Seems right up my alley, no? But Lord help me, I despised Ryan Patrick Bartley’s ‘Divos!’ And I swear, I tried. The film centers mostly on Ricky Redmond (Matt Steele) who is a teenager obsessed with musical theater – he is a performer and has been playing the lead in his high school production for years. When Josh (Timothy Brunridge) enters the picture , he suddenly gets a rival for the lead in ‘How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,’ the season’s musical. And yes we all know where this goes. First of all, Steele as a high school student is more than a stretch, as he looks like he is in his 40s. And his character is so unlikable it is almost homophobic. And for a film about a musical, it has almost no music – were the rights too expensive? The whole production seemed amateurish, at best. I have to say above everything else, I was quite disappointed with this.