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.
Robert Mapplethorpe’s art was shocking and provocative, and I, just like a lot of other people, would love to know what lurked in the mid of the obvious artistic genius. Ondi Timoner’s ‘Mapplethorpe’ tried to shed light on the man, but the filmmaker (and the film) tried to do too much, and accomplished next to nothing. She wrote the screenplay and perhaps tried to be too broad with it that the man depicted int he film seems like a bloody bore, and I refuse to believe he was such. Matt Smith (am I the only one who did not know who he is, never having seen an episode of ‘Doctor Who’) has great physical resemblance to Mapplethorpe. but is saddled with that lifeless script, so all effort is wasted. Patti Smith (played by Mariann Rendon) fares even worse. I mean, I read her book and know she is an interesting complicated character, but the Patti here is some kind of one-note character. To be fair, Timoner said on the Q & A after the film that the real Patti Smith refused to cooperate with the filmmaker. But there’s more than enough material out there.
When we do see the art, though, the film comes alive. I wish I was more acquainted with the richness of Mapplethorpe’s work, and now want to remedy that. It was interesting to see juxtapositions of the photograph with visual of how he shot them. And I give the film points for including some of the more provocative ‘X’ work. If for anything, it is not as shy as I thought it would be. (This ain’t no ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’)
A lot of Christians are very religious, and they can also be some of the most judgmental people you will ever meet. At this point in my life, I have given up in trying to talk to some of them. I will never change their minds, so I will just go to my own corner and hope that we can just peacefully co-exist. ‘At the End Of The Day’ addresses a lot of the Christian bigotry, and by doing that tells a compelling story. Directed by Kevin O’Brien, the film centers on Dave (Stephen Shane Martin) who is left by his wife for another woman. He goes back to his hometown to live with his aunt and teach at a Christian school. The dean of the school connives with him to infiltrate a support group so they can get information on a real estate property the group is also eyeing. You can probably guess where this is going and you are probably right. Though its formulaic, you cannot ignore the film’s core message even as it uses the most common and formulaic tropes. Plus, the film is quite long for what it is and could use a ten minute trim. The saddest part is that the devious Christians of the world will probably not be aware of this film’s existence.
On the surface, one looks at ‘We are Thr3e’ as a film about a threesome. Indeed, Argentinian director Marcelo Briemm Stamm’s film is about three people who starts a relationship. But for me, the film really is about the fluidity not of gender, but of love. You just fall in love with the person, and that is shown vividly int his film. The trio of actors here (Juan Martin Martino, Florenicia Dragonetti, Carlos Etchevers) are very natural in their roles, and I like the way they presented the relationship in a very nonchalant way. And you think the film will end a certain way, but it is smarter than that. This is a very welcome watch.