After Brokeback, Still Queer
This is the year of Brokeback Mountain, in more ways than one. On one hand, it has been proven that queer movies can be a hit in Middle America. On the other, yahoos are frothing at the mouth, and a place like the Bahamas has banned the picture because of its portrayal of "extreme homosexuality." (Maybe mild sissiness would be all right.) So what can a festival do after Brokeback? Move on with a sense of purpose and pride.
Back for an eighth year, the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival begins the hot summer early, April 21 through 30, with what may be its strongest lineup yet. Everything from hilarious Spanish comedies and profoundly moving French dramas to the best in American independent films add up to a kaleidoscope of gay, bisexual, transgender, and just plain human stories. That is what film at its best does, and movie lovers of all persuasions are bound to find much to smile about. Here are some of the highlights.
Reinas (Queens): Directed by Manuel Gómez Pereira (Spain, 2005; East Coast premiere): Here's a good reason to be optimistic about human rights: Spain, not so long ago the very definition of enduring fascism, is home to the most equalitarian marriage laws in the world. Gays and lesbians can marry legally in Spain and enjoy the same privileges as straight couples. Period. Now here's a good reason to be optimistic about the movies: Manuel Gómez Pereira's delicious Queens. One could call it an old-fashioned comedy in the Neil Simon mold, except it happens to be out and proud as well as ridiculously funny. It is a zigzagging snapshot of 24 hours leading up to the first gay weddings in Spain, pictured as a major media event presided over by a judge whose own son is one of the grooms. Almost every type of parent, from a GLAAD model to a proto-Cheney horror, is portrayed. So are an array of different couples, all luxuriously cast.
The real queens of the title are a trio of Almodóvar muses playing the mothers-in-law on the verge of a nervous breakdown: Carmen Maura, Marisa Paredes, and Verónica Forqué, with Argentine scene-stealer Betiana Blum added to the mix as a high-maintenance Latin mom come from Buenos Aires to stay. The young couples are a feast of rising stars of Spanish-language cinema, with a cameo by Italian heartthrob Andrea Occhipinti thrown in for good measure. Argentina's hairy hunk Daniel Hendler (known here from both the Latin American and Jewish film festivals) and blond Unax Ugalde emerge as the movie's leading couple. But there is no dimming the star wattage of Hugo Silva, Paco León, and a huge ensemble cast that makes a powerful case for old-school Latin charm. Old-school, too, is the way Gómez Pereira's picture, for all its sophisticated hilarity, pulls out the emotional stops and creates a moving climax from what is truly a historic occasion people in love getting married. Go figure.
Le Temps qui Reste (Time to Leave): Directed by François Ozon (France, 2005; U.S. premiere): The festival's most touching and probably best picture is the latest work from France's most distinctive young filmmaker. It is difficult to pin down François Ozon, save to say that whatever he did last will not predict what he'll do next. From his early revolutionary shorts, right through the perversely funny Water Drops on Burning Rocks and the obsessive thriller Criminal Lovers, down to the camp classic 8 Women (girl-on-girl wrestling featuring Catherine Deneuve and Fanny Ardant, with songs) and the heartbreaking Charlotte Rampling vehicles Under the Sand and Swimming Pool how can one ever define this man's oeuvre? An out gay director, an auteur in the Truffaut mold, and a hell of a filmmaker, Ozon never got to make his AIDS movie. So he is giving us Time to Leave. Like Under the Sand, the new movie is about death and mourning. Also like that gem, it achieves a sort of melancholy serenity. A handsome photographer collapses during a shoot and is later diagnosed with cancer that is fast metastasizing and will kill him in three months. Instead of cheap melodrama, we get frantic, frank lovemaking; unbearably painful, intimate family moments; an appearance by Jeanne Moreau, who is a miracle of dramatic discretion, as the grandmother; and a leading performance by Melvil Poupaud that goes a long way toward illuminating the darkest, sweetest corners of the human heart. Poupaud, who is scheduled to be at the screening to accept the HBO Career Achievement Award for Ozon, looks like France's answer to Eric Bana and takes over the screen with the insouciance of a young Alain Delon. Don't miss this one.
Strákarnir Okkar (Eleven Men Out): Directed by Róbert I. Douglas (Iceland, 2005; Florida premiere): Homophobia in sports is a serious topic, but like last year's Guys and Balls, it also makes for great comedy. A hot sports hero, recently divorced from Miss Iceland no less, mentions to a reporter he's gay. He is promptly banned from professional play. The feel-good sports movie that follows is an unlikely situation comedy, and it would be unseemly to give away too much. But it is safe to say that this eye-opening look at the exotic far North, complete with footage from Gay Pride Reykjavík and some very hot shower scenes, is one of the festival's most adorable, and also more seriously butch, comedies.
20 Centímetros (20 Centimeters): Directed by Ramón Salazar (Spain, 2005; Florida premiere): It's not so easy to make an Almodóvar comedy, especially without Almodóvar. Salazar tries, and the result is an outrageous tale of a stacked but also well-hung pre-op tranny's saga on her way to shedding all of those centimeters in a sex-change operation. Complications ensue when she finds an otherwise ideal boyfriend who happens to like her generous endowment. What is a girl with a big dick to do? There's also a dwarf roommate. The familiar lowlife-in-Spain stuff has been much better. That said, the several musical dream sequences provide a cute, ironic glimpse into the Great Euro-pop Songbook.
George Michael: A Different Story: Directed by Southan Morris (United Kingdom, 2005; Florida premiere): At the height of his post-Wham! glory, George Michael found himself thinking, Oh my God, I'm a massive star, and I think I may be a poof. This is not going to end well. Actually it did. Or at least it's still going not bad. Michael is perhaps not everyone's idea of a great pop star or a poster boy for the gay movement, but this honest, entertaining documentary is a big surprise. It is also revealing: In the midst of the singer's well-publicized feud with Sony, fans did not know that his Brazilian lover Anselmo had died of AIDS and that Michael was denied the dignity and support straight married people count on when facing such a loss. Interviews with Elton John, Sting, Martin Kemp, and others enrich this film, but the candid talks with Michael himself make this a different story. And a good one.
Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema: Directed by Lisa Ades and Lesli Klainberg (United States, 2005; South Florida premiere): This is not a sequel to the legendary Celluloid Closet. In fact it's pretty parochial not exactly fabulous. Archival footage of pioneers like Kenneth Anger is always good, interviews with John Waters are definitely a hoot, and the idea that the low cost of video may yet revolutionize gay filmmaking is worth considering.
Zero Degrees of Separation: Directed by Elle Flanders (Canada, 2005; Florida premiere): Aiming for the heart and the brain, Elle Flanders scores a hit with this challenging documentary (made on a shoestring) about mixed gay and lesbian couples, in this case Israeli and Palestinian. Any film that gets an Israeli soldier to say on camera he is only following orders is bound to be unsettling. Zero Degrees of Separation is that and more: a sad, disturbing motion picture.
Say Uncle: Directed by Peter Paige (United States, 2005; Florida premiere): And this year's festival turkey award goes to Peter Paige's silly, self-indulgent little comedy. Dull, small movies are not just for straight directors anymore.
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