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The Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival moves into identity-bending territory

So the issue of identity as a theme in a gay and lesbian festival may seem redundant -- aren't all gay films by nature dealing with sexual identity? Well, here comes a surprise at this year's fest: Identity in a much broader sense is indeed the theme, including what should compose a gay festival itself -- if there is a gay character in a film, is it gay? Anyhow, the most obvious identity thread in this year's event seems to be gay men in heterosexual relationships, both platonic and otherwise. Three offerings reviewed here deal with such an issue on some level, the most intriguing of which is the British TV show Bob & Rose, from the people who brought you the splendid Queer as Folk(no, not the American version).

At first, as the gay (and "always been gay") Bob falls for Rose, the reaction's a collective groan -- we're revisiting that misguided era again. No way. But viewer, beware -- the clever scriptwriter Russell T. Davies beat you to it. He wants you to have that response, and much more. As the episodes unfold, you realize he's pushing your own prejudice buttons -- a gay man and straight woman, that's not modern-day right, that's not natural.

And indeed it is not natural for anyone in this truly sophisticated programming. It's not natural for Bob and Rose, who are continually torn about how long this relationship really can last. It's not for their friends -- Bob's all think he's fooling himself, at worst betraying himself. It's not for Bob's long-time straight woman friend, who wonders, why not her? When Bob sits his parents down and comes out to them, admitting he has a girlfriend, a fascinating exchange ensues. The father can't hide a hint of joy that his son may live a "normal" life after all. The mother, on the other hand, having completely embraced her son's homosexuality and joined a gay, lesbian, and bisexual rights group, is a little dismayed -- until she remembers, you can be part of the bisexual community! No, Bob says, I'm gay.

Bob and Rose and friends try to figure out just who they are
Bob and Rose and friends try to figure out just who they are
Girls and boys, and boys and boys take to the streets of Madrid
Girls and boys, and boys and boys take to the streets of Madrid

Details

Bob & Rose episodes 1-3, screens at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 27; episodes 4-6 at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 28, at the Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach.

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And so it goes. After coming to terms with our own preconceived notions of what's normal, we can concentrate on what this program really is -- a story about the irrational and mysterious nature of love. In this Bob & Rose resembles another great non-normal love story, Harold and Maude, bringing us to a place we didn't quite think we could go.

Now viewer, beware of something else. While there are naughty and nicely erotic moments to behold in this year's film festival, they are not in Bob & Rose. The voyeuristic eye in search of some kinky possibilities of gay/hetero sex won't find it here. As the title suggests, Bob and Rose are pretty average people living pretty average lives, and the focus is on the emotional rather than the sexual journey that these two take. Davies has picked some average-looking -- and very likable -- actors to take on the parts; stand-up comedian Alan Davies and Lesley Sharp create for us characters so real we think we know them. The beauty of Davies's acting is in his ability to conjure an uncomplicated, low-key guy who is going through a complicated lifestyle change. He's not dull, not simple, but he's also not that interested in overanalyzing the whole thing. Sharp, aided by her great dialogue, is funny and smart and maybe a little more confused in her hetero relationship than her gay partner is.

Identity -- the good news and the bad news is that it's not so simple -- once you've picked one out, it still may not be enough. The world is more complicated than that, and we've got the films to prove it. -- Anne Tschida Jaime and Rosa Get Laid

The opening-night film of the festival -- Sagitario, a complex, character-driven drama from Spain -- begins with the colorful night lights of Madrid revealed within the crystal ball of a fortuneteller. The crystal image is an apt one for Vicente Molina Foix's directorial debut, which features a complicated, crystalline structure of interconnected relationships. An array of characters -- gay, straight, male, female, young, old, Spanish, and foreign -- meet, match, part and re-meet in an ever-shifting kaleidoscopic narrative.

The story centers on, or rather swirls around, the loves and losses of two fortyish friends, both born under the sign of Sagittarius. Sultry, lonely Rosa (Angela Molina) is a gifted artist but is unable to paint, still suffering the destruction of her marriage and the loss of her husband, a former businessman who has taken on a new life as an anthropologist in Africa. Her best friend is Jaime (Eusebio Poncela), a witty actor and stand-up comic who is ready to break up with his philandering older lover.

Rosa and Jaime love to commiserate, and both face new romantic opportunities when two young men come into their lives. Jaime hires hunky hustler Omar (Jacobo Martin) for some sweaty sex, then discovers he's falling in love with the young stud. But Omar's really named Raphael, and his tough-guy pose masks an insecure youth who's dogged by his past troubles with a domineering cult leader. Meanwhile Rosa passes through several romantic interludes before finding herself swept up by a younger man, Juan (Enrique Alcides), a delivery boy with no money but plenty of sex appeal.

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