Forbidden Love: Africa and Asia (Film Thoughts: Rafiki/Lan Yu)

rafiki-136713The love that dare not speak its name: this theme depicting homosexuality in movies used to be the norm, but in this day and age, is it still relevant? I thino f that even as I see two movies back to back exploring that very theme.

First is ‘Rafiki,’ directed by Wanuri Kahiu. This film was the first Kenyan film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival, and it comes with a bit of controversy, as it has previously been banned in its home country, and the battle even went up to their Supreme Court, with the court overthrowing the ban. (It finally was screened in theaters to sold out audiences)  The film presents a simple love story, as two daughters of competing politicians fall in love. The conflicts are layered – they battle homophobia and then the familial entanglements. It’s a bit too melodramatic at times, but the performances by Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva as the star-crossed lovers really elevate this. It captured my heart and melted it.

lanyuStanley Kwan’s ‘Lan Yu’ also did, though it is a less successful film.  From 2001, this film depicts a relationship between a successful businessman and a country boy. In its synopsis, the film boasts that it is a story from the 80s amidst the back drop of the rallies from Tiannamen Square. And though they vaguely reference it, we don’t really see it. Hu Jun plays an assumed corrupt businessman who pays for his involvements afterwards, and there’s enough conflict there, so the sad ending felt tacked on and unwarranted. Still, I cared about the characters enough to be touched by the film.

Christmas Cocktail (Film Thoughts: Cola de Mono)

MV5BNWNhMGJhNTAtN2NhZi00NzRlLTkwMWItOWZlZWE4ZjcxZDZhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzcyODUxOQ@@._V1_‘Cola de Mono’ is set at Christmastime, but it’s really not your typical Hallmark Christmas movie. It’s a little bit dark and very very gay.  The title is based on a drink that Chileans prepare for the Holidays, and the term is also a gay slur. The film is a about a set of brothers who both come to terms with their sexuality on Christmas Eve. The theme is on the dark side, and even though I had read the film labeled as a thriller, I was very surprised by the turn if events towards the latter part of the film. It is also quite explicit, and director Alberto Fuguet definitely has a very specific point of view that he slaps into the film. I thought it was a very interesting film, even if I really did not enjoy it in the sense that it wasn’t a feel-good kind of film. It’s a little offfbeat for the Christmas season, but offbeat doesn’t necessarily mean bad.

Say Goodbye (Film Thoughts: 1985)

large_1985-poster (1)Oh God, do I know 1985 pretty well, a year where I learned a lot of life lessons, so I look at that year with mixed feelings. It was a tough, but I came out stronger from it. I look back and think that this was more than thirty years ago, and the world was different then. Director Yen Tan captures that year perfectly in ‘1985,’ one of those small movies that we used to get a lot more. It’s shot in black and white 116 mm, and the way it looks and sounds adds to its storytelling.

Adrian (Cory Michael Smith) goes home to Texas for Christmas. He has been living in New York City and has not been back in three years. He has a younger brother, Andrew, who seems wary of him. There’s a lot of ‘unspokens’ here. His parents probably know he is gay but won’t talk about it. Furthermore,  Andrew is becoming a Madonna fan, and is now interested in theater (he wants to see the movie version of ‘A chorus Line’!) so we all know where that trajectory is going. Most significantly, Adrian’s lover has just passed from AIDS, and it looks like Adrian has it, too, and this trip home may be a way for him to say goodbye to his family – he maxed his card out to buy them expensive gifts. There’s an element of internal heartbreak here, and the actors are all subtle and effective, with Smith leading the way. I was taken by Virginia Madsen who plays his mother. As a mother of a gay man, she is torn between her husband, and her love for her son, and communicates her feelings both sides effectively. The screenplay is spot-on, showing then-topical references accurately. I was very touched by this film, and easily identified with the character of Adrian, who could easily be me at that time (he’s just a little older than me)  Gay guys of a certain age now (my generation) would like this film and I hope they find it.

Footballers In Love (Movie Thoughts: Mario)

0maInitially reading the synopsis of ‘Mario’ made me think that this movie,  directed by Marcel Gisler what was going to be sport-centric. But I was wrong, and I was glad that this is more a straight-up (yes, pun intended) love story between two Football teammates. And I am glad to note that it is quite touching and heartbreaking, as we see them try to fight the obstacles of falling in the still-conservative environment of European football. This one is set in Swiss-German and it was great to see that setting, one I am a little unfamiliar with. The actors, Max Hubacher and Aaron Altaras were both very effective and you can feel the character’s affection for each other. I like the tenderness that was shown in the backdrop of the rough and gruff world of football, and I couldn’t help but tear up at the bittersweet ending. I liked this movie much more than I thought I would.

Concrete Meeting (Movie Thoughts: Peyote)

p10307382_p_v8_aa‘Peyote,’ directed by Omar Flores Sarabia is a 2013 low-budgeted Mexican film that says a lot in its short running time of 110 minutes. It stars two guys who find each other in a park, and go on a road trip to Real de Catorce in Mexico partly to look for the peyote plant – I think the plant has drug connotations – but along the way we also learn a little bit of historical information about the real. It is one of those ‘two-ships-passing-in-the-night’ kind of stories wherein the characters get to know a lot more about themselves as they get to know each other. It’s not a revolutionary movie, but has nice moments and the two leads are appealing to watch. And since it is short, doesn’t require a whole lot of commitment.

Let Him Eat Cake (Film thoughts: The Cakemaker)

large_Cakemaker_PressPosterHQClosing out Pride month, I am writing about, for me,  the best ‘gay’ film since last year’s ‘Call Me By Your Name.’  Written and Directed by Ofir Raul Graizer, ‘The Cakemaker’ is one of those movies that got to me. After seeing the movie, I wanted to just get home and think about it in silence. It’s the story of a German baker Thomas (Tim Kalkhof, looking like a German Jonathan Groff) who falls in love with an Israeli businessman who travels monthly to Berlin. When the businessman suddenly dies in a car accident, Thomas flies to Jerusalem and gets involved in the life of the man’s widow Anat (Sarah Adler)

This is a great example of how grief ties people together. There is a lot of softness and delicacy on the film, and I was engrossed from the first frame. It speaks to me about how a connection (or disconnection) can make a lasting impact in one’s life, and the different ways we deal with grief. Thomas changes Anat’s life for he better, and while there’s a certain plot point in there that I theoretically did not believe in, thee are fine actors that I swallowed it whole. Kalkhof is fantastic here, muted and passive, yet expressing powerful emotions in a  nod and a glance, and Adler a formative match, vulnerable, determined, sympathetic. It shows us realities in modern day Israel – the dichotomy of being religious and liberal, of tradition and acceptance. By the end, I was sobbing, and I didn’t know why. Of course, I knew it was because of the sheer beauty of the film.

the-cakemaker-film-poster

Fun Home (Film Thoughts: Ideal Home)

Ideal-Home-Poster-Hi-Res-2I watch a lot of these gay-themed movies, and even though I am glad they get made and improve queer visibility, some of them just irritate me to the core. For the month of June, I am trying to feature as much gay content in my writings here, and was looking forward to seeing ‘Ideal Home,’ if only because I am a Paul Rudd fan – he can most of the time do no wrong for me. Well, he still displays infinite charm here in this film, directed by Andrew Fleming. But his charm is not enough to save this sinking ship. In here he plays Paul, who is partnered with Erasmus (Steve Coogan) and out of the blue, a kid shows up in their doorstep, Angel, who is Erasmus’ grandchild. Hilarity ensues, right, as this gay couple tries to raise a kid.

But my main problem with the film is that the characters of Erasmus and Paul are so thin that we only get ‘personality’ instead of real human beings. They fight and bicker and insult each other, and it’s like being inside a car of a fighting couple: unpleasant, awkward, and the sense that you just want to get out of there. I hated my time with these people and could care less if they succeed with raising the child. Plus, the child is entitled and spoiled so really, who are you going to root for in this film?

Fleming based this story on his experiences in raising a child. Surely, his own life is more textured than the thin plot here. I was disappointed with this picture. Coogan and Rudd try to save it with charm, but that only goes so far. I try to rid my life of toxic people, and these characters are as toxic as they get.