Jayro Bustamante’s ‘Temblores’ (Tremors) is set in modern day Guatemala, but it feels like this could have been the 18th century. Pablo (Juan Pablo Olyslager) wants to leave his family for another man and in the beginning of the film he comes home finding out that this has been revealed to his family and they are confronting him. He reacts by curling up in a blanket, as an earthquake happens, causing everyone to think it’s God sign that this sin must be repented. The rest of the film deals with the aftermath. He leaves for his lover, and as a result, he loses his job and visitation rights. I am sure these situations still happen in Guatemala, and it is nice to see the stories told, but as a viewing experience I thought it was pretty bleak. I couldn’t feel any kind of joy in the film, even as Pablo, in the beginning, tries to liberate himself from the constraints of his family and religious beliefs. And the ending is a downer of all downers, so the whole experience felt very dark – not the best movie to watch int he Christmas season.
I didn’t realize that ‘Adam’ was such a controversial movie. I didn’t even think its themes are very controversial. Directed by Rhys Ernst (who himself is a trans man) this is a story of Adam, who stays with his lesbian sister (Margaret Qually) in New York City for the summer, and gets drawn into the lesbian/trans men scene. He meets a young woman, Gillian, who he instantly falls for, but she thinks he is a trans man, and he goes along with the lie. Taking the politics out of the film, I think it’s your standard coming-of-age tale about someone finding himself in the world and hopefully learning a lesson or two. In that sense, I thought the movie was very sweet. Numerous films have been made about this, involving mistaken identities, lies not being corrected, and above all, stupid things we do for love. Is the film harmful for trans people? I don’t exactly know if it is – I saw mostly human characters here, all flawed like the rest of the world, cis or trans. This was a mostly entertaining film, and that’s all I can take away from the film.
Intimacy, when captured on film, is a glorious thing. It’s somewhat indescribable, as it is more felt. Lucio Castro captures it perfectly in ‘End Of The Century,’ and here I am, days after seeing it, and I can still feel things from it. Set in Barcelona (that alone scores points for me) Javi (Ramon Pujol) and Ocho (Juan Barberini) first see each other on the beach, but they don’t really connect until later when Ocho sees him by the balcony of his Air BnB, calling him out by the graphic on his shirt, ‘Kiss.’ (That graphic would prove to be significant later on) He asks him to come up to his room, and they kiss passionately. There’s a tenderness and urgency at the same time in their kiss, and afterwards while sharing some wine and cheese on a rooftop, they discover that they have met each other before – and we see them decades earlier in their younger years, on that time they first met. I instantly connect with both of them, and maybe it’s the romantic in me, but these things always resonate – ships that pass each other, haring fleeting moments. You never know if you will ever meet them again, and as you separate and reflect on what you have, you discover a real ache in your heart. In some weird sense, you feel the same thing as you watch Castro’s film:: for some brief moment you witness two souls touch each other, and you also feel an ache. Some people have described this as similar to Richard Linklaer’s ‘Before’ series and it is an apt comparison. I often wonder if Javi and Ocho would ever connect again, and not knowing makes it more painful, but at the same time all the better.
I don’t really know too much about Virginia Woolf so I was very interested in “Vita & Virginia,’ Chanya Button’s film about the love affair between Vita Sackville-West and Woolf. (The former is the inspiration for Woolf’s novel ‘Orlando.’) And this film started promisingly as I love the look and feel of the film, as it captured 1920s England perfectly, and I read they even filmed some scenes at Sackville-Wests’s estate home. But the characters here are so thinly drawn and the center of the story, which is the tempestuous love affair between the two women – never takes flight. You don’t see what attracted them together, and their dialogue seemed stilted. It doesn’t help that the two actors (Gemma Arterton and Elizabeth Debicki) have nil chemistry with each other. Button adapted this from Eileen Atkin’s stage play and uses some unconventional touches – the characters read love letters to the camera which detaches the audience. Plus, what is up with the ‘modern’ flourishes, like CGI effects that feel out of place and the techno scoring? It’s a sad misfire for something that might have been more.
In Bani Koshnoudi’s ‘Fireflies’ (Luciernagas) Arash Marandi plays Ramin, who is from Iran. He somehow ends up in the port town of Veracruz, Mexico after stowing away in a ship (We find out later he has exiled from Iranian jail) In the beginning scenes, we see him negotiating to try to get on another ship, and he says he wants to go to Greece or Turkey. We later find out he is gay, and ha a boyfriend from home he talks to on video. His life is in some kind of limbo- he is staying at a hotel, and is working odd jobs. The film is more slice of life than narrative, as we see his day to day existence, navigating a foreign country and trying to get by as he learns the language and customs. The film could be slow-moving, and shows its indie leanings, but I gave it a little patience and found it rewarding. I was able to see a lot of the hurdles he is facing, and will be facing (we never get a resolution on his plight) and I was glad to see a film about a gay man looking for validation in different facets of relationships.
The 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.
Stanley 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.
The ‘gay hustler’ genre is an integral part of queer cinema. I remember int he olden days when most films about gay men had this factor. And for some reason, I am always interested in it – there is something in there that endlessly fascinates me. I know it is somewhat of a tired concept, and really, Camille Vidal Naquet’s ‘Sauvage/Wild’ could somehow feel familiar. But this film felt a little different. First of all, it’s immensely sad as it centers around Leo a street hustler in Strasbourg, who has a very different attitude about hustling. He seems to be not out for just the money. He seems to be a fleetign soul who just wants to be loved – he has no qualms about kissing his client, and he is kind of in love with a fellow hustler who advises him to just look for someone older to take care of him/ (Indeed, that character eventually gets in a similar situation) Leo’s health is failing, and he uses crack. It’s all very bleak and depressing, to be honest, and the caretaker in me wants to shake him up and say, :there are other choice, there are resources which could help you be on the straight and narrow road.’ But of course, we all make mistakes, and we do what our heart tells us to do. The ending here is unconventional – it will make you ponder in its open-endedness, and it will probably upset people. But I looked at it differently after thinking about it – there’s a certain romanticism in being free and doing what you really want, even if sometimes it could lead to destruction. We face those choices everyday, and I sometimes feel it takes more courage to be true to your heart. I have to admit Leo stayed with me for a bit after leaving the movie theater, and at times I couldn’t figure out if I fell in love with him, got mad at his choices, or maybe, I was just in awe of how much he knew what he loved.