As we continue with Valentine’s Week, I want to write about films about love stories. Li Cheng’s ‘Jose’ may not fall under ‘traditional’ as far as love stories are concerned, but in my opinion it is very much one. Enrique Salanic plays the title character, a nineteen year old young man in Guatemala. He works in a curbside restaurant serving shuco (their version of a hotdog) and lives with his very religious mother (Whenever he is late coming from work, she starts praying asking for God to bless her son)
Jose is also gay, and has random hookups from an app on his phone (Grindr is everywhere, y’all) he usually meets these men and they go to hotels that rent room by the hour. You can see the guilt in his eyes as he goes into these trysts, as he makes excuses to hsi mom why he is running late. He starts seeing someone regularly – Luis, played by Manolo Herrera – but Jose feels like in a trap. Even as we see the joy in both their eyes when they are together, Guatemalan society frowns on gay relationship, and besides, his mom depends on him. This drives Luis away, as he is envisioning a life together, even planning on building their own place.
Nothing much else happens in the film, and at times you wait for it as we see Jose go on with his daily life. Cheng documents Jose’s life as if in a diary – we get intimate with him and we see as he sees love unrealized, and because of that, we sense the despair. Hours after seeing the film, I couldn’t help but think about Jose. i couldn’t help but identify with some of his situations and hope that the character is in a better place because I am. The film’s emotional core sneaks up on you, and its effect is devastating.
Tomer Heyman has fashioned a ‘rise and fall’ documentary titled ‘Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life,’ about the gay porn star of the same name (his real name is Elkana Yonatan Langer) I wish I could say that Agassi’s story is quite unique, but I know that this story is a little too common for for gay adult performers. Agassi rose to fame via Michael Lucas’ production company and at one point was the most popular star of the genre, even winning Best Actor at Huslaball awards. The documentary is pretty straightforward and the bet part of it for me is his close relationship with his mother. his low point was a little hard to watch, but it was nice to know that he for the most part recovered from it. As a documentary, it really did not offer much of anything new for me.
I didn’t know what to make of the beginning part of ‘Orpheus Song,’ but I kept on watching. Basically two masc guys working out together at the gym. Then they go to Greece for a vacation, then they have an encounter with a Greek God (I Think the story went there) and then they start to fall in love. Or did they? I loved the last part of teh film when both are faced to confront their feelings, and what do you know, this has a feel-good ending that will make you shout for joy.
Some capsule thoughts:
Is Cerebral Palsy funny? I guess it sis when the character who has it also is a stand up comic. RJ Mitte is Travis, and he is cute and adorable, which makes this filma little easier to swallow. It’s a little on the weird side. Travis has a blind Samoan roommate and his love interest is bulimic so there’s a lot to process here. But in its heart is a sweet love story, and I had reservations, for sure, while I was watching this, but I eventually got on board. There are stranger things to watch that are not as appealing.
April Winney’s ‘The David Dance’ just seems so dated. Everything about it seems to be from another time, and it’s so slow and tedious that I was instantly cored by it. This is based on Don Scime;s stage play and it probably played better on stage because the film just feels so flat and lifeless. I understand even admire the core of the piece, and while these issues are still relevant today, the manner they are presented here is so yesterday. And I am sorry, Scime’s acting doesn’t translate well here. This is a big miss.
I lapped the idea of ‘After Words.’ A librarian who has led a quiet life finds herself at a crossroads, then goes to Costa Rica with a plan to off herself. She has decided she has led a fruitful life and wants to end it on her terms. Starring Marcia Gay Harden, the film feels so familiar – you have seen all of this before, and then some. So it is up to the actors to make you believe. But harden cannot rise above the cliches and rote situations the director has put herself in. There are wonderful shots of the Costa Rican countryside that can make this film worthwhile, but barely.
I was wary about Joshua Tunick’s ‘Do You Take This Man.’ I have not been fond really fond of the two lead actors, Anthony Rapp and Jonathan Bennett, but I started watching the film, and before I knew it, tears started falling. In my younger years, I have always been against weddings. I don’t really have a problem with it per se, but it always rubbed me the wrong way when people spent enormous amounts of money on it. Or maybe I was just being bitter – gay marriage wasn’t legal then, and maybe I always felt that I was an outcast whenever it was concerned. But now, I think I feel a little differently. I know I was a little judgmental. I mean, if someone wants to spend a lot of money on a wedding ceremony, sure why not? And the ones I have gone to of late – they always made me cry. It’s such a joyous celebration of love that the beauty of it always gets to me. One of the characters int eh film says, “you may think it doesn’t make a difference, but it does, it makes the relationship deeper.” I can only trust their words.
Rapp and Bennett do well with their roles, and I like the slow lazy way the film takes. They hit a major snafu a day before their wedding, and it gives them a reason to contemplate and assess their decisions. I found all of it very touching, although I am also aware that most of the conflict probably only happens to privileged white males. The supporting actors were all great, especially Allyson Hannigan who plays Rapp’s sister.
The effect for me was instant melancholy. I am much too old now to have this kind of relationship, and to even think that I would get married gives me hives. But it’s a treat to see a nice gay marriage story on screen.
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.