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

Around these central relationships orbit an array of supporting characters, who also meet, match, and more often than not, part. Greta, a conservative Miami Cuban, argues constantly with her pro-communist actress daughter Ana before degenerating into insanity. Ana dallies with Gustavo, an expat Argentine architect who has parted from Rosa's bed. Roza's ex shows up and inadvertently revives her feelings for him before his African wife arrives soon after. All the while Rosa is harassed by a heavy-breathing phone caller who may or may not be a serial killer.

The film starts out very smartly, with a quick pace and considerable humor as the lives of each of these characters connect, or nearly connect, as they hurry through the streets of bustling Madrid. Foix gets a lot of mileage out of the variety of relationships. Friends turn into lovers and ex-lovers meet again in awkward moments. The narrative centers on human longing rather than fulfillment and seems to hold up that common longing as the glue that binds such disparate people together.

Foix is blessed in his cast. Molina, a veteran Spanish actress, is as gorgeous as a mature woman as she was decades before when she drew international acclaim in Luis Buñuel's That Obscure Object Of Desire. She's well matched by the gifted Poncela, who delivers a dynamic performance, funny, clever, sexy, and touching by turns. The supporting ensemble is solid, notably Alcides and Martin but also Daniel Freire as Gustavo, Maria Isasi as the troubled Ana, and Ana Torrent as Luisa, the tough-gal manager of the theater club who is Juan's employer and sometime bed partner. The sole misfire is Mirtha Ibarra's mugging as Greta, an over-the-top cheap shot at exile Cubans (a favorite Spanish target) that seems out of keeping with the film's overall style.

A new lens from Japan focuses on lesbian life in Tokyo
Courtesy Wood + Zapata
A new lens from Japan focuses on lesbian life in Tokyo
Jorge Sanz and Santiago Magill fall in love -- then the disco ball falls
Jorge Sanz and Santiago Magill fall in love -- then the disco ball falls

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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But as with similarly structured storylines, the multiplot narrative begins to stall in the later going and ultimately loses its way altogether in a simplistic, unsatisfying conclusion that looks as if it were hastily thrown together in post-production. Foix, an academic and critic, has experience as a novelist and script writer and his skill with characterization is readily apparent here. His characters feel lifelike and nuanced, despite some of the more obvious plot devices. But whatever point he is making about destiny and individual will gets lost in the episodic, free-flowing narrative.

Then there's the question of why Sagitario is the opening film. Sure it's Spanish and well performed, but is it a gay film? Jaime's storyline is, and its portrait of gay sexuality and romance is direct and open. But Sagitario has as much to do, if not more, with straight culture as with gay, and its focus ultimately more to do with ecumenical friendship than sexuality or sexual identity. As gay culture slowly moves in from the social margins, gay cinema certainly faces challenges of identity and direction. It will be interesting to watch how festival chief Robert Rosenberg and company will navigate these new trends in future programming. -- Ronald Mangravite You've Got Female

A good example of the breadth of this year's Gay & Lesbian Film Festival's programming is surely Desiree Lim's Sugar Sweet, a wild sex-comedy romp through lesbian Tokyo.

A lesbian filmmaker, Naomi faces a bleak life, at home and at work. Lonely Naomi has turned to chatrooms for companionship and is corresponding with another lesbian known only as "Sugar." Her directing career consists of shooting porn films for lowlife straight male producers who complain that her art, her sensual style, just won't sell. They want blunt, cartoonish moan-and-groan-style pics and demand that she come through with the goods. Naomi also struggles with her other project, a lesbian-lifestyle TV show. She wants to portray lesbians in a non-stereotypical light, but her dyke pals wonder if she'll succeed. Meanwhile her happy-go-lucky pal Asuza feels restless with her live-in lover Yuriko, a relationship that has turned distant and sexless.

Horny Asuza wants some action and figures a fling might get Yuriko's attention. Seeing an opportunity, Naomi hires Asuza to appear in her reality show and seeks out another woman to play Asuza's TV mate. In a dark dyke bar Naomi finds sultry Miki, a hard-driving marketing executive who happens to moonlight as an exotic dancer at a lesbian club. Naomi catches Miki's act, which involves bondage, dildos, and plastic wrap used in inventive ways. Soon Miki and Asuza's TV relationship turns into a hot off-screen affair. Meanwhile Naomi continues to pour out her feelings online to Sugar, who refuses to meet in person. The situation reaches a crisis when Miki begins to hit on Naomi as well, causing both Naomi and Asuza to become very confused about what or who they want.

The characters' confusions are enhanced by the film-within-a-film framework, a situation that director Lin manipulates effectively. Sometimes scenes that appear to be "real" are revealed to be sequences from Naomi's production. At other times the glimpses of crew members seem to be from Lim's project. Much of the dialogue, also, turns self-referential, as discussions about media images of lesbians and lesbian sexuality doubly apply to Naomi's plot problems and Sugar Sweet itself.

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