Posts Tagged ‘gay’

Pride_poster

Director: Matthew Warchus

Writer: Stephen Beresford

Country: UK

Runtime: 120 mins

Cast: Bill Nighy, Dominic West, Paddy Considine, Jessica Gunning, Faye Marsay, George Mackay, Ben Schnetzer

Pride is a wonderful comic drama, based on true events in 1984-5, about a group of striking Welsh miners who find themselves being supported by a gay and lesbian organisation in London. In the tradition of British movies such as The Full MontyBilly Elliot, and Brassed Off, this film is about downtrodden people fighting back against the odds in mid-eighties Thatcher’s Britain, except that in Pride the politics is much more to the fore rather than treated as background context for a feelgood triumph.

Ben Schnetzer plays Mark Ashton, a gay activist who identifies that gays and lesbians have a common cause with the striking miners in battling against a hostile government. He sets up a group called Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), consisting of a small group of friends who congregate at Gethin’s bookshop. However, having collected money for miners they struggle to find a mining community who will talk to gays and lesbians. Eventually, a volunteer at Onllwyn Miners Welfare Hall in South Wales takes a telephone message and, in due course, miner Dai Donovan (Paddy Considine) turns up in London, completely unaware of the nature of the people he is meeting. He gets on well with them, though, and gives a friendly and gracious speech at a gay club.

But things do not go so smoothly back home in Onllwyn, where the usual practice is to invite support groups to come and socialise. Even though LGSM has collected more money than any other group, most of the union committee do not want to be associated with them, and it takes a miner’s wife, Sian (Jessica Gunning), to browbeat the men into extending an invite. Mark and the LGSM travel to Wales and, after an initially hostile reception, the barriers between the two groups gradually start to come down.

Perhaps appropriately for a film that is about group solidarity, Pride doesn’t feature one main protagonist and over the course of the film we get brief glimpses into the lives of several characters, though this broad approach means there is no exploration of backstory for any of them. One gay man reconciles with the mother from whom he has long been estranged, whilst another character breaks away from the parents who can’t accept his homosexuality. Inevitably, one of the miners’ committee comes out as gay, whilst others notice that girls are impressed by the dance skills of gay men, and ask for lessons. Several issues are also briefly touched upon but not pursued: the separate age of consent for gay men, women’s representation in decision making, and HIV/AIDS.

This sweeping approach works well, because any deeper focus on these issues would have threatened to derail the main story, whilst at the same time we are reminded of the many important problems that gay men and women have had to face. This is also at heart a feel-good movie with a very witty script, and many memorable lines, but the interjections of character conflict and the issues mentioned above prevent the story from tipping over into schmaltz. Indeed, not every inhabitant of Onllwyn has abandoned their prejudices by the end of the film and there is no ignoring the fact that the miners themselves were defeated. However, Pride also serves as a reminder of the good things that can be achieved when people stand together in solidarity.

There are excellent performances all round, but for me the one actor who really stands out is Bill Nighy. As the quiet and diffident Cliff his performance is a million miles away from the confident and slightly louche characters we are so used to seeing him play.

Pride is a must-see film for the autumn.

Rating: 10/10

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tom-at-the-farm (1)

Canada / France 2013

Director: Xavier Dolan

Screenplay: Xavier Dolan / Michel Marc Bouchard. Based on the play by Michel Marc Bouchard.

 

Written and directed by Xavier Dolan, who also plays the lead role, this is a psychological thriller of a superior kind. Tom, who lives in Montreal, is distraught over the death of his boyfriend, Guillaume. He drives out to the countryside to stay with Guillaume’s mother, Agathe (Lise Roy), prior to attending the funeral. Agathe doesn’t realise that Tom was more than just a friend of Guillaume’s and is expecting a girlfriend to turn up. Whilst at the house, and later at the funeral, Tom is bullied by Guillaume’s brother Francis (Pierre Yves-Cardinal), who tells him to make up a story in front of Agathe about a girl called Sarah, who was a co-worker of Guillaume. Tom is to pretend that Sarah was Guillaume’s girlfriend, and is to pass on a message from Sarah to Agathe.

On the way back from the funeral Tom tries to make his escape, driving away from the farmhouse whilst cursing Guillaume’s “redneck” brother. But a way down the road he stops and then turns back. We think perhaps he is concerned about Agathe or needs his luggage, but in fact he is drawn to the dark and dangerous figure of Francis. Before long Tom is working on the farm, but increasingly bruised from the attentions of the sociopathic loner Francis, who has secrets of his own (Francis’s outsider status is emphasised at one point by his wearing a jacket with the American flag and “USA” depicted on it – something that no Canadian I have ever known would ever do).

To some degree Tom at the Farm has a thematic similarity to Stranger by the Lake, released in the same year. That film was described by some critics as Hitchcockian, a comparison that I must confess escaped me entirely. It was also notable for its fairly explicit depiction of gay male sexual activity. There are no such displays of sexuality in Tom at the Farm, which is closer to being a thriller that just happens to have a gay man as its lead character (although his sexuality is not irrelevant to the story). Moreover, this is a film that I think can justifiably be called Hitchcockian, what with its farmhouse setting, a chase scene in a cornfield, its dark secrets and motivations, and even a couple of flashes of black humour. From a four-time director who was just 24 when Tom at the Farm was released, this is a major achievement.

Rating: 10/10

Image

Mexico 2012

Dir: Raúl Fuentes

100 mins

Watching Everybody’s got somebody…not me I could not help making comparisons with last year’s Blue is the Warmest Colour. Both stories concern a young woman, still at school, who becomes romantically involved with an older woman. However, the two films take a very different perspective on their respective relationships. In Blue is the Warmest Colour, the narrative focus is on the younger woman leaving school and her friends behind, and navigating the cultured world of her artist lover. When the relationship goes wrong, her lack of maturity means that she struggles the most to deal with the situation.

Everybody’s got somebody…not me depicts almost the opposite situation.  Andrea Portal plays Alejandra, the beautiful dark-haired publisher who is in a secret relationship with younger blond Maria (Naian Daeva). In the opening scenes we see the two engaged in some passionate night-time fumbling in Alejandra’s car and then, a few hours later, waking up in Alejandra’s apartment.  Here we see the first hint of trouble to come, as Alejandra asks free-spirited Maria not to smoke indoors. Some time later the two women are at a jazz bar, where sensible Alejandra takes some persuading to forget the rules (if indeed they are rules) and to dance in front of the stage. One of the happiest and most tender moments occurs when the two are putting on make-up together and Alejandra shows Maria the best way to do it.

It is not until perhaps a third of the way into the film that we discover how these two women came to meet. This is told in flashback. and in these scenes it becomes apparent that the younger woman is controlling the pace at which the relationship develops. In another reversal of Blue is the Warmest Colour it is the older woman who is asked to navigate the social world of the younger, and fails to do so (to some extent, is unwilling to do so). We see that the cracks in their relationship have existed from the very start. Alejandra’s penchant for quoting philosophy and poetry, initially charming, becomes condescending. Alejandra also seems the more vulnerable of the two. She is prone to jealous outbursts when Maria is speaking on the phone (which, like a typical teenager, she does regularly) and when she encounters friends in person.

In fact, Alejandra emerges as a somewhat ambiguous character. In one scene, we see her waiting for Maria outside of the latter’s school. When Maria emerges, she does not look like the young woman we first saw. With her hair tied back, and wearing a school uniform that includes a check skirt and white knee-length stockings,  she looks very much a girl rather than a woman, and we start to wonder about the nature of Alejandra’s desire. There are shades of Lolita here. At one point another lesbian tells Alejandra that she “loves sweet-talking young girls about Foucault”, which is probably quite close to the truth. However, behind all Alejandra’s jealousy and condescending behaviour, when she is hurt she seems truly hurt. We start to suspect that she always prefers much younger women but, at the same time, can never make a relationship last because she doesn’t know how to exist in their world. In case this all sounds too stereotypically tragic, the ups and downs are played with a deft touch and there are also several very funny moments too.

The performances of both lead actors are quite outstanding and enhanced by strong direction and cinematography. At various points we get close-ups of the women’s faces in which the emotions expressed appear entirely natural and believable. The film is shot in black and white and there is a great visual style throughout. In the opening scene the camera is positioned in the back seat as Alejandra drives through town. We see the back of her head in focus, but all we see outside the window are a series of unfocused lights passing by. There is another contrast with Blue is the Warmest Colour in the lovemaking scenes. In that film, the camera drew back for the love scenes, which lasted for a long time, whereas elsewhere close-ups were predominant. In Everybody’s Got Somebody…Not Me close-ups are maintained for the love scenes, which are also fairly brief and not explicit. Arguably, this approach seems less voyeuristic; that is certainly my opinion, though no doubt everyone will have their own view.

Elsewhere there seemed to be shades of Wes Anderson in the cinematography. Several scenes involved the use of symmetry, with one character appearing centre frame with other people appearing in identical positions to the left and right. There were also scenes using geometrical arrangements of objects or linear perspective. Perhaps the most striking was a scene in a near-empty cinema. We see the aisles receding into the distance, with one couple positioned on our left near the front, a single individual a row or two back on the right, and Maria and Alejandra embracing passionately in the centre of a row nearer to the back.

According to the programme notes that were provided at the British Film Institute, where this is being shown as part of its Flare (LGBT) season, the film is Raúl Fuentes’ directorial debut for a feature-length movie. That being the case, it surely heralds the arrival of a fine new talent into the world of movies.

Rating: 9/10

ImageBilled as a thriller, I found Stranger by the Lake to be more frustrating than thrilling, though I will admit the film did succeed in conveying an air of mystery. The story begins with the arrival of Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) at an idyllic beach by a lake, populated entirely by gay men. These men sunbathe naked, stroll, cast glances at each other, and occasionally wander off into the neighbouring woods to seek sexual encounters (or to watch them). Franck’s attention is captured by Michel (Christophe Paou), a handsome Tom Selleck lookalike, but he is unable to act on his attraction because Michel already has a partner, Pascal (François-Renaud Labarthe). Therefore, Franck swims a way along the coast where he meets Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao), an overweight middle-aged man, with whom he strikes up a non-sexual friendship. Henri is somewhat depressed in the wake of a break-up with his wife and, whilst he does not consider himself gay, reveals that he had previously had an enjoyable relationship with a man.

In the evening, when most people have left the beach, Franck waits behind in the woods where he watches Michel and Pascal out in the lake. There is a lot of splashing and indistinguishable shouting, and eventually Franck sees Michel push Pascal below the water and hold him there. Pascal does not resurface and Michel swims back to the beach, where he gathers up his things and leaves.

The next day Franck joins Michel on the beach. Michel tells him that he and Pascal were never a serious relationship, and that they are no longer together. The two of them go into the woods and make love.

As time passes, Franck continues to talk to Henri each day until the point when Michel arrives. But the day comes when Pascal’s body is washed up further along the shore. Many of the regulars stop coming to the beach, but Franck and Michel continue to meet there despite being questioned at intervals by a police inspector (Jérȏme Chappatte). Initially, Franck does not tell the inspector what he saw but what will happen when his relationship with Michel starts to cool?

Stranger by the Lake is one of those films that seems to be operating at the level of metaphor as much as surface story. The metaphor we are presented with is the nature of risk. We learn that Franck prefers not to use condoms during his sexual encounters and, most obviously, he approaches Michel for a relationship even though he knows him to have killed his previous boyfriend. The two of them continue to use the beach even though this necessarily brings them under suspicion from the police inspector.

However, I felt the film needed both stronger characterisation and a stronger plot to actually make the metaphor work. Franck is the central character, yet we are never given any reason to sympathise or identify with him. This is especially the case when he witnesses Michel murder Pascal. Surely any reasonable person would have reported this to the police, rather than seek a relationship with the killer? Indeed, the one character that I found any sympathy for was Henri, because he is the one person that we actually learn anything about. It is hard to comment on the plot without giving the ending away, but for me the story didn’t go anywhere. Perhaps director Alain Guiraudie aimed to create atmosphere more than story. Perhaps the things I have identified as weaknesses were meant to be some sort of commentary on the practice of cruising for uncomplicated gay sex (a world I know nothing about, but which you presume the director does). For me, though, it was all rather unsatisfactory.

The film is certainly not for the easily shocked, as there is not just a lot of male nudity but also a fair bit of gay sex. Most of this simply involves entwined bodies, but there are a couple of highly explicit moments. Many commentators have praised the film for depicting something that is normally shied away from, and maybe this is part of the reason the film has mostly been favourably reviewed. However, with such a slender plot I did wonder if the director was simply seeking an excuse to present gay sexual activity to a mainstream audience.

Rating: 5/10