Thursday, May 24, 2012

Inside Out 2012: Reviews #3

Reviews of screenings from the 22nd Annual Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival, Toronto, Canada.

Boy Shorts 2 [shorts programme]

This collection of five short films was united by their comedic drive — varying payoffs, but no out-and-out duds.

Best of the lot was Dik (Dir: Christopher Stollery, Australia, 2010, 9 min.), where a six-year-old's picture has his parents asking if he might be gay. Consideration of the ramifications of this quickly spirals out of control for the parents, but the situation stays rooted in a deadpan, realistic mode. Top stuff.

Less worried with realism is the joyfully over-the-top Half-Share (Dir: Sean Hanley / Jesse Archer, USA, 2010, 30 min.). A paean to Fire Island's boystown, this plays like a pilot to a sitcom that is squeezing in as many gags as possible out of fear there'll never be a chance to tell 'em again. And, like a sitcom, the characterizations are paper thin and dealing in stock types, but the zingers come at a fast-enough pace to keep this moving along. Delighting in the uniqueness of its milieu (especially revelling in local slang), it's also a celebration of a space where the rules of the straight world don't apply.

Couples Therapy: Twitter (Dir: Mike Rose, USA, 2011, 10 min) also played like a sitcom — so much so that director/actor Rose has already won a pilot deal as a result. One member of a couple has a joke that he loves to tell everyone that he meets, driving his boyfriend to such distraction that it needs to be hashed out in front of a councillor. Superficial but breezy enough to entertain. Plus, this came with the value-added moment of director Rose proposing to his real-life bf on stage while introducing the film.

Rounding out the programme, Fuckbuddies (Dir: Juanma Carrillo, Spain 2011 6 min.) brings a low-key realism to a daytime car sex hookup, focusing on the awkwardness of both finding the right position from the back seat of a compact and the small talk afterwards. And Slut: The Musical (Dir: Tonnette Stanford, Australia, 2010, 16 min) plays, I am guessing, off some of the recent popcult highschool glee club fascinations. Set in the chastity-endorsing hallways of a Catholic school, one prefect decides he can no longer hide his love for his boyfriend — and shows it with dance, proving, in the end, that sluts do have more fun. It follows a pretty predictable path and the dialogue is fairly cornball (self-consciously so, I think). Make-or-break is the songs, and I found them about 50-50 — "He a Slut" is a winner, but there's also some mushy misfires. Your appreciation will probably depend on how high that batting average is for you.

Keep The Lights On (Dir: Ira Sachs, USA, 2012, 101 min)

The festival's centrepiece gala will probably have tongues wagging amongst a certain gossip-seeking set. An admittedly autobiographical feature from director Sachs, the film tracks the love affair of his on-screen alter ego, pampered documentarian Erik (Thure Lindhardt) with Paul (Zachary Booth). The latter is a fictionalized version of literary agent Bill Clegg, who has given his own version of some of these events in his own well-received memoirs.

But putting such things aside, this is simply a love story that asks a complicated question: what happens if you fall in love with a person with self-destructive habits? How far down the spiral will you go with them — and at what point does unconditional love blend into enabling? Presenting vignettes from over a ten-year relationship, this shows both the good and bad in such a relationship, with moments of tenderness interrupted by the agony of repeated relapses.

Set within the rarefied world of privileged New York culturati, Paul and Erik's relationship is accepted from all sides without a shrug, so the dramatic tension here arises from the conundrums of sharing a life with an addict. In that respect, one problem with the film is that I was left wondering: no matter how good the good parts of this relationship are, who's going to stick with this? When the early stages of a relationship include someone smoking crack, how is that not a big red flag? In the post-film Q&A session, Sachs touched on this, discussing how some gay men have an affinity for damaged partners as a means of giving them an avoidance mechanism for their own problems. The film hints at this with some of Erik's personality traits, but outside the intimate context of a relationship it's hard to really see how it could be worth it.

But on the whole, though not riveting, the film is a success, offering a realistic slice of life with some finely-observed details that do a nice job of conveying its time and place, focusing on human-scale events like phone sex cruising and AIDS test angst. The sense of place is certainly aided by a score incorporating the beautiful music of Arthur Russell, which really added a dramatic punch to several scenes. The movie is worth seeing — and hopefully it gets a few people to head out and grab one of Russell's albums as well.

Facing Mirrors (Aynehaye Rooberoo) (Dir: Negar Azarbayjani, Iran, 2011, 102 min)

When Rana (Ghazal Shakeri), a female Terhani cab driver, picks up Adineh (Sheyesteh Irani) as she flees from possible vicimizers the stage is set for a literal voyage of discovery as Rana is convinced to take on a fare heading well outside her usual boundaries. Transgendered Adineh prefers to be called Eddie, and is preparing to flee from her wealthy family — and the country — to undertake sex reassignment surgery. Rana has plenty of troubles on her own, forced into cab driving as a means to try and save her husband from debtor's prison.

On learning that Eddie is trans, Rana is initially repulsed, but a twist of fate forces her to see the good person underneath the "sin" as Rana slowly transforms into a friend willing to make a sacrifice for Eddie's happiness.

The film is modest at every level, allowing the characters to unfold themselves to reach quiet payoffs rather than aiming for explosive revelations. Shot simply with lots of closeups, a lot of the film takes place in Rana's trundling taxi (Kiarostami's Ten may come to mind for some). Along the way, there's a chance to see not only fascinating little details of daily life in Iran, but also to see how people of different backgrounds interact (class distinctions are in evidence throughout) and how people just get along while living under a misogynist, theocratic dictatorship.

Interestingly, one presumes that the film made it past Iran's censors owing to the nation's official tolerance towards transgendered persons — although holding to an official line might also explain a slight credibility gap at the film's closing, when Eddie manages to leave Iran free on any of the informal interferences that a wealthy man like her father could surely bring to bear. A low-key film that builds up nicely to earn the emotional response at the close.

Technical aside: I don't know if it was inherent to the source, if there was a conversion problem or something in the projection system, but this film looked inelegant on the big screen. Any camera movement against a background had a subtle-but-unpleasant rippling effect that had the image calling attention to itself as a malfunctioning technological artifact, distracting the audience from drinking in the story.

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