Washington City Paper’s critics take on the ninth annual Reel Affirmations, Washington, D.C.’s International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
Eleven days of gay and lesbian movies? Who goes to these things, anyway? Well, you can always count on finding a certain number of homo-fundamentalists looking for validation in outrageous-lifestyle pieces such as The O Boys, about a group of L.A. guys who see group sex as a career option, or The Bradfords Tour America, which goes great lengths to expose—news flash!—the backwardness of the religious right. Then you’ll find the sympathetic straight audience scooting into the “Butch, Beauty, and Beyond” series of short films to prove how tolerant they really are of both butches and femmes. But this year, there’s much more at Reel Affirmations for people who dig good old-fashioned storytelling that’s not necessarily edited for the Will & Grace audience: The British TV series Queer as Folk comes to mind—brutal and raunchy, but true. This year’s festival is a fine chance for the American gay constituency to take its blinders off and see how most of the queer world looks in a large lineup of films from Germany, Australia, India, Turkey, France, Italy, and Spain, for starters. The artistry behind many of these flicks, notably Murmur of Youth, Portland Street Blues, and the 16-minute Surviving Sabu, is so compelling that their status as gay entertainment is entirely beside the point.
Tickets to shows are $8 unless otherwise noted. To order advance tickets, call (800) 494-TIXS, fax (877) FAX-TIXS, or TDD: (877) TDD-TIXS.
Screening tonight: Sitcom (7 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre); Lola and Billy the Kid (9 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre); and Beefcake (11:15 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre).
Queer as Folk
Made for Britain’s adventurous Channel 4, this film is essentially a soap opera, but a smart, lively, and consistently entertaining one. In eight 30-minute episodes, directors Charles McDougall and Sarah Harding offer a whirlwind tour of contemporary gay life in Manchester, from anonymous sex to reckless drug experimentation to lesbian moms. The central characters are selfish, wildly promiscuous charmer Stuart (Aidan Gillen), his nicer, more responsible friend Vince (Craig Kelly), and 15-year-old Nathan (Charlie Hunnam), who has his first sexual experience with Stuart and thinks he’s in love. Fast-paced, witty, and far more explicit than would be permitted on American TV, the series fluidly shifts from the workplace to the gay disco, from Doctor Who to Princess Di’s funeral, from the hospital where a baby is born to the church where a friend is buried. (Vince gives the reading, and it’s not exactly Auden this time.) The mood is so upbeat that it’s almost celebratory, yet the film doesn’t avoid awkward situations or difficult questions.—Mark Jenkins
At noon at the Lincoln Theatre, $20.
The Man Who Drove
After his release from prison, Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa. In the early ’60s, however, he could travel about his country only by pretending to be chauffeur to Cecil Williams, a Cornwall native who lived several largely separate lives in South Africa: as a theater director, as a Communist and anti-apartheid activist, and as a semicloseted gay man. Soon after Mandela’s 1962 arrest, Williams fled to Britain, where he died in 1979. Director Greta Schiller (Paris Was a Woman) had only a few pictures of Williams and his writings, so she chose to employ actor Corin Redgrave to impersonate the subject of her documentary. Such docudrama gambits are always awkward, but Williams’ comments are revealing, as are interviews with some of his friends, relatives, and comrades who are still alive. From black performers who still marvel at how Williams treated them as equals to the national railway security chief who helped smuggle him out of the country, the range of Williams’ friends is remarkable. Although his name is little-known, Williams’ legacy is that post-apartheid South Africa is the first country to provide constitutional protection to gays.—Mark Jenkins
Screens with The Man in the Irony Mask at 5 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre.
It’s not always easy or pleasant to watch Ari (Alex Dimitriades) indulge his massive selfishness, but he has so much explicitly depicted, urgent sex that it makes the task of putting up with the character’s indolence much easier. Director Ana Kokkinos explores the conflicted world of Greek-Australians through Ari’s search for numbing anonymity. Oppressed by his bullying, tradition-bound father, trying to look after his younger sister, escape his culture, and express himself, the hunky young Ari throws himself into one anonymous encounter after another, bounces around nightclubs and Greek parties, and chases down drugs. While Ari drifts in aimless dissolution, the film stays lively thanks to Kokkinos’ rich portrait of the Greek-Australian community. Head On has all the production values of a Hollywood film and all the integrity of an honest fictional account of angry gay youth, despite some cliched characters and moments all too predictable in culture- and general-clash narratives.—Arion Berger
Screens with Lay of the Land at 9 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre.
The O Boys
In this 66-minute video documentary, director Allan Gassman interweaves talking-head interviews and explicit footage of sex parties to chronicle the history of the O Boys, a Los Angeles organization of post-AIDS, eros-affirming renegades who view freewheeling orgies as a vehicle for raising consciousness about pleasurable safe sex and political action. The group’s ideas merit serious consideration, but Gassman, one of the O Boys’ founders, is ill-equipped to present an objective view of his brainchild. Oozing self-congratulation, The O Boys unreels like an earnest training film for an Eagle Scout homoeroticism merit badge. Gassman includes snippets of his appearance on The Phil Donahue Show propagandizing for his organization, along with endorsements by familiar gay spokespersons—the late singer-activist Michael Callen and waspish playwright Robert Patrick. The filmmaker and his buddies celebrate their contributions to the creation of a new dawning of gay awareness and activism—which, however, is not extended to men who are too old and/or unbuffed to gain admission to their bacchanals. What some viewers might regard as sexual liberation will no doubt be seen as erotic neo-fascism by others.—Joel E. Siegel
Screens with Forever Bottom! and Whatever at 11:15 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre.
Also screening Oct. 16: Outtakes with Panties at 7 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre.
Screening today: Wolves of Kromer with Hell for Leather at 11 a.m. at the Lincoln Theatre; “The Way We Were” compilation of lesbian shorts from the ’70s and ’80s at 1:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre; Desert Hearts at 3 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre; 24 Nights at 5 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre; “Best of the Fest” series of short films at 7 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre; and Blind Faith at 9 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre.
and Turkish Delights”
In Huseyin Karagoz’s seven-minute Makbul, His Favoured One, an overheated erotic vignette set in the 16th-century court of Turkish King Suleyman, a lithe young servant tends to the feet and arouses the passion of a nobleman. Phillipe Barassat’s stylized My Pal Rachid depicts a young French boy’s fascination with his adolescent Arab schoolmate’s penis—an obsession that the latter exploits for financial gain. Sebastian Lifshitz’s episodic featurette Open Bodies focuses on the emotional and sexual confusion of high school senior Remi (Yasmine Belmadi). When not caring for his dying father, Remi seeks partners of both sexes in discos and porno theaters, alternately exploiting and wounded by those who pursue him. In an ambiguous, self-referential touch, Lifshitz includes footage of Belmadi auditioning for the role he plays in the film, fusing the uneasiness of both actor and character. A moody, provocative portrait of a life in flux.—Joel E. Siegel
At 7 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre.
Two things happen to three young, hip, and aimless Norwegian guys in Svend Wam’s 1998 feature: Terje is hospitalized for “drug psychosis,” and aspiring musician Anders comes out to aspiring writer Yngve. The latter two rescue Terje from the asylum, put him to bed at Yngve’s place, and then spend much of the rest of the film smoking, drinking, and talking at Anders’ place, with one side trip to a disco. “It’s hip to be gay,” Yngve tells Anders, and he seems to be in the mood to experiment. Anders, however, is not interested, so the two just circle each other tentatively. The result is convincingly quotidian, which is to say not very interesting. The movie’s principal engine is Yngve’s bravado, which quickly proves tiresome, although his sensitive moments are no more appealing. “Liberated heterosexuals,” grumbles Anders at one point, and most viewers will probably identify with his exasperation.—Mark Jenkins
Screens with Out on a Holiday at 9 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre.
“Women on the Verge ’99”
A selection of the short-form efforts of promising young female filmmakers includes humor, tragedy, sports, and surrealism. The centerpiece of the shorts program is DeSales’ Kalin’s Prayer. This well-received 30-minute film is a competent, often arresting pastiche of traditional narrative, spoken-word fragments, musical phrases, home-movie-style flashbacks, and grainy pseudodocumentary. It’s the story of a distressed model spiraling into self-destruction after she chooses the path advised by her domineering family—exploit her looks while she still has them, worry about college later. Memories of childhood molestation lead her back to drug dens, while the love of a good woman—an earthy lawyer—struggles to redeem Kalin on various sun-drenched beaches. DeSales compensates for the film’s overcooked aesthetics with half-baked ideas—she implies direct cause and effect between spurious points: Kalin was victimized because she was pretty; sexual mistreatment at the hands of men produces lesbians. Also look for Pump, Abigail Severance’s wackily beautiful gem, in which sturdy, sensible Ruby (Tara Jepsen) decides to take drastic measures after having her heart broken by the cruel, careless Louise. Witty, well-written, and perceptive, Pump captures the atmosphere of a freshly killed love affair everyone will recognize.—Arion Berger
At 9:15 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater.
Also screening Oct. 18: “Baby Dyke Drama” shorts series (5:30 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, free); and Intimates (7 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater).
Sleight of Hand
While infiltrating the drug- and armament-dealing gang run by lesbian mobster Mo’, lesbian undercover cop Terri becomes the lover of Mo’s lesbian lieutenant Ronnie. Any similarity between this premise and campy farce is apparently unintentional, although surely inevitable. Director Annette D. Ramsey tries to play this 32-minute genre flick for real, but the wooden acting, clumsy dialogue, and cheap locations undermine her efforts. Hard to say which scene is the more preposterous: the violent dream sequence or the supposedly wide-awake moment where Mo’ hawks major ordnance to an Arab guerrilla leader who doesn’t want to buy guns from chicks.—Mark Jenkins
At 5:30 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, free.
“Boys Shorts I:
Fathers and Sons”
A sextet of shorts exploring intergenerational male relationships. Jonathan Wald’s terse, telling In My Secrecy depicts the tortured sexual awakening of an 11-year-old boy attracted to his handsome dad. In Didier Blasco’s meticulous, muted An Arrangement, a closeted Parisian shoemaker and his restless adolescent son discover that they share a secret and strike an uneasy bargain. Sean Patrick McCarthy’s The Bear tritely pits a macho, gun-toting father against his opera-loving, mama’s-boy son with lethal consequences. In Robert Little’s A Good Son, a diving champion’s younger brother, confused about his sexual identity, encounters a seductive schoolmate at a swim meet. Dean Francis’ expressionistic Escape From Hell melodramatically portrays the anguish of an Australian teenager victimized by fag-bashers and caught in a compromising position by his unsuspecting father. In Ian Iqbal Rashid’s Surviving Sabu, the most original and affirmative short in the program, the image of the erstwhile child star serves as the focal point for an examination of the uneasy relationship between an Anglo-Indian immigrant and his gay, rebellious filmmaker son. For the father, Sabu represents the triumphant fusion of East and West; for the son, the actor is an emblem of colonialism. In the course of collaborating on a documentary about Sabu incorporating footage from The Thief of Baghdad and other vintage movies, the pair gradually reconcile their differences and come to respect each other’s courage.—Joel E. Siegel
At 9:15 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre.
Also screening Oct. 19: “Bedhopping” series of shorts (7 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre); Below the Belt and Red Rain (7:15 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater); and Blessed Are Those Who Thirst (9:15 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater).
This 52-minute women-in-rock documentary, made for Britain’s Channel 4, offers some interesting comments from Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos, and Sinead O’Connor, but the overall effect is still muddled. Director Pratibha Parmar’s sanctimoniously presented thesis is that rock and feminism didn’t forge a productive alliance until the ’90s, but the film’s own soundtrack—which includes circa-1975-to-1980 music by Patti Smith and the Slits—undermines this argument. Along for the ride are such prominent feminist writers as Gloria Steinem, Camille Paglia, and Andrea Dworkin, all of whom reveal that they know little about the subject. (Where are the ones who actually know pop music, like Ellen Willis?) Presented at music-video velocity and crammed full of musical clips, the film is never dull, but it raises more questions than it answers: Why is Madonna’s sexual vamping good and the Spice Girls’ bad? Why does the film dismiss the riot grrrl movement in a minute but lavish so much attention on irrelevant major-label acts like Republica and Garbage? Has Parmar ever heard of Lesley Gore, Maureen Tucker, Joni Mitchell, the Raincoats, Kleenex, or Bikini Kill? And who cares if Paglia is an Aries?—Mark Jenkins
Screens with But I Was a Girl….: The Story of Freida Belinfante at 7 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater.
The lead characters meet cute—and again and again—in the first few minutes of director Tanya Wexler’s unromantic comedy about a gay man and a straight woman. Suicidal after the death of his lover, Bobby, Travis (John Benjamin Hickey) exemplifies the dignity of gay men; a man-hungry Brooklynite who got fired from her bank-teller job on her 30th birthday, Rhonda (Wendy Makkena) embodies the vulgarity of straight women. Some of the sharp edges of these stereotypes are softened as the story progresses through a strange quest to Texas, where the couple follows Bobby’s last wishes, but Kim Powers’ script never overcomes its sitcom contrivances and stale attitude.—Mark Jenkins
Screens with Che Mondo, Che Mondo at 7 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre.
Also screening Oct. 20: Sadness (6 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, free); “Butch, Beauty, and Beyond” series of lesbian shorts (9:15 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater); and “Boys Shorts II: Sex & the Single Male” series (9:15 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre).
Man Is a Woman
Parisian musician Simon (Antoine de Caunes) meets Rosalie (Elsa Zylberstein) at a wedding, where Simon declares his love for the groom, his cousin David. Rosalie is a singer of traditional Yiddish tunes who was raised Orthodox in New York, and Simon is a secular Jew; the two have little in common except music and the fact that they’re both attracted to straight men. When Simon’s uncle offers him a substantial bribe to wed and continue the family line, however, the young man decides to marry Rosalie. Despite the opposition of Rosalie’s strict father, the wedding proceeds, and everyone seems pleased. But director Jean-Jacques Zilbermann (who previously directed Zylberstein in Not Everyone Was Lucky Enough to Have Communist Parents) doesn’t pretend that happily-ever-after is a real possibility. A hit in France, the film is engaging, if a bit glib.
At 5 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre.
The Bradfords Tour America
Bigotry, like religion, defies reason, which is why the two are so frequently allied and why humor is often a more effective weapon against prejudice than argumentation. In The Lesbian Avengers Go to Washington, the short video that opens this free program, directors Marina Colby and Karen Taggert document the activist group’s presentation of its 1998 “Spirit of Bigotry” awards to three deserving members of Congress—Trent Lott, Bob Barr, and Henry Hyde. Backed by a bouncy steel-drum score, these shrewd women dispatch their civic duties with a disarming cheerfulness that enhances the seriousness of their cause. U.B. Morgan and Jann Nunn fail to realize a promising premise in their 47-minute video, The Bradfords Tour America. The filmmakers disguise themselves as middle-American couple Bob and Mary Bradford, visiting pockets of Christian conservatism to research attitudes about homosexuality. (Swoosie Kurtz, playing a lesbian feminist who infiltrates a pro-life group in the fictional Citizen Ruth, pulled off a similar masquerade more effectively.) In their interviews with homophobic clerics and uninformed citizens, Morgan and Nunn glean little that we don’t already know about the religious right, and their impersonations of the boobish Bradfords are cheaply condescending, as contemptuous as the rubbish their subjects spout about gays. Rep. Barney Frank turns up occasionally to inject some flashes of intelligence into a project that badly needs them.—Joel E. Siegel
At 6 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, free.
There’s an inordinate amount of cinematic sophistication, sassily updated French New Wave technique, and deep reverberations of meaning in these four strange tales from Asia. Min-Chen Huang’s Too Young is the most conventional; it tracks the arc of schoolboy Mo Zi-Yi’s first crush, on the rebellious Chen Wen-yi. The young hero narrates the course of his burgeoning sexuality without seeming to notice who the object is. In Paul Lee’s silent, serene, and lushly filmed The Offering, two Buddhist monks share the contents of a beautifully wrapped package one glorious autumn. In the winter, one of the monks consecrates the box to the snow. Are the egg-shaped morsels merely a metaphor for the pretty poison of infection, or are they the totality of the world, the birth of desire, or the inescapable units of human solitude? Andrew Soo’s Liu Awaiting Spring is also silent, but for the sound of bells and Chinese music. It shows a household recovering from a death; while the kids watch Western cartoons (the film is Australian) and images of Chinese opera stars, a gloved woman scrubs an empty bedroom. The aura of torpor and grief that hangs in the air is palpable, as is the growing tension in the young boy who senses a connection between his late uncle and himself. Finally, a very odd, maddening, and enigmatic film, The Great Pretender introduces a couple stranded on a night road who take refuge in a mysterious gas station. Avant-garde in sensibility and design, the film takes place against a musical background of Christian hymns sung in Korean. The girl and boy collide with the station’s blandly helpful proprietor repeatedly throughout the strange night, before an unexplained act of violence separates them.—Arion Berger
At 7 p.m at the Lincoln Theatre.
Also screening Oct. 21: Living With Pride: Ruth Ellis @ 100 with One Small Step and Shooting Stars (7:15 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater); There’s No Place Like Home (9:15 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre); and Woubi Cheri with Sando to Samantha (9 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater).
Why Not Me?
This breezy romp about a group of young gay men and women massed for a villa weekend of coming out to their variously difficult parents not only will amuse its target audience but may also be an unwitting straight-man’s fantasy—lots of gorgeous French lesbians in tiny tank tops. But Stephane Giusti’s film is French, so mostly all they do is talk. Why Not Me? is full of good spirits as it observes the mostly decent, level-headed 20-somethings confronting their mostly foolish, obdurate folks. Lila’s parents are leather-clad traveling musicians; Nico’s mom is a vain cabaret star; Eve’s dad is a famous bullfighter with a trophy wife; Arianne’s father is an arrogant geneticist. They gather at the country chateau of Camille’s mother, who is a New Agey PFLAG-banner-bearer to the point of driving her easygoing daughter nuts; “Where’s your gay pride?” she snaps at the kids who haven’t come out to their parents. “I can’t do it for you.” Turns out there’s plenty the older generation can do for themselves—Why Not Me? is part utopian fantasy, part social satire, and part treatise on lesbian sci-fi mavens.—Arion Berger
At 5 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre.
Sympathetic performances and vibrant photography fail to redeem writer-director Nickolas Perry’s mawkish teen-hustler romance cobbled together from bits of Midnight Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, and Johns. Heading for North Carolina where he hopes to become a race-car driver, Army brat Johnny (Jesse Bradford) finds himself penniless in Las Vegas and sinks into the town’s underworld of youthful prostitutes, thieves, and drug dealers. He’s befriended by Eric (Jordan Brewer), a lonely, sensitive gay street hustler. After Johnny is beaten up, Eric takes him in and falls in love with him, offering a tenderness that the naive, virginal newcomer cannot return. Despite affecting acting by the leads, and effective supporting performances by Jonathon Taylor Thomas as a hardened, money-hungry hustler and Daryl Hannah as Eric’s kindhearted cocktail waitress confidante, Speedway Junky collapses under the weight of implausible narrative contrivances and maudlin manipulations. By the time Perry reaches his telegraphed tragic-yet-uplifting denouement, the movie has sacrificed all credibility and succumbed to sappy star-crossed-lovers cliches.—Joel E. Siegel
At 7 p.m at the Lincoln Theatre.
German director Monika Treut makes polished, astoundingly self-assured movies about “provocative” subjects, so she gets called a provocateur rather than one of the most accomplished documentarians of our time. Gendernauts’ fascinating “journey through identity” roams through the confusing sexual territory of San Francisco’s intersexed, transitioning, and non-gender-specific community. Treut’s lighthanded approach keeps the interviewees up front with a minimum of statistics-citing and intrusive camerawork. And it soon becomes clear that the intuitive classification of a person as “girl” or “boy” who has sex with “girls” or “boys” is a weird and irrelevant way of identifying a person. These generous and articulate talkers force the viewer to see the whole person, because most pat issues on which we judge other people tend to be, for them, blurry or pointless. A strong strain of cyber-energy runs through the narrative, as the amorphous pool of sexual identity merges into the idea of a computer-based, body-free “downloading” of human consciousness. But everyone—Hida, born “intersexed” (the new word for hermaphroditic), who has chosen not to choose anymore; perky, needy blond whirlwind Texas Tomboy; elegant Stafford; Max and Jordy, both candid about their transitions from female to male; gorgeous former model and gendernaut Earth Mother Tornado—has something to say. And San Francisco has never looked more beautiful.—Arion Berger
Screens with Transmission at 9:30 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater.
Also screening Oct. 22: The Right to Be Different (6 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater); “Kiss My Cleats” series of athletic shorts (7:15 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater); “Badass Supermamas Fall in Love” series of African-American lesbian shorts (9:15 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre); Rites of Passage (11 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre); and Razor Blade Smile with Bed, Happy Birthday, and Safe Sex PSA (11:15 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater).
In this contemplative, rigorously assembled 54-minute documentary, director Martha Swetzoff addresses a seminal event in her life—the unsolved 1968 murder of her 45-year-old father. A sophisticated, keenly intelligent Russian Jewish immigrant, Hyman Swetzoff was a Boston gallery owner, revered by the artists whose work he exhibited. He was beaten to death by an unknown assailant, shattering the lives of his estranged wife, son, and daughter. Combining writings and photographs from her father’s archives (now housed in the Smithsonian), evocative floral imagery underscoring a speculative narration, and interviews with family members, associates, and homicide detectives, Swetzoff discovers that her father had a secret gay life that may have held the key to his brutal demise. Intelligent and smoothly crafted, Theme: Murder traces a concrete mystery that leads to larger, more abstract questions about the paradoxical nature of human identity.—Joel E. Siegel
Screens with Caught in the Crossfire at 1 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre.
Climb Against the Odds
Despite the pessimistic title, this documentary following the 1998 12-woman assault on Mount McKinley is full of hope and inspiring good cheer. The women of the climbing team are all breast-cancer survivors who have re-prioritized their lives to make room for this difficult trek. Filmmakers Karen Carlson and Steve Michelson interweave the stories of their health battles with footage of the women preparing for the trip. Fittingly, they are a diverse group, spanning ages, backgrounds, experiences, and sexualities—they have only these two things in common, that they had breast cancer and are willing to risk their precarious health climbing the United States’ highest peak in order to raise awareness of the cause. The grueling hike is worsened by bad weather and some of the team members’ failing health, but despite the setbacks—and the film’s occasionally sanctimonious, I-honor-the-light-in-you tone—is finally as awe-inspiring and triumphant as intended.—Arion Berger
Screens with The Spider at 1 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater.
My Girlfriend Did It
A half-dozen lesbians discuss the horrors of living with abusive lovers in Dawn Wells’ 42-minute film, which is designed principally to air this controversial subject. In talking-head interviews, the women discuss the fear they felt, the violence they experienced, and their eventual escapes from their tormentors. The interviewees’ comments are interspersed with black-and-white footage designed to evoke their previous ordeals—and in particular the case of a woman who died when she jumped from a truck where she was being beaten by her lover. The abusers remain largely a mystery, although a few counselors and academics offer their interpretations of why women might physically assault their lovers. “Abusive behavior is a choice,” says a sociology professor, citing a surprising study that found no pattern of childhood abuse among women who grow up to be abusive.—Mark Jenkins
Screens with Cuerpos de Papel and My Primary Lover Never Hollywood Screen Kissed Me at 3 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater.
Murmur of Youth
Bewildered by the obligations of family and the responsibilities of impending adulthood, two Taiwanese teenagers who are both named Mei-li (“pretty” in Mandarin) find brief solace together in this moody, shadowy, cryptic film. Working together in a cinema box office, the two young women bond as they compare notes on masturbation, menstruation, and the bread-scented sexual allure of a guy who works at a nearby bakery. But their talk of lost and unrequited loves leads not to new boyfriends but to each other. Don’t be misled by the Reel Affirmations catalog’s comparison of this film with the work of Jean-Luc Godard and Wong Kar-Wai; there are no bright colors or high energy on display here. Director Lin Cheng-Sheng works in the hushed, melancholic mode of such great Taiwanese filmmakers as Edward Yang, Tsai Miang-Liang, and, above all, Hou Hsiao-Hsien. This rich, evocative, haunting film doesn’t really have anything to say about the gay experience, but it is certainly one of the best entries in this year’s festival.—Mark Jenkins
Screens with SpaceJazzEros at 5 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater.
Traveling from small-time carnivals to ramshackle trailer parks in a sputtering RV, veteran criminal Zobel (longtime German star Gotz George), his 20-something daughter, Lizzie (Jeanette Hain), and his lover, Karl (Christian Redl), live a life of pickpocketing and booze, bickering and sex. Then Karl is seriously injured, and things begin to unravel. Lizzie recruits cocky young auto mechanic (and fledgling thief) Rudolf (Felix Eitner) to join their team, and soon both father and daughter are violating the former’s “no exchange of bodily fluids” rule with the newcomer. Hermine Huntgeburth’s film is sort of a comedy, with the scenes of Rudolf attempting to juggle the sexual demands of his two lovers structured like a swinging-door sex farce. But when they discover that they’ve been sharing Rudolf, Zobel and Lizzie’s jealous rages are more scary than amusing, and the film’s depiction of Germany’s underworld is dark and grimy. Still, the movie does close with a scene that—for a family this larcenous—qualifies as a happy ending.—Mark Jenkins
At 7 p.m at the Lincoln Theatre.
Eileen Is a Spy
Weird, reclusive Eileen is indeed a spy—in the houses of life and love, neither a place where she feels entitled to participate. Armed with a pair of field glasses and her ever-present notebook, bird-skinny, lank-haired Eileen goes about her eccentric business—trying on wigs in motel rooms, dressing in bizarre everyday clothes that are themselves like disguises—while on the soundtrack, women’s voices straightforwardly recount experiences of bad or indifferent heterosex. What all this black-and-white zaniness is adding up to is at first a mystery, but with director Sayer Frey’s firm hand on the tiller, Eileen is steered in the direction of Jayne, an earthy blonde. Jayne represents one brand of women’s restlessness and alienation—she is one of dozens of female hitchhikers that line the roadways in Frey’s metaphoric landscape—but Eileen stands for another. Her binoculars act as a machine of scrutiny and a cloak of invisibility, the tools she has chosen to protect herself in the wake of a harrowing childhood of sexual abuse. As the stories on the soundtrack grow more vivid and troubled—these are real victims of incest—Eileen and Jayne’s relationship is enacted with genial naturalism and all of what Eileen calls the “excitement of a new friend.” Where it leads sexually is less important than the emotional growth it offers women on the run from their selves. Frey makes this strong statement with a light, quirky, consistently engaging tone.
At 7 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater.
Portland Street Blues
In just the last few years, gay characters and themes have begun to emerge in Hong Kong’s sexually strait-laced cinema. These newly candid films, however, have been comedies or domestic dramas, not the action fare for which the former colony is best known. Raymond Yip Wai Man’s Portland Street Blues is probably the first HK gangster movie to feature a hard-edged lesbian protagonist. Known to intimates as Teenie, Sister Thirteen (Sandra Ng) rises through the Hung Hing gang’s ranks to become the boss of Mongkok, a teeming section of north-central Kowloon. She has a sort of crush on a male gangster called Coke (Alex Fong), whose career ultimately intersects with hers in explosive circumstances, but her true (if intermittent) love is beautiful soap-opera actress Yun (Kristy Yueng). This 1998 effort is as vibrant, gritty, and visceral as the best HK underworld flicks, although its elaborate system of flashbacks needlessly complicates the narrative. Filmgoers familiar with the Young and Dangerous series will have an advantage, since some of these characters (including Teenie herself) were previously introduced in those movies.—Mark Jenkins
At 11 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater.
Also screening Oct. 23: The Treaty of Chance with Plain or Chocolate (11 a.m. at the Lincoln Theatre); “Baby Steps” series of parenthood shorts (11 a.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater); The Most Unknowable Thing with The Reunion (3 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre); “Crazy Cowboys” series of Western shorts (5 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre); Spin the Bottle (9 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre); Show Me Love (9 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater); and Heyday of Jaguar (11 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre).
Though it’s constrained by necessity, there’s nothing amateurish intellectually about Ian Iqbal Rashid’s gemlike short Surviving Sabu, a bright spot in the program of films from the Indian subcontinent. (The film is also showing as part of “Boys Shorts I: Fathers and Sons.”) Rashid’s faux documentary pits an out British-Pakistani son against his conventional Muslim father as the son struggles to make a film about his dad’s experience as an immigrant. Sounds ordinary, but Rashid throws one element into the mix—the troubling presence of Indian teenage action icon Sabu—and manages to pull threads of cultural, generational, sexual, social, and ethnic complexity out of his 16 scant minutes. For real documentary, as funny as it is laconically searing, Nish Saran’s Summer in My Veins is tough and amusing. After graduating with high honors, Saran goes on a road trip with his mother and aunts, who are visiting from India. The purpose of the trip, to Saran, is to come out to his mother, but he’s complicated matters by taking an HIV test that has a good chance of coming back positive. The women of Saran’s loving, boisterous, elegant family are seen singing in the car, dancing in the surf, chatting with giggles and naive questions about a gay friend of Nish’s, and making crude sexual jokes to shock the young folk. As a family portrait, Summer in My Veins is sharp and engrossing; as a coming-out story, it’s refreshingly direct. Nish’s mother’s reaction is monologue right from the loving-mom textbook— denial, confusion, support, disappointment, resignation, staunch defense.—Arion Berger
At 5 p.m at the Lincoln Theatre.
Bedrooms and Hallways
Reel Affirmations closes on an appropriately festive note with this delightful pansexual comedy. Director Rose Troche and screenwriter Robert Farrar focus on the complicated romantic relationships of two London roommates and their circle of friends. Leo (Kevin McKidd of Trainspotting), a lovelorn furniture craftsman, becomes the token gay in a New Age men’s group, where he is drawn to Brendan (James Purefoy), a ruggedly handsome restaurateur estranged from his girlfriend Sally (Jennifer Ehle). Campy Darren (Tom Hollander) embarks on a wildly sexual romp with realtor Jeremy (Hugo Weaving), clandestinely conducted in on-the-block properties. Farrar’s writing blends sparkling, epigrammatic dialogue with the complex narrative mechanics of a French farce. In her second feature, Troche (Go Fish) draws appealing performances from an attractive, gifted ensemble and paces the intricate plot with the deft assurance of a seasoned filmmaker. Handsomely photographed, elegantly designed, earthy but never vulgar, and refreshingly free of political correctness, Bedrooms and Hallways overflows with provocative observations about sexual identity, self-discovery, desire, and tenderness.—Joel E. Siegel
At 7 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $15.
Also screening Oct. 24: My Gentleman Friends with I Know a Place and Altre Storie (“Love Affairs”) (11 a.m. at the Lincoln Theatre); Gotta Have Heart with Sammy Molco—Private Eye, Chester, Jones & I, and Last Post (1 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre); and “Lesbian Camp: The Next Generation” series of shorts (3 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre).