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This year’s Reel Affirmations Film Festival—the 13th—promises a lighter touch than 2002’s “heavy” one, and the films especially prized by the Washington City Paper’s reviewers partially attest to that. Our critics previewed 25 entries, picking nine as especially worthy of attention. These include such campy items as Bloody Mallory, a comic-book-style French romp; Secondary High, a Canadian satire that refuses to take high school seriously; and Yes Nurse! No Nurse!, an absurdist Dutch musical set in an idyllic rest home. (Short reviews of the other previewed movies can be found in the film listings in the back of the paper.)

One of the fest’s best is a Korean film titled simply Road Movie, which follows two men, one gay and one straight, on what another odyssey on a similar theme—this one set in Egypt—calls the Road to Love. Two of the other highlights are also road movies: Gasoline and Suddenly follow pairs of lesbian outlaws—”good-bad, but not evil,” as the Shangri-las once specified—on the highways of, respectively, Italy and Argentina. Goldfish Memory doesn’t go anywhere but in and around Dublin, but its cast of gay, straight, bi-, and omnisexual young people certainly gets around.

This festival isn’t all sweetness and light, however. The powerful Flying With One Wing addresses the issue of gender identity in Sri Lanka, a place were such matters are not an occasion for good-natured laughter. It’s a film that reminds us that Reel Affirmations sometimes can—and should—be heavy. —Mark Jenkins

THE ROMPS

Bloody Mallory

What do you get when you join together (a) a tough-talking, leather-clad redhead, (b) a mute 9-year-old psychic trapped in a bat’s body, and (c) a drag queen whose lipstick tube launches rockets? An unstoppable team of ghostbusting Frenchies hellbent on freeing Pope Hieronymus the First after his kidnapping at the hands of lusty ghouls, that’s what—along with the pulpy, heady mess that is Bloody Mallory. The vixenish Mallory (Olivia Bonamy) has her first run-in with the supernatural on her wedding day, when her husband-to-be suddenly reveals his demon form. But unlike the Bride in Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Mallory doesn’t dillydally, killing him outright with an ax blow. Years later, now in charge of a paranormal unit that patrols la nation for sprites and succubi, Mallory and her sidekicks—the long-nailed explosives expert Vena Cava (Jeffrey Ribier) and the batgirl Talking Tina (Thylda Barès)—dodge ghoul-birthing nuns and a shadowy hooded woman as they race to save the world from extermination at the hands of the evil Abbadon cult. Bonamy plays her camp poker-faced, casting withering stares as she delivers such lines as “When I free the pope, I’ll come back and honk three times”—just par for the course in a screenplay, co-written by director Julien Magnat, that also sports such sparkling dialogue as “I told you not to eat the children!” “I made them, I eat them!” Careful viewers will be rewarded by Mallory’s clever little baubles, such as a holy-water-squirting crucifix and a gas station where the pumps dispense A-positive. Shooting mostly at night, Magnat keeps the action luminous and furious, his quick-cutting style calling to mind a low-budget Blade. But with its eye for detail, armies of pale and drooling baddies, and chopsocky dust-ups, Mallory most resembles a surpassingly campy episode of Buffy. The sidekicks might not be as witty as Willow and Xander, but Vena Cava’s platform shoes do unleash machine-gun fire. Could there be hope for the French after all? —Josh Levin

At midnight Friday, Oct. 17, at Visions.

Goldfish Memory

Writer-director Liz Gill based Goldfish Memory, a movie about horny young Dubliners, on the theory that jumping some shiny new thing is the cure-all for romantic distress. When young Clara (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) sees her professor-boyfriend, Tom (Sean Campion), mischievously learnin’ comely student Isolde (Fiona Glascott), she dumps him. Straight but motivated, Clara calls Angie (Flora Montgomery), a journalist who dropped her number on the pretext of an interview. Then there’s David (Peter Gaynor), who’s also straight—and living with his girlfriend—but curious about Red (Keith McErlean). The relationships all mutate as troubles lead to breakups and new hookups. Goldfish Memory is, for the most part, ably handled, with rounded portrayals and freshly humorous bits (especially a scene in which Clara and Isolde run into each other at a coffee shop and compare notes on Tom and his tried-and-true lines). Gill decorates Dublin and its inhabitants with bright colors and her attractive cast. Gill’s script gives each character a distinct perspective on commitment and expectation. The movie’s downfall, however, is its 85-minute running time, which does not allow its flurry of romantic tanglings a chance to develop fully—some couples secure only a scene or two before exchanging breathless “I love you’s” and discussing wedding-table centerpieces. People falling in love might have the brain power of guppies, but Goldfish Memory ends up seeming more about a director with a dwindling supply of film stock. —Tricia Olszewski

At 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18, at the Lincoln Theatre.

Yes Nurse! No Nurse!

Adapted from a popular ’60s Dutch television series, Yes Nurse! No Nurse! is an irresistibly frothy diversion—a wildly stylized, gratifyingly goofy musical comedy. Nurse Klivia (Loes Luca) runs a rest home filled with the most amiable collection of oddballs this side of You Can’t Take It With You. Cranky neighbor Boordevol (Paul Kooij) is determined to shut down the unruly house, outraged by the frequent explosions triggered by an inventor (Beppe Costa) who inhabits its basement. When Boordevol’s own home is burgled, he blames Gerrit (Waldemar Torenstra), a new rest-home resident with a criminal record, and takes Nurse Klivia to court. But the timely appearance of the pesky crab’s erstwhile hairdresser boyfriend and the inventor’s latest discovery—an Ecstasy-like pill that defuses bad tempers—combine to assure the institution’s survival. Shot on brightly colored sets reminiscent of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Yes Nurse! No Nurse! opens with a Busby Berkeley pastiche complete with kaleidoscopic overhead shots of dancing nurses and red crosses. (The real Red Cross crankily objected to the movie, demanding an opening disclaimer disavowing that organization’s participation or approval.) And director Pieter Kramer has come up with some sprightly musical interludes—among them a pseudo-Greek folk song and a circus-themed production number; he also pays homage to vintage Hollywood tuners in a pigeon-feeding song inspired by Mary Poppins and a smoothly choreographed sequence featuring the ensemble singing and dancing in the rain. Apart from the lightly stressed relationship of the grouch and the hairdresser, Yes Nurse! No Nurse! contains no explicitly gay content, but the film is informed throughout by a generous camp sensibility that celebrates pleasure and tolerance. In fact, its innocent high spirits would make it equally suitable as part of a children’s film festival. —Joel E. Siegel

At 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 19, at the Lincoln Theatre.

Secondary High

The manifesto for the production company run by Secondary High directors Emily Halfon, Pat Mills, and Hazel Bell-Koski reads, in part, “It doesn’t have to make sense as long as it’s funny.” And unlike those fast-and-loose Dogma filmmakers, these auteurs take their ethos seriously: The students at their carnivalesque Secondary High include a pair of talking dogs and Chet, an overweight black guy with white parents who explains that he “just came out that way.” Within the wide-ranging genre of high-school satires, the agreeably scruffy Secondary High (in which it snows every day, for some reason or no reason at all) skews far more toward the self-conscious audaciousness of Strangers With Candy than the sight gags and pop-culture referentiality of, say, High School High. Among some of the other kooks, there’s heroine Heidi, a butch lesbian who lives in a house with her cousins Chet and Lizzy, and Sally, a headgear-wearing teen vampire. While the charismatic Heidi tries to keep Chet from getting his ass kicked by the school’s cool kids, their daydreaming classmate Theodora pines for her withdrawn ancient-civ teacher Mr. Coop. As Theodora and Mr. Coop play out their awkward relationship, Secondary High momentarily threatens to turn serious—but Halfon & Co., ever the dedicated absurdists, bring on the delightfully talentless all-girl punk band the 6 Healthy Fists to rescue us from poignancy. Despite the film’s consistently high level of bizarreness, the cast—especially Catherine Bertin as Theodora and Kathleen Phillips as lascivious drummer Snatch—are consistently good and surprisingly not too stagy. The inclusive soundtrack, which features performers from Stephin Merritt to Joan Jett, also shines, as does the debut performance by the Fists at Heidi and Chet’s movie-closing house party. And, unlike She’s All That, Secondary High cares enough to throw among its final reel’s singing and synchronized dancing some good old-fashioned vampirism. —Josh Levin

At midnight Friday, Oct. 24, at Visions.

THE ROADIES

The Road to Love

Karim (Karim Tarek), an Arab student in Paris, balances precariously on the rooftop of his apartment house, terrifying his girlfriend, Sihem (Sihem Benemoune). He tells her not to worry, but she remains apprehensive, and for good reason: Karim is about to embark on a quest that will alter his sexual identity and terminate their relationship. Assigned to make a videotape for a sociology course, he chooses the topic of homosexuality in North Africa. In his research, he discovers, among other things, that working-class men in the Egyptian village of Siwa were once permitted to marry each other. His interest piqued, Karim next places a newspaper ad in Paris requesting interviews with gay Arab expatriates. Some respondents, including a performance artist and a nudist, assume he’s interested in sexual contacts, and Karim protests that he’s straight. (One early clue that he might not be are the solitary erotic dances he performs to amuse himself.) But when he interviews the self-assured Farid (Farid Tali), a self-assured North African man, it’s the beginning of a friendship that grows increasingly intimate. Although shunning Farid’s patient advances, Karim finds himself returning again and again to his new friend’s apartment. Sensing what Karim has yet to realize, Sihem leaves him, whereupon the men travel to Marrakech on a vacation that consummates what has become an emotionally intense relationship. Director and co-scripter Rémi Lange shot The Road To Love on videotape, exploiting that medium as part of his narrative: In a bit of shrewd directorial irony, the documentary Karim initially intended as an exploration of the lives of others turns out to be about his own voyage of self-discovery. On one level, the film is anthropological, shedding light on the rarely examined history of homosexuality in Arab cultures. On another, it’s an extended seduction, with Karim unwittingly enticing Farid while the latter ardently but sensitively encourages Karim to confront his sexuality. Too idiosyncratic in subject and style to attract commercial distribution, The Road To Love is an ideal Reel Affirmations selection, which deservedly won awards at gay film festivals in New York and Los Angeles. —Joel E. Siegel

At 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 19, at the DCJCC.

Road Movie

The only one of this fest’s several road movies to say so right up front—read the Korean title, “Lo Du Moo Bi,” out loud—Kim In Sik’s film actually begins with two people who are stuck in Seoul. Former mountaineer Dae-sik (Hwang Jeong-min), who’s renounced both love and the people who once loved him, lives with dozens of other homeless men in the underground passageway of a large train station. He’s soon joined by broker Suk-won (Jeong Chan), who was kicked out by his wife after losing the family fortune in the late-’90s Asian stock-market meltdown. Despite being a dedicated loner, Dae-sik begins to look out for Suk-won, and eventually the two begin traveling together. Dae-sik is gay, and Suk-won is not—which complicates their relationship—but the principal issue is that both men—and several other people they meet along the way—are intermittently suicidal. The action begins with an explicit (and not exactly tender) sex scene and ends with a rapport that transcends the physical but makes the film’s arc seem far tidier than it is. Road Movie has elements of conventional melodrama, but those are regularly subverted by the film’s unpredictable blend of antic comedy and a very Asian sort of tragic hysteria. —Mark Jenkins

At 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 19, at the Lincoln Theatre.

Suddenly

A lonely clerk at a little-visited Buenos Aires lingerie shop, Marcia (Tatiana Saphir) could use some new friends. Still, she’s not charmed when a punky pair of lesbians accost her on the street and one asks, “Do you want to fuck?” Kidnapping Marcia with a minimum of effort, the young women who call themselves Mao and Lenin take her to Burger King and then on the road. They commandeer a cab and eject its driver, but what ensues is not a major crime spree. After learning that Marcia has never been to the beach, Mao (Carla Crespo) and Lenin (Veronica Hassan) take her there, and then to the nearby city of Rosario. There they settle in with Lenin’s elderly Aunt Blanca (Beatriz Thibaudin) and her two tenants, Delia and Felipe—and learn that Lenin’s given name is Veronica. Rather than exalting sex and delinquency, Diego Lerman’s film turns out to be a quiet celebration of family—albeit extended and makeshift family—supplemented by a whimsical fixation on orcas. Shot in black and white with handheld camera, Suddenly doesn’t look like any Argentinian film I’ve ever seen. It has more of a European, and especially French, feel. The movie is elliptical in both story and feeling without Hollywood-style breakthroughs or revelations. But those who can appreciate traveling without a fixed destination should find Suddenly a congenial excursion. —Mark Jenkins

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23, at the DCJCC.

Gasoline

When Lenni’s mother, an elegantly sexy Italian matron, arrives to visit her daughter, things quickly become tense. Mom (Mariella Valentini) doesn’t like that her daughter—Eleonora to her—dropped out of college, works in a gas station, and is in love with a mechanic named Stella (Maya Sansa). The conversation goes so badly, in fact, that Lenni (Regina Orioli) and Stella soon need to dispose of a corpse. As Lenni’s late mother comments benignly on Gasoline’s action in voice-over, the two lovers take the 20 million lire they find in her purse and decide to take a ferry to Tunisia. (The Arab world, even relatively liberal Tunisia, might not be the perfect haven for two lesbians, but these women are nothing if not impulsive.) First, though, Lenni and Stella must retrieve their dog, give a priest a lift, visit a rave club, make out, and deal with the videocam-carrying troublemakers who keep crossing their path. Oh yeah, and dump the body. Like its fest-mate Suddenly, Gasoline is a desperate-characters-on-the-lam flick without much desperation. Depicting roadside Italy at night in bluish low light, director Monica Stambrini shows more interest in visual panache—and the incredibly romanticized story of two girls in love—than in the usual gangsta stuff. —Mark Jenkins

At 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24, at the DCJCC.

THE HEAVY

Flying With One Wing

In a grubby urban precinct on the Sinhalese-speaking side of Sri Lanka, an unnamed auto mechanic (Anoma Janadari) lives a quiet life. He’s good at his job, so his boss overlooks such quirks as his refusal to shower with the other employees. At home, his wife keeps trying to throw open the curtains when they make love, but she ultimately accepts her husband’s insistence on complete darkness. Then one day, the mechanic is knocked unconscious at work and is taken to the local doctor (Wilson Jayasiri), who happens to specialize in abortions. He discovers that the mechanic has the same genitalia as his other patients. The doctor, turned on by this revelation, agrees to keep it to himself—but the news soon begins to circulate, with devastating results. Asoka Handagama’s film is not so much a character study of the mechanic—whose lack of a name suggests he’s merely a plot device—as it is an indictment of Sri Lankan society. The protagonist’s plight is repeatedly underscored by the actions and comments of minor characters, from the garage owner whose secretaries are expected to indulge his sexual whims to the patients who angrily denounce their callous seducers when the abortionist informs them they’re pregnant. Save for a gay co-worker who’s attracted to the mechanic, all the male characters are cartoonish. But despite such oversimplifications, the film chillingly conveys the desperation of someone who’s merely trying to adapt to a society’s norms and the brutality with which such constructs are enforced. —Mark Jenkins

At 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21, at the DCJCC. CP

Reel Affirmations Venues

Reel Affirmations Film Festival 2003 will be showing at the following theaters. (See Listings for more Reel Affirmations films.)

Lincoln Theatre

1215 U St. NW

Washington, DC 20009

(202) 328-6000

Cecile Goldman Theater at the District

of Columbia Jewish Community Center

16th & Q Streets NW

Washington, DC 20009

(202) 518-9400

Goethe-Institut Inter Nationes

814 7th St. NW

Washington, DC 20001

(202) 289-1200

Visions Bar Noir

1927 Florida Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20009

(202) 667-0090