By Ciara LaVelle
By Calum Marsh
By Voice Media Group
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Sherilyn Connelly
By Inkoo Kang
By Carolina del Busto
By Alan Scherstuhl
This postmodern take is nothing new, of course, and much of the film has a been-there done-that quality, a common result of much Japanese pop culture that continues to focus more on expropriated outside (read American) cultural influences than developing something indigenous. The "who's Sugar" subplot seems directly lifted from You've Got Mail and the onscreen, offscreen confusions echo any number of similar films from the past 30 years. Fortunately the saving grace here is the lesbian angle, which offers a fresh, revealing look at Japanese women rarely glimpsed on the screen. The story is short (under one hour) but manages to pack in a number of interesting ideas as well as some steamy, very suggestive sex that should please festivalgoers.
Lin's direction is effective, given her extremely limited resources. Her camera work is dynamic and expressive with several clever scene transitions. As Naomi, Saori Kitagawa makes for a weary, plausible heroine. The two performers with the lion's share of the sex scenes opt for jazzy onscreen monikers: Saki plays bubbly Asuza with an uninhibited enthusiasm while the singularly named C. Snatch Z. turns on the sizzle as Miki. M. Nakagawa delivers the best acting in a quiet, simple performance as Yuriko, and her reconciliation with Asuza is genuinely touching.
Shot on video, mostly hand held, with minimal production values and iffy sound quality, Sugar Sweet is a no-budget, run-and-gun production, but its shoot-from-the-hip style fits the fast-and-loose subject and assists the deliberate movie-within-a-movie confusion.
Sugar Sweet is paired with two related shorts: Dyke: Just Be It, which Lin made under her alter-ego name Dez (the short gets an in-joke visual plug in Sugar), and Watching Lesbian Porn by Dayna McLeod. -- Ronald Mangravite
Tootsie Does Madrid
Think you've got problems? Be glad you're not Daniel, the gay Spaniard in I Love You Baby. Seems Daniel's fallen truly, madly, deeply for Marcos, a country lad recently arrived in Madrid. After a whirlwind romance they are living together more or less happily, until Marcos receives a clunk on the head from a huge disco ball (the two are singing karaoke to Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," from which the title comes). Suddenly he's straight and takes up with a curvy Dominican woman, Marisol. Desperate Daniel naturally wants his boy back. When he happens to hear that gender-bending Boy George has suffered an identical accident, Daniel decides to do drag himself, posing as a woman hoping to lure Marcos home.
Daniel has big problems but the movie has more. If this situation were played as a frantic Almodovarian comedy, all might be well. But co-directors Alfonso Albacete and David Menkes have gone for a romantic, poignant style that's seriously at odds with their wacky concepts. The result is a film that pulls in different directions and gets nowhere.
As a gay romance the film starts out very nicely indeed. Daniel, played with great charm and dash by Santiago Magill, literally bumps into Marcos (Jorge Sanz) at a bar. Their rushed courtship amid colorful Madrid locations is charming and wildly romantic. Marcos, who has come to Madrid to investigate his gay feelings, is reticent but falls for Daniel's poetic, open ardor. Their relationship is warm and funny and very effective. So, too, is Marisol's unrequited longing for Marcos. But when the glitterball/drag elements fall into the story, the romance falls right out. Since the film has established a real world of palpable emotions, it's very hard to accept its jarring off-the-wall plot twists. Said disco ball is a pretty silly idea to accept in what up until then has been a sweet, affecting story. And Daniel's disguise wouldn't fool a dead blind man with his back turned.
Even if these cornball plot devices are overlooked, what I Love You Baby suggests about gay identity is hard to avoid. For starters the film manages to present Marcos's gay sexuality as an easily cured mistake. Marcos is conflicted from the start (maybe too conflicted; he's such a stick in the mud that it's pretty clear Daniel was headed for heartache). But the sudden smack in the head apparently knocks some sense into Marcos -- he's not magically changed into something he needs to switch back from, he's restored, as if his gay feelings were some kind of curse. Moreover Daniel's disguise as a woman doesn't result in comic complications, à la classical farce. Instead he strings out the pretense to the point that he's just hurting other people, effectively transforming him from a romantic hero into a lying sneak.
More's the pity since the characters are nicely drawn, acting is quite good all around, and the directors' visual style is very appealing. Add to this an enticing production design, filled with saturated reds, yellows, and blues, and a soulful musical score (with lots of merengue-driven moments when the Dominicans are onscreen), and I Love You Baby has most of the makings for a lovely romance. These alone speak for its worth as a festival entry. If only some of the story problems had been worked over more -- or more deeply; Dominican immigrant life in Madrid could be another source for probing issues of "identity" -- we might have something more meaningful here.
On to the next film. -- Ronald Mangravite
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