Queer As Film Folk

The fifth annual Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festivaldoes feel a little rudderless this year without founding director Robert Rosenberg at the helm, and the extension of screenings to Fort Lauderdale can make viewing a little difficult, since the films only show once. But there are some good films on offer, including shorts and documentaries. There's a Norwegian flick about cross-dressing called All About My Father, a queer take on Aristophanes's Lisistrata out of Spain, an Indian take on coming out in Mango Soufflé, and a bisexual Carmen out of Senegal called Karmen Gei. The festival, from Friday, April 25 to Sunday, May 4, will of course also include opening and closing parties, panels, and director appearances. Go to www.mglff.com for more information or call 305-534-9924

Some Northern Exposure

In Brad Fraser's Leaving Metropolis, the flesh is willing but the filmmaking skills are weak. This 2002 Canadian production centers on David (Troy Ruptash), a laconic, rangy artist in Winnipeg who suffers from the loss of many friends to AIDS and the ongoing medical crises of his transsexual pre-op roommate. David's so emotionally blocked he experiences a creative shutdown. In order to get his artistic juices flowing again, he reverts to his former profession as a waiter (huh?). Never mind, he takes a part-time job at a struggling downtown café run by newlyweds Matt (Vince Corazza) and Violet (Cherilee Taylor). Seeing that his employers' business is going down the tubes, David convinces his gal pal Kryla (Lynda Boyd) to give the café a plug in her widely read newspaper column. And soon the café is bustling with customers.

Pre-op Shannon (Thom Allison) can't leave Metropolis
Pre-op Shannon (Thom Allison) can't leave Metropolis
This French coming-of-age film has surprisingly subtle notes
This French coming-of-age film has surprisingly subtle notes
In Sex, Politics & Cocktails, there's not a lot of politics
In Sex, Politics & Cocktails, there's not a lot of politics
When women started rockin', it helped roll in grrrl power
When women started rockin', it helped roll in grrrl power

But meanwhile Matt is ever more curious about David and when he discovers David's an artist, Matt insists on seeing some of his paintings. Matt, once an aspiring cartoonist, is thrilled by David's work and sparks fly between them. Back at work, Matt masks his feelings but now David has found inspiration: He begins a series of nude paintings of Matt that he creates partly from memory, partly from imagination.

When Matt sees one of the paintings, he flips for David and an intense affair ensues. But Matt can't handle the duplicity and dumps David just when lust tips into love. When David decides to publicly display the paintings, Matt is faced with being outed or outing himself.

Fraser is known chiefly for his screenplay for Denys Arcand's 1993 feature Love & Human Remains (which also featured a gay waiter named David and his relationship with a straight girlfriend), and clearly has a feel for character relationships and dialogue. Leaving Metropolis, which is based on Fraser's stage play Poor Superman, features some steamy sex scenes (including considerable heterosexual action) and some interesting ideas, raising a number of questions about honesty and morality. But certainly the film's main asset is Corazza, whose gorgeous physique and emotional, honest portrait of the confused Matt should get festivalgoers' blood pumping. Fraser and cinematographer Daniel Vincelette linger on Corazza's sculpted body in iconographic, carefully lit visuals that echo the glorified portraits that David paints.

Unfortunately Fraser, a first-time director, falls into virtually every classic tyro trap imaginable. Like many a writer/director, Fraser seems overly in love with his own words. His talk-heavy scenes often feel stagy and arch. His direction never manages to establish a world -- for all the talk about Winnipeg, there's hardly any visual reference to the place and much of the movie looks like, well, a movie set. The entire dying-roommate subplot manages to be both irrelevant and shamelessly manipulative. Some melodramatic scenes in the late going -- a steam bath dream sequence and a montage of grieving characters -- are amateurish. Worse, the film's relentlessly monotonous pace and careful but listless camerawork only emphasize these weaknesses. The result is a film that should have come off better than it does. -- Ronald Mangravite

Leaving Metropolis closes the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, 7:30 p.m. at the Jackie Gleason Theatre, 1700 Washington Ave, Miami Beach

Boys In Speedos

An outing of another sort is the subject of Fabrice Cazeneuve's winning French-language film, You'll Get Over It (Tu Verras Ca Te Passeras), also known as A Cause D'Un Garçon. This honest, affecting, made-for-French-television production, a tale of a teen boy's struggle with identity and homophobia, is bound to be a festival favorite.

Written by newcomer Vincent Molina in what appears to be a true story, the film follows sixteen-year-old Vincent (Julien Baumgartner), a handsome lad who seems to have everything going for him. He's an A student in school, the star of the varsity swim team, and beloved of everyone, especially his girlfriend Noémie (Julia Maraval) and his best buddy Stéphane (François Comar). At home his parents dote on him, to the resentment of his older, unemployed brother Regis (Antoine Michel).

But Vincent hides a secret. He's gay and can't wait to get back to furtive romps with a casual lover whenever possible. Haunted by confusion and self-loathing, Vincent maintains this double life, going so far as to have sex with Noémie, but his deception ends soon after he encounters Benjamin (Jérémie Elkaïm), a new student who is generally reputed to be gay. Vincent and Benjamin eye each other in the school hallways, but Vincent keeps his distance until Benjamin follows him home. Some of their schoolmates happen to witness this and soon the news spreads around school. Vincent faces intense scorn and humiliation. His brother finds out and outs him to their parents, leaving Vincent no choice but to own up to the truth. Noémie is devastated and furious. Stéphane feels deceived.

Ostracized, Vincent falls into a depression. Harassed at swim practice, he stops going, thereby endangering his chances for a college athletic scholarship. He tries the bar-cruising scene but recoils from the aggressive attention he receives. Slowly, however, his fortunes change. His family and friends begin to rally around him. His parents come to terms with his sexuality, his swimming coach (Bernard Blancan) urges him to stand up against the team's homophobic vitriol, and, step by awkward step, he begins to reinvent his relationship with Noémie. Eventually Vincent learns some life lessons (this was made for television, after all) about being proud of who he is.

You'll Get Over Ittakes the all-too-familiar situations of teen sexual harassment and emerging identity and spins them into a perfectly believable and engaging tale. Instead of demonizing the homophobes and stereotyping the parents and teachers, all these characters are given their due as they struggle with their feelings and prejudices. Directed with relaxed assurance by the veteran Cazeneuve, the film features fluid camerawork from cinematographer Stephan Massis and well-paced, dynamic editing from Jean-Pierre Bloc. The mostly young cast is quite appealing, fresh, intelligent, and entirely plausible. The result is a film that's more thoughtful than sensual, and quietly charming. -- Ronald Mangravite

You'll Get Over It plays on Saturday, April 26, at 9:30 p.m. at the Regal Cinema South Beach, 1100 Alton Rd, Miami Beach

L.A. Cool

Two movies set in Los Angeles break the mold from other recent ones set in same, ones like, say, Broken Hearts Club. To paraphrase a line from that film, it was about a bunch of beautiful tens looking for elevens in West L.A. Sex, Politics & Cocktails and Luster have quirkier or more troubled characters living far from the world of the tens.

Sex, Politics & Cocktails is truly a strange, short burst of exuberance. It's a first film from writer/director/lead actor Julien Hernandez, who, as Sebastian Cortez, is a Cuban American born in Jersey. He breaks from his conservative family to become a filmmaker in Hollywood, where he's asked to make a documentary about gay life. But he doesn't really know any gays. His best friend does, though, and she invites him into the world. At a party she gives fueled by margaritas, she suggests the reason Sebastian hasn't had a real relationship in his 30 years of life is because he's been trying out the wrong gender. So far, so pretty typical. But Hernandez's take on the late-age coming-out story is refreshing.

Hernandez looks like a kind of goofy Ben Stiller, with moussed, tousled hair and vintage clothing, and a really infectious smile. Somehow, this character is believable in spacing out on his sexuality for 30 years. He seems funnily unconcerned with the notion that maybe he should test-drive men. After the party, he checks out a sports bar where he has his first bathroom encounter with a muscled-up black man. Back in the bar, he runs into his old Jersey girlfriend and her husband, both wonderfully horrible. Other gay characters from the first party also get storylines, but it is Hernandez you want to watch drink and giggle his way through the movie. When he mistakes the next black man in his life for a waiter, going so far as to pay him, then finds out he is the one throwing this nice shindig, well, it's just an odd humor moment. The film ends much sooner than you think, and then there is some added-on silliness that didn't need to be there, but Hernandez has served up a feel-good treat in an offbeat way.

Luster is a darker film, taking place in a punk L.A. of the early Nineties, a queer punk L.A. Jackson (Justin Herwick) is the lead punk, blue-haired and lusting after everything -- except those lusting after him, who include the owner of the record store he works at, Sam (Shane Powers), and store-regular Derek (Sean Thibodeau). Jackson is into Billy (Jonah Bleckman) from the other night's orgy, and his own straight cousin Jeb (B. Wyatt) just in from Iowa (okay, that's pushing it a bit). There are ample doses of skate-punk dialogue, black humor, and a soundtrack that give the film street cred.

When rock star Sonny (Willie Garsen from Sex and the City) decides he wants Jackson's poetry for his songs, and then also wants whoever is inspiring such desire, things start to get weirder. What used to be just playing around gets uglier, and raw emotions get scratched. But this film from Everett Lewis is not at all jaded; Jackson does have a heart and his skate-rat demeanor can't hide it. -- Anne Tschida

Sex, Politics & Cocktails plays at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 29 at the Regal South Beach Cinema

Luster plays at 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 26 at Cinema Paradiso.

Grrrl Music Power

Years before there was a k.d. lang, Melissa Etheridge, or an Indigo Girl, there were pioneering singers from the 1970s like Cris Williamson, Meg Christian, and Holly Near. Openly lesbian and willing to forge a path of their own in the male-dominated music world, the three latter singers found themselves as de facto leaders of the musical subgenre known as women's music that suddenly grew up around them.

Described in director Dee Mosbacher's mildly compelling documentary, Radical Harmonies, the film looks primarily at the formative years of women's music during the 1970s. Old concert footage is spliced together with interviews with many of the key players from that time, plus shots of modern-day women's music festivals and performances.

The focus here is on women's music as social force. It delves into the empowering of female musicians and the bringing together of communities of women and lesbians through concerts and music festivals; there is only a glance at the music itself, like Williamson's classic album The Changer and the Changed, and how it might have influenced later musicians.

As free and open as the Sixties supposedly were, musically and socially, there were virtually no all-female rock groups outside of acts like Fanny (remember them?). Members of the band the Berkeley Women's Music Collective describe just how radical that idea was as they were turned away from record companies with an "oh, we have a girl band," or "we would just have to pay for your abortions." Singer Margie Adam recalls how women were "scared to death to go to these" early all-women concerts, for fear of being outed and losing their jobs.

It's an interesting and worthy subject for a documentary, given its importance to the generation of female bands and musicians who would come later, as well as its relevance to the larger women's liberation movement during that time. But the documentary veers too much into "old friends reminiscing about the old days" territory, giving it the feel of a celebratory paean, despite the many interesting comments by old and new-timers (Ani DiFranco and Melissa Etheridge).

And it largely fails to deliver on its advertised promise to take us from Woodstock through women's liberation and the subsequent explosion of gender barriers in music. A little dot-connecting would have gone a long way, to both a larger context and to many of today's female musicians, lesbian and straight, who owe a large debt to the work of Williamson and her friends.

After all, it's interesting to know that grrrl power started with a winsome voice in the wilderness. -- John Anderson

Radical Harmonies plays at 3:15 p.m. on Sunday, April 27, at the Regal South Beach Cinema.

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