Friday, November 07, 2008

Film Festival: Day 1

Yesterday I saw 5 films in 10 hours! I literally had 5-10 minutes between films, but fully enjoyed the experience. Here's what I saw:

The New World
Lucie and Marion are in love and, as their relationship grows, so does Lucie’s desire to experience motherhood and to share that experience with Marion. The prospect of starting a family brings mounting complications for these two beautiful, young women living a fast-paced life in Paris. Everyone has an opinion for them: Their friends, their co-workers and their families all feel compelled to weigh in on the best road to take, or whether to begin the journey at all. When the happy couple finally takes the plunge, the hopes and dreams that once brought them together begin to pull them apart. Soon there are more questions than answers in this warm and witty exploration of a modern family’s origin. What role, if any, will the father of their child play? Is a father even necessary in the world of a contemporary lesbian couple? As the due date approaches, Lucie’s maternal instincts surge, while Marion begins to question her place in the life she thought she had all figured out. With their lives on the verge of changing forever, they seek approval from their families, watch friends struggle with their own children and try to overcome financial insecurities. But until the old world catches up to them, it’s up to Lucie and Marion to make this new world they’ve entered their own.

I really liked this film. I found the characters real, warm, and lovable. The women's very unusual relationships with their parents and siblings were realistic and not sugar-coated, which led to some raw emotions that test an actor's ablity. The baby's biological father's expectations change after the birth and it is fascinating to witness the non-birth mother question her place in the family. The production value was very good, the city scenery was interesting, and I must admit I love listening to French people speak. I would definitely recommend this film.

10% Shorts (GLBT short film collection)
1. Dire Straights
Two women discuss their reservations about the way that they are dressed (like a straight bride and groom) on their wedding day.

I didn't care for this short. I thought the acting was stiff and amateurish. I also found the plot to be very unlikely. Weddings take a lot of time and work to plan. The idea that these two women wouldn't have discussed their true feelings about marriage and partnership roles prior to walking down the aisle just isn't realistic.

2. Congratulations Daisy Graham
In this passionate and empathetic short, the local high school is honoring 70-year-old Daisy Graham, but she has more important things on her mind: her mentally ill longterm partner.

This short was sad but beautiful. It seemed to open up layer by layer, masterfully providing the necessary information mostly through visual flashbacks rather than oral communication. It deals sympathetically but honestly with mental illness and the toll it takes on the victim and those who love them.

3. No Bikini
At seven years old, Robin decides to go without her bikini top at a summer camp, with surprising results!

This was a cute little short about a young girl whose answer to an ill-fitting swimsuit top was to not wear it. For 6 weeks 'Robin' is mistaken to be a boy by the swim coach and allowed to swim without her top.

4. Cowboy
Christian, a young city boy meets a cowboy in a small village, but unlike the easy going attitude of most little villages, life isn’t so easy in this one.

When Christian the realtor meets the Cowboy they quickly develop a love-hate relationship. It a very unexpected twist, the Cowboy saves Christian's life and Christian is able to save the Cowboy's life by helping his escape the very unusual village.

5. I’m Jin-Young
Jin-Young, an irrepressible little girl, falls in love for the first time.

After Jin-Young's parents divorce, her mother's new girlfriend moves in. In an effort to understand and accept her mother's lesbianism, Jin-Young falls in love with her mother's girlfriend.

6. Wrestling
A love story about two wrestlers who must keep their relationship a secret from the inner world of Iceland’s national and very macho sport.

This was a sweet story about a gay man who cares for his invalid mother, works for a tunnel builder, and on weekends wrestles. He falls in love with a fellow wrestler who is married. When his ill mother passes away and his boyfriend won't leave his wife, the man decides to wrestle one last time before moving away. The results are sweet and touching. (Note to self: never choose Iceland as a vacation destination!)

XXY, Lucía Puenzo’s accomplished debut, explores the painful search for gender identity of Alex, a hermaphrodite, as she enters adolescence and is pressured by her parents to “choose.” Alex’s ambiguity is painfully apparent. She is forced to think about having her penis removed when her parents invite a surgeon to their home in an isolated area of the Uruguayan coast. He comes to visit with his wife and son, Álvaro. Alex and Álvaro strike up a friendship and it soon emerges that they are equally confused and curious about sex, sexuality and gender. At the same time, they are obviously much less confused and fearful than their parents, whose
prejudices often unknowingly hurt their children. Alex’s father, Kraken, is the only adult who tries to understand the difficult choice facing his child, and the only one who grasps the true nature of Alex’s relationship with Álvaro. Gracefully shot, including many scenes on deserted beaches, XXY tastefully explores its subject matter with as little adornment as possible– silences and atmosphere communicate much. The film’s most astonishing trait is its openness and lack of judgment as it tackles this difficult, emotional topic. Moving and forceful, XXY virtually demands that people be given freedom of choice in a tolerant and understanding atmosphere.

I really enjoyed this. I found the acting to be superb, the ocean scenery beautiful, and the family's portrayal honest. This sensitive and fascinating topic is well-explored though never exploited. There is a sensitivity that allows the viewer to learn without feeling as if they've read someone's private diary. The family's choice to live in a rural area in order to protect Alex comes with a cost: not having access to all the information available to city-dwellers with good libraries and the internet. Highly recommended film!

Drifting Flowers
Drifting Flowers is an alluring Taiwanese love story skillfully woven together in three parts. Each set in a different time period, the story’s heroines unabashedly seek their true identities in balance with the worlds in which they live. In the first scenario, 8-year-old Meigo is literally the eyes for her blind sister Jing, a responsibility she loves. Every night after school she carefully walks her big sister to a singing gig at a local bar. One night, a new accordion player named Diego joins the backup band. Both Meigo and Jing soon fall for this suave butch dyke, and the bittersweet love causes friction for all. The second scenario is a beautiful story of loss and rekindled friendship. Lily quietly struggles alone with Alzheimer’s, longing for the day when her missing girlfriend, Ocean, will walk through the door. Instead, her long-lost, cross-dressing, pseudo-husband -- reminiscent of her lover-- shows up on Lily’s doorstep. Their fragmented friendship grows beautifully into an inseparable bond that tugs at the heart. Coming full circle, the third segment features Diego during her teen years, fighting her traditional family, binding her breasts and falling in love for the first time. Brilliant director Zero Chou (Spider Lilies) deftly merges these bittersweet personal journeys as they navigate finding their place in the ebbs and flows of life.

I enjoyed this film, as I did Spider Lilies, because of the style of storytelling. There are 3 seemingly unrelated stories that occur in different times in history, but are all tied together at the end. Production values were high and the acting, casting, and sets were authentic. I recommend this film.

Save Me
Save Me is a subtly nuanced and deeply sympathetic look at both sides of one of the most polarizing religious and sexual debates in America: the conflict - and possible reconciliation- between homosexuality and Christianity. Mark (Chad Allen from Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman) is a young gay man who is addicted to sex and drugs. After a particularly nasty binge, his brother checks him into Genesis House, a Christian retreat in New Mexico miles from anywhere. Run by a compassionate husband and wife team, Gayle (Judith Light) and Ted (Stephen Lang) have made it their life’s mission to cure young men oftheir ‘gay affliction’ through spiritual guidance. At first, Mark resists, but soon takes the message to heart and begins to bond with his fellow particular Scott (RobertGant from Queer as Folk), a mentor charged with guiding Mark through his conversion. As their friendship evolves into romance, Mark and Scott are forced to confront their true selves, while Gayle and Ted find the values they hold as absolute truths to be threatened. Powerful, restrained performances and a provocative yet believable plot bring light to this contentious subject and offer healing, clarity and understanding to anyone caught in the crosshairs of scriptureand sexual identity.

I liked this film a lot. I was prepared for the Christian gay-recovery people to be monsters I'd immediately hate, but this film showed a different side I hadn't expected: sincere people who honestly believe in what they're doing. The film never felt heavy-handed, and the struggles felt by the recovering gay men and the couple running the center were presented honestly and not over-acted. This film makes it point without beatting you over the head with it.

Crush du Jour: Jessie Pavelka

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Oh lucky you! I've never done a film festival, but I will sometime soon. Toronto or Montréal perhaps. The one from Iceland sounds interesting. We've travelled to Europe several times on IcelandAir, which necessitates a quick stop in Iceland, so we've been there a few times but never out of the airport. Enjoy the rest of the festival!