Monday, April 01, 2024

BFI Flare: Life's a Beach...

 Possibly my last reviews from this year's Flare, although there are many films left unseen. 

Lesvia, a personal documentary from Tzeli Hadjidimitriou offers an insider's perspective on the fabled isle of Lesvia aka Lesbos. The filmmaker grew up there and is also a lesbian, so she has a life's worth of material to work with, starting from her earliest memories of visiting Eressos in 1980 and seeing naked women. There is great archive footage of the various eras of Eressos, from camping on the beach, to the development of lesbian-owned businesses, to downturns in tourism.

There is also a rather juicy conflict between the locals and the visitors which the filmmaker also outlines with a series of interviews, no doubt getting unvarnished views owing to her local status. If one might want a little more on just why Lesvia attracts so many lesbians owing to its status as the birthplace of the poet Sappho, well one must look elsewhere. 

Heavy Snow
As for Heavy Snow, well, I was just baffled. A Korean melodrama about the relationship of two school girls, Su-An and Seol, it veers off into bizarre diversions involving surfing and hiking through snow. By the end I was not even sure it was meant to be a real romance between two women but rather a metaphor for self-deception or a fever dream or even a death hallucination. Possibly one of the worst films I have ever seen. Or a work of obscure genius. No idea. 

Thursday, March 28, 2024

BFI Flare: Double Lives

 Well, my Flare viewing has slowed to a crawl but I shall soldier on. Loads more films to see. 

I started Riley last week but only finished it today as I left it to watch other things. I was not engrossed by the first few minutes but it picked up and has a lot of things to say about family pressures and breaking free of expectations. High school football star Dakota Riley is expected to do great things, especially by his coach who is also his father. For some reason the team's quarterback Jayden is staying with Riley and their sexual tension is palpable. Except Jayden presents himself as a ladies man.... There is a needlessly complicated time structure involving an older man Riley tries to hook up with. Plus loads of bare sweaty chests and throbbing homoeroticism. An out gay character proves not to be such a great ally. And the ending is open. So, hmm. Pretty decent.

What a Feeling
What a Feeling is more of a farce but also features characters trapped by familial expectation, in this case two middle-aged women in Vienna, Fa and Resi, whose paths cross at a lesbian bar before they attempt to hook up. But Fa is not out to her family, while Resi has just been dumped by her husband of 20 years. It is laugh out loud funny in places, even if the coincidences and improbabilities mount up. But how great is it to hear an Irene Cara song soundtrack a lesbian romance?

Saturday, March 23, 2024

BFI Flare: Queens of Their Dreams

 Continuing with my Flare viewing I present two films in which women find themselves at odds with the women in their families.....

Queen of My Dreams
Fawzia Mirza's The Queen of My Dreams is a stunning work and I am disappointed it was not the opening or closing night film. A sweeping work jumping back and forth in time between late 20th century Canada and Karachi in the 1960s, it finds Azra fretting at her complete disconnection from the life of her overbearing mother Mariam. They have nothing in common, she thinks, until her father collapses on a trip back to Karachi and Azra and her brother travel back to their parents' home country to deal with family matters. 

Azra then flashes back to her mother's coming of age in the 1960s, when it was expected she would marry a man with the approval of her parents and she chafed at restrictions placed on her. Sound familiar? 

Amrit Kaur plays both adult Azra and younger Mariam and the film has great fun with exploring the sounds and sights of times gone by, with film star Sharmila Tagore proving to be a touchstone for both women. When the film moves to 1990s Nova Scotia it is less compelling, but there is enjoyment in young Azra beginning to realise her queer identity while being pressed into service at her mum's Tupperware parties. 

I have seen two of Mirza's previous films but this is a massive leap forward for the writer-director, handling a huge cast on two continents and such a complex storyline. Brava.

You Don't Have....
The short You Don't Have to Like Me also features a protagonist at odds with her surroundings, in this case a masc presenting woman wandering the streets of New York feeling misunderstood and judged by all and sundry. Even her mother is on her case to find a man. The story is told in a voiceover which gives it a poetic quality, though there is one very amusing scene set on a subway when she seems to find a sense of community. A promising work from director Safiyah Chiniere. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

BFI Flare: Dudes Duding

Well, I have finally finished my first two titles from Flare. 

The Greek drama The Summer of Carmen plays out like a very meta version of Queer as Folk with some unrequited longing, various shades of masculinity and a very cute dog complicating things. Spoiler: nothing bad happens to the dog, the Carmen of the title. 

Hairy, hunky Demosthenis is unable to let go of his ex Panos, who acquires said dog and then foists it on him. Drama queen Nikitas watches from afar, increasingly frustrated by Demosthenis focusing so much attention on his shags and less on their friendship and attempts to write a script. The time frame jumps back and forth between their present visit to a rocky beach and back to the summer of Carmen's arrival, when Demosthenis was in a family crisis, as well. 

The only way I could tell what time it was was by Nikitas' hair colour. The chemistry between the two is quite good and the lovers and ex-lovers are much more in the background. Admirers of the male body are in for a treat, as much of the screentime allows the teddy bear-like Demosthenis to strut around nude or half nude. I expected the film to expand a bit more on the friends' underlying dynamics but this was only hinted at. Very clever if overlong. 

Jason Patel in Unicorns
Unicorns is an odd couple pairing of a white Essex lad, Luke, and his attraction to Ayesha, a glamourous south Asian drag queen he meets.... well I am not quite sure where because the film was quite vague about locations. Early on she asks him, "You're not from round here," which suggested it was up north but may actually have been London. 

Anyway, Luke is straight and a single dad (and a West Ham fan!) who presses his father into service as a babysitter while he drives Ayesha from gig to gig. The two leads,  Ben Hardy and Jason Patel, have great chemistry but the plotting is a bit choppy, with their relationship taking great leaps in no time at all, such as a visit to a fun fair with Luke's son that seems improbable. 

The families are not well drawn and a subplot involving the boy's mother arriving seems to dissipate abruptly. But it's an intriguing reunion of the My Brother the Devil crew of Sally El Hosaini and James Krishna Floyd, here serving as directors and writer, respectively. The theme of toxic masculinity is well observed through Luke's transformation and ability to act on his feelings. 

Saturday, March 16, 2024

BFI Flare: Five Films for Freedom

 This year's crop of Five Films for Freedom, which heralds the start of BFI Flare, is especially strong. 

Along with the dramas of Halfway and Cursive is the unusual animated docudrama of Little One, in which an unseen narrator asks her two dads how they knew they were ready to be parents. The interview takes place on camera but with the very stylised rubbery animation, an unusual combo. While it is acted, it does feel as if it could be a documentary. Quite clever. 

Compton's '22 is a documentary with arty leanings, as young queer gender  non-conforming artists watch footage of interviews with survivors of the 1966 Compton's Cafeteria riot. They then perform responses to it in song and dance on a set resembling said cafeteria as a way of enacting a bond with this earlier generation. 

The longest film is a coming of age drama, The First Kiss, in which a teenager goes on a first date with a guy hoping to get a kiss but confronts entrenched homophobia. It is sweet and sad and shows how needed the security of queer culture is. 

Monday, February 26, 2024



photo: Mara von Kummer
Just caught up with GUT, the 3-part series which aired in Germany last year. Made by and about music legend Gudrun Gut, it is a fascinating portrait of the artist as country Frau. Once I stopped thinking of it as a documentary and more as experimental film I quite enjoyed it. 

Gut's rural home in Uckermark is the setting for the programmes, with her resplendent in overalls and sometimes wellies, striding around her property collecting apples, followed by cats (not clear how many there were) in what looks like high summer. It is a gorgeous setting, perfect for reflecting on a life in music and much more. 

Each of the three episodes has a theme, seemingly plucked from the aether: the blank page, Mmmmm and everyday life. Why these when so many others could have worked? No idea. Perhaps that was Gut's whimsy. 

But these do give the viewer a chance to hear some choice anecdotes and witness visits by musical collaborators Manon Pepita and Bettina Kรถster (online) from previous bands, as well as Monika Werkstatt artists Pilocka Krach and Midori Harano, who rock up and twiddle some knobs in the outdoors  in the final episode before everyone sits down for a fish supper, courtesy of Gut's visit to a fish farm earlier on. Yes, really.

It's quite eccentric in tone, with a lot of visual flourishes, such as turning the green leaves pink or setting Gut and her partner Thomas adrift on a lake with an abnormally large moon shining down on them. I liked that it was not just a talking heads profile. 

She mentions a possible second series set in Berlin, so it will be fun to see what outfit she chooses as she speeds around the metropolis on her bicycle. 

Monday, January 29, 2024

Grief and Art

 I had a loss in 2023, a rupture in my life. I have cried and reflected and it still hurts. I find it interesting how grief manifests in creative works and who is given permission to grieve and for whom or what.

When I viewed Maestro recently, I was struck by how emotionally unintelligent Leonard Bernstein is portrayed. He seems dumbstruck by his wife's upset at him having a lover and missing his children's events. After she dies, he carries on with his work and takes other lovers. One review described his joie de vivre and sense of freedom in this time. I wondered if it was denial or lack of empathy. Who can say? Perhaps his ability to compartmentalise his life allowed him to fulfil his artistic desires, even if it made him a crap husband. 

By contrast The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, which I have just found on Netflix, shows a man devastated by grief and unable to carry on happily in his life. Louis is a talented artist but after his wife Emily dies, he finds life very difficult. More so when his mother, sister and his beloved cat Peter also die. As the narration tells us, Louis cried every day for two years after  Peter died. Many may find this amusing. Not so me. Maybe Louis had more of a connection with his cat than with his mother or sister. The cat arrived early in his marriage, so may also have been his last bond with his dead wife. Why shouldn't we grieve animals as fully as human beings? 

Was Wain mad? Delusional? Neurodiverse? His contemporaries found him to be the former. But I wonder if he wasn't just more tuned in to other life forms than society found acceptable. I hope he and Peter and Emily found each other.