There’s nothing like a little adversity to mess things up. Part Two of our LGBT series gives us some works that can break your heart and crack you up, keeping you intrigued until the very end. Achieving the simplicity of love in a complex and dangerous world always brings out the best – or in some case, the worst – in human nature, as these international stories illustrate.
(Introduction by Steve Schweighofer)
Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)
Hector Babenco’s 1985 movie addresses the themes of persecution for political and sexual preference together with the more uplifting human capacity to find friendship and solace even among opposites. In a prison somewhere in 1970s dictatorial Brazil, two men, the first a continually tortured political dissident, Valentine Arregui (Raul Julia), a man’s man fighting the good fight, the other, sentenced for homosexuality and having sex with an underage man, Luis Molina (William Hurt – won the Oscar that year from his first of a hat trick of nominations). Molina drags Arregui to an escape from the monotony of prison life by recounting the pseudo-imaginary world of an old propaganda movie of the 1940’s intertwined with his own memories. These scenes, depicted in glossy film noir, draw surreal parallels to their harsh reality, telling a story within a story. In Molina’s movie, the main protagonist, played by Sonia Braga, is a French singer, falling for a Nazi officer, torn between loyalty to her country and love. Braga appears in different roles, as Marta, Arregui’s bourgeoisie girlfriend, and as the eponymous spider woman – her characters link the prisoners’ stories. Arregui asks Molina with whom he identifies in the film, Molina answers – “the leading lady, of course” revealing his aspiration for beauty and metamorphosis into the skin which would make him feel comfortable in society, as he falls inexorably in love with Arregui. Molina’s remembered relationship with Marta, someone outside his socialist ideal, displays his attraction to forbidden fruit, which culminates in his prison life in a physical relationship with Molina. The naturally theatrical feel of the movie, an adaptation of Manuel Puig’s 1976 book, provides the backdrop to tell a story of love and friendship overcoming sexual boundaries in the face of suffering and persecution. Although the movie ends in ultimate tragedy, allegorically linking the real kiss between Arregui and Molina with the deadly kiss from the luscious lips of the spider woman, one is left with the hope that the very real respect and love that was found in the dank prison cell gives us hope that humanity can overcome prejudice, intolerance and social injustice. And Donald Trump.
Henny McClymont @GingerHenny
An Ismail Merchant production, directed by James Ivory, based on a novel, a period love story of three men. It is surprising that this film isn’t as widely known and loved as other films sharing most of these traits. It won me on my recent viewing with it’s fiercely emotional and deeply touching story. This is a journey of discovering who one really is and embracing or withdrawing from the desire to share the course with the person who you want to be with. The added layer to its sweeping effect stems from the personal nature of the source material written by E. M. Forster. The story which is set in the early twentieth century England when homosexuality was punishable by imprisonment and flogging works on varied planes and carries through so many intricate details that shapes the lives of its characters. Remarkable in its empathetic, progressive stance, in the sheer weight of its romance and acceptance of identity and sexuality. The period details itself, beautiful score and costumes, cinematography and what not are also winning but that is to be expected from the team. The acting trio of James Wilby, Hugh Grant and Rupert Graves are crucial as well in portraying their characters in all their shades and constant shifts in their lives brought forth by the severity of the time and place, of the struggles one faces on many levels. A standout in the general LGBT film history. Exquisite, riveting and immediate with its humanity and a plot stripped of overwrought melodrama and clichés. A film that has every bit of what can and will change your life.
Asif Khan @KHAN2705
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Dog Day Afternoon is another fine bullet on Sidney Lumet’s human friction and fray social drama belt. The botched Brooklyn bank robbery crime film is quite remarkable, watching the sloppy Sonny (Al Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale) try to salvage their so-called plan is terrific. This is not your average bank robbery though, as we learn Sonny’s motivation for such a crime is so his partner Leon (Chris Sarandon), a pre-op transsexual, can pay for his sex reassignment surgery. Lumet, and screenwriter Frank Pierson (who won the film’s only Oscar), blend the tension, humor, and dramatic punch of the film’s escalating scenarios without fault, while the brilliant, bustling performances are enthralling also.
Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Kenneth Anger’s experimental short can be considered the starting point of underground cinema of this sort. His earliest of works to be available caused quite a stir back when such imagery seemed light years ahead of its time. Anger was arrested and lawsuits were filed against theaters for showing this ‘obscenity’. Anger himself stars in this 14 minutes short filmed in his parent’s house one weekend while they were away. Populated with homoerotic imagery that is usually found in his work with sado-masochist violence and certain Bunuel-ian surrealism highlighting dreams, fantasy, repression, desires. Featuring burning Christmas tree, Fourth of July fireworks, navy sailors, you can interpret it in any way. A rebellious work both fearless and energetic in its personal voice and cinematic expression of it.
Asif Khan @KHAN2705
“You didn’t have to Chris Brown the bitch!” Sean Baker’s raw, iPhone-shot fable of transgender sex-worker Sin-Dee-Rella’s release from a short (and we assume, routine) prison stay and her search for her cheating pimp/boyfriend is probably the most refreshing look at a community we thought we knew since Martin Scorsese took on urban gangsterism in Mean Streets decades ago. In a truly breakout performance, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez takes full command of the screen as she storms from street corner and club to donut shop and laundromat, supported by a motley supporting cast of characters. The film surprises at every turn, at once funny, sad, desperate and buoyant; it immerses us in a world few have seen and even fewer can appreciate. Despite, or perhaps because of, its short running time and technical limitations, Tangerine is one of 2015’s most accomplished film achievements, destined to outlive most of the shiner, more polished movies released last year.
Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag
My Summer of Love (2004)
BAFTA-winning drama My Summer of Love marks another excellent British venture for Polish film-maker Pawel Pawlikowski (now an Academy Award winner with Ida), set during a West Yorkshire summer. From different backgrounds, Mona (Natalie Press) and Tamsin (Emily Blunt) meet and embark on personal exploration and expression, the girls begin to bond, swigging alcohol, swimming, smoking, secret-sharing – even going to the extent to swear an oath of death should they lose each other. The brief, passionate lesbian relationship that forms is a natural progression for the two girls who are keen to push aside the troubles of their respective lives, and find in each other a seemingly felicitous companionship. Both young actresses Blunt and Press are superb.
Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
The Talented Mr Ripley (1999)
Gay people struggle with their identity and coming to terms with who they are – that’s not a new theme in gay cinema. One of the most tortured, and murderous, characters to grace the screen in the last 20 years is Matt Damon as Tom Ripley in Anthony Minghella’s stylish and taut thriller, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Featuring a staggering cast including Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Jude Law, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the adaptation allows us to identify with Tom Ripley as a solitary figure taking his small life and transforming it into something expensive and alluring. When this came out in 1999, I was only 15, but I immediately knew how bold it was to have an actor like Damon suggesting he get into a tub with a naked Law. Homosexuality as evil has been exploited in other films (with villains twirling their impeccable imaginary mustaches), but this Ripley makes it known that everyone – at some point or another – wishes they could be someone else.
Joey Moser @JoeyMoser83
Yossi & Jagger (2002)
“Don’t ask; don’t tell” was not an attitude confined to the US military, it was an international code of practice. Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox’s fable of two soldiers on the Lebanese front during a time of conflict is slight and quite short, but packs a wallop by way of its simplicity. Yossi (Ohad Knoller) is in charge of his company of soldiers as they battle the boredom of confinement knowing that, at any time, they could be set into action. Jagger (Yehuda Levi) is his second in command, a good-looking and magnetic member of the company. The two embark on a relationship, sneaking off into dangerous territory outside their safe zone where they can be themselves, together. They are, however, in the middle of a war, and their venture into paradise is short-lived. The tragedy is not as much in the loss of a soul mate – crushing as it is – but in the fact that death comes seconds before the first “I love you,” is uttered. It is simple, matter-of-fact storytelling that economically conveys passion in the most claustrophobic of circumstances.
Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag
Happy Together (1997)
Wong Kar-wai has always crafted films that operate as emotional journeys of love, desire and parting. Time, place, things hold as much importance and meaning in his films as his characters, their yearnings, their eccentricities and multilayered humanity. On the eve of Hong Kong’s handover to China, he made this 1997 overwhelming gem about three men finding solace in each other away from home, on a continuous journey with changing personal landscape. The relationship between characters played by Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung (exceptional performances by both) takes a turn in their visit to Argentina. Their lives together are turbulent with a cycle of abuse, breakups and reconciliations. Away, they are more miserable. By nature they are different but both find a certain attachment, familiarity and passion that can’t be described in words. Another man, played by Chang Chen on his own journey away from Taiwan provides emotional stability to one of the characters, for a limited amount of time. Characters all drifting towards and away, occasionally bonding, infinitely igniting and each going their own way. Shot by the great Christopher Doyle, the film is a dizzyingly expressionistic array of blues, oranges, greens and black & white imagery. Plot isn’t streamlined but the emotional fireworks that it sets off are exceptional. WKW won Best Director at Cannes Film Festival for this brutally aching drama. The brashness on display has fragility lurking beneath it and the experience of it is indescribable.
Asif Khan @KHAN2705
It is hard to comprehend the human devastation of the HIV virus and AIDS in real life, let alone the movies – even gay men were hardly given fair or widespread representation on film at the time. Jonathan Demme’s rigorous, emotive Philadelphia stood at the time as a breakthrough in its depiction of a man suffering the illness, and having to go through the grueling legal affair when his own company disintegrate their loyalty for him by “letting him go” because of this. Renowned at the time as much more of a comic actor, Tom Hanks rose the bar through the roof on his own abilities, painfully good here, encapsulating a person’s strength amidst social barriers and a life-taking disease. Part of the film’s heart-rending impact is through the sympathy you feel towards Andrew Beckett throughout his illness. The moment it truly dawns on him the sorry state he is in when he steps outside the office of Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), who at first feels he cannot represent him, is unforgettably heart-breaking.
Robin Write @WriteoutofLA