Tag Archives: GLBTQ Issues

Hide and Seek (1997)

Honestly, I think they should have gone one way or another with this movie — the half documentary, half film narrative doesn’t quite work, and I’m still struggling to figure out why. “Hide and Seek,” not to be confused with the De Niro/Fanning thriller, is the story of Lou (Chelsea Holland,) a adolescent girl forging her identity as a lesbian in the 1960’s.

Interspersed with this narrative are interviews with a variety of gay women. The women courageously tell stories about their experiences with sexual awakening. Meanwhile, the child actors give brave performances in the fictional narrative.

Lou is friends with Betsy (Ariel Mara), while experiencing growing affection toward an African-American classmate. School mean girl Maureen (Alicia Manta) eyes Lou suspiciously, while spreading rumors about the alleged sexuality of her schoolteacher.

Between the documentary segments and the story of Lou’s trials of growing up, the film shows us instructional videos of that time period, in an expression of the bigotry and close-mindedness of the time.

The problem is, the portion focusing on Lou just kind of ends, with no resolution, while the transitions are fairly jarring. I think the feature could have been cut into several different films, each expanded greatly, and therefore improved upon.

I wanted to hear Lou’s story, and I wanted to hear the ladies’ memories, but both in the same movie proved to be somewhat distracting. Overall, though, “Hide and Seek” isn’t a bad film, just a little inconsistent, though I’d advise you to stay as far away as possible from the short films on the special features.

I watched one and started the other, and I have to say it was the most tedious ten minutes of my life. While this deserves to be watched, the short film deserves to rot in art-film purgatory. But if you like pointless shorts with no plot, maybe you’ll like that one. I don’t know.

The Last Summer Of La Boyita (2009)

    “The Last Summer of La Boyita” is a sweet and humane film about a willful young girl struggling to understand the complexities of sex and gender. Despite content involving burgeoning sexuality and youthful curiosity, “La Boyita” never seems exploitative or tawdry. On the contrary, it is a wonderful film about the friendship between the girl, Jorgelina (Guadalupe Alonso) and an intersexed farmer’s son, Mario (Nicolás Treise.)

   Jorgelina is a somewhat entitled little girl living in Argentina who spends the summer with her doctor father (Gabo Correa) in a rural area. While vacationing there, she immediately takes an active interest in Mario, the low-key son of a farmer who has been pulled out of school to work full-time on the farm. Living with few joys or options, Mario is further burdened with a destructive secret- he is intersexed (popularly coined a hermaphrodite.)

   Cursed with both male and female reproductive organs, he must live in fear that someone will discover his secret. Jorgelina takes a prepubescent fancying to Mario, and becomes curious when his strange sexual status is almost accidentally revealed. Meanwhile, Mario prepares for a horse race that will prove his manhood to the other young lads.

   The child actors are wonderful, but the stand-out performance is Mirella Pascual as Elba, Mario’s mother. She effortlessly plays a woman to whom life has dealt a shit-ton of pain and sadness. Mario’s father, a rather brutish man (Guillermo Pfening) seemingly humiliated by his son’s gender abnormality, refuses to take Mario to a professional for fear of embarrassment. He’s good too. Actually, the whole cast is quite fabulous.

   I honestly don’t have anything bad to say about this movie. Beautiful cinematography, natural acting, delightful leads… It’s sad and sweet and wistful all at the same time. The plot can be a little slow, but if you like nuanced, slow-paced movies like I do you will forgive the film it’s occasional sluggishness.

   What impressed me most about “The Last Summer of La Boyita” was the natural way the dealt with the boy’s affliction. It’s easy to take a schoolboy’s stance on a subject like intersexuality, snickering and clowning around a serious topic. It is also easy to turn the whole thing into a lurid melodrama. It is harder to show restraint and sensitivity to a rare but still prevalent issue. I highly recommend this movie to anyone.
                                                   

 

Undertow (2009)

Not to be confused with the 2004 Josh Lucas Dermot Mulroney rural thriller, 2009’s “Undertow” is quite simply a delight. It stands as the debut feature of Latin filmmaker Javier Fuentes-León, but luckily his newness to the craft doesn’t show. Well-acted, made, and written, “Undertow” takes to the concept of ghostly unrest with a warm, offbeat spirituality.


   The film takes place in a small Peruvian village where everybody is up everybody else’s butt by habit. Not a good place to be gay. So local fisherman Miguel (Cristian Mercado) retreats deeply into the closet, complete with wife and unborn child, while he carries on a steamy but loving affair with the village outcast and artist, Santiago (Manolo Cardona.)

   Miguel’s wife, Mariela (Tatiana Astengo) is a nice person, and she performs her wifely duties. Why is this happening to her, she laments as she becomes aware of Miguel’s unfaithfulness. When Santiago unexpectedly dies, his spirit stays bound to earth and remains with Miguel. Together they are happy, but Santiago’s ghost longs to move on.

   There are no scares in this film, and no villains. Even the town gossip Isaura (Cindy Díaz) turns out not to be so bad. There are myriad differences between this and an American movie. First is Miguel’s lack of disbelief at his lover’s ghostly return. The body is missing, and Santiago looks the same. In a US film there would be lots of frantic, maybe comedic attempts to prove that Santiago is in fact dead.

   Maybe there would be gags involving ghosts popping up at inopportune moments, and people walking right through ghostly entities. And maybe there’s a bit of that, but the whole thing is taken much more naturally than one might expect. Santiago is dead. He has come back as a ghost. Miguel almost immediately believes him because, honestly, who would make up a thing like that? He needs no proof. He goes on faith.

   It takes a very spiritual society to do something like that with a ghost story. What proceeds is the touching examination of the men’s love from beyond the grave, and Mariala’s increasing grief and disenchantment. The men of the village are fairly homophobic, but they’re never portrayed as meaner than the plot requires them to be. The acting is great from Mercado (Miguel,) Cardona (Santiago,) and Astengo (Mariela.) All three are thoroughly believable in their roles.

   If you’re looking for a scary, fright-filled horror movie this is not for you. If you’re looking for straight-out gay erotica this is not your movie either; the sex scenes are brief and non-explicit. But if you want to see a touching picture that will make you think and, perhaps, put a tear in your eye, this is for you. The supernatural element is pulled off gracefully, as is the human interest element. You will care about these characters, and you might even find yourself thinking about them when the movie is over.

Elephant (2003)

“Elephant” is an interesting experiment, which could benefit from some editing and stronger acting. The ambiguity that surrounds the motivations of the killers is a frustrating, but perhaps relevant, critique of the shroud of confusion that surrounded the Columbine killings. 

   Parents, teachers, bullies, and the media were all held under scrutiny, and many school shootings later, we’re still holding candles in the dark as to what motivates these kids to kill their peers- and themselves- in a time that seems rich with possibility.

    The film is presented in a series of vignettes of students habitating a generic high school on the day of a Columbine-like massacre. Using nonprofessional actors and a handheld camera, the film recounts the a day in the kid’s lives- for many, their last- slowly following them around the school as they interact with their teachers and each other.

   The stand-out actors here are Alex Frost, as Alex, the apparent leader in the duo of shooters, and  Matt Malloy as Mr. Luce, the apathetic principal. Most of the acting (unsurprisingly, considering the inexperience of the cast) is rather stiff and listless, while attempting to be ‘real’ and ‘natural.’ The stillness of the performances are rather confusing considering the extreme nature of the subject matter.

   The characters are relatively interesting, not worth falling in love with but worth observing and studying. The most compelling character for me was Michelle (Kristen Hicks) a geeky student who deals with the bullying of her peers and the apathy of her teachers. Self-conscious of her legs, Michelle is told to tough it out and forced to wear shorts by an uncaring gym teacher.

   The kids’ individual dramas are made obsolete, a least for a little while, by the bigger drama of the shooting. This film is SLOW. 20% of the film is spent following the students, watching the back of their heads with intent interest. I would not recommend this movie to people who like fast-paced cinema. To people who are tolerant of slowness and stillness, I would not necessarily recommend it either. 

   “Elephant” is more an experiment than a full-fledged feature, and people out for entertainment should just forget it. But what do you expect with a Gus Van Sant indie movie about a school shooting? Sicko (cough.) Anyway, I feel pretty neutral about the feature as a whole. Some people might find it to be a film-student’s dream, others will be bored silly. Though I may dismiss it, I will not forget it either.

 
         
                                                              

Set Me Free (Emporte-Moi) (1999)

I’ll go ahead and admit as a bad filmgoer and reviewer that I have never seen “Vivre Sa Vie” (“My Life to Live”) by Jean-Luc Godard, and I considered watching it to get some perspective before reviewing “Set Me Free.” “Set Me Free,” though not directly related to “Vivre Sa Vie” thematically, is the story of a frustrated young girl who becomes fascinated with the prostitute character, Nana, in Godard’s classic.

It’s also about growing up. And sexual awakening. And youthful confusion. And the moment as a child when you realize that you can’t save the grown-ups in your life; sometimes, you can only help them along while they choose to sink or swim, to fight against the current, or drown. It’s about the way movies influence young people, and how it’s often the one’s you wouldn’t expect that change their ideology, for better or worse.

Hanna (Katrine Vanasse) is a knowing yet naive 13-year-old who lives with her thief brother, Holocaust survivor father, and suicidally depressed mother in France. The year is 1963. Her father (Predrag Manjlovic) has a iron grip on the household. On the other hand her mother (Pascale Bussières) is as submissive and weak as her father is dominating. In an opening scene, Hanna gets her first period near her grandparent’s house, and shortly after goes back home to her parent’s.

While she was hardly happy at her grandma and grandad’s, things go from bad to worse at home. Her dad is a pretentious, lofty, and generally bad writer who fancies himself a great artist, and her mom is one twitch away from a complete nervous breakdown. Her brother Paul is a petty thief. In an opening act of general assholery, Hanna’s father spits at her mother that her’s is ‘mongoloid family’ because her brother (Hanna’s Uncle Martin) has Down Syndrome (I told myself that ‘Mongoloid’ was not such an offensive term back in the 60’s, but nah, it’s still not excusable.)

When Hanna goes to the theater and sees “Vivre Sa Vie” for the first time, she falls in love- with the movies, Anna Karina, and with Karina’s ‘glamorous’ character. From what I saw of the film within this film she is totally misreading the message of the movie, as her teacher tries to point out. But as a confused kid (sexually and in life) looking for a role model, it makes sense.

Boy, did the child actor knock it out of the park here! Hanna was a sweetheart. From what I understand, the child actress was sixteen when she did this movie, and in fact, she looks childlike in some shots and more womanly in others, probably a intentional decision on the part of the director. Hanna’s father insists on masculinizing his daughter, cropping her hair down to boy length (the hair-cutting scene reminds me of the one in “Ma Vie En Rose.”) As Dad cuts, a silent tear runs down Hanna’s cheek, and she gradually is made to feel a little more helpless.

Hanna propositions a man, maybe in hopes for a normal life or because it is the ‘thing to do’ as a girl, but exchanges intimate kisses with a female friend (Charlotte Christeler.) Does that mean she is bi, simply confused, or something else. Fed up with her family, Hanna runs away, but will a life on the streets be easier or harder than she was looking for?

The acting was fabulous, but I wished the ending had offered a little more. There seemed to be a real lack of realization, and everything get’s better quite abruptly. What was learned, except that being a ho’ isn’t all it’s cut out to be? It’s nice to have a happy ending for such a lovely character, but the story doesn’t seem to have the most logical conclusion.

“Set Me Free” is well made and most of all bittersweet and sad. It’s is based on the director Lea Pool’s life, so that makes it this much more authentic. I would love to know if filmmaker Lea Pool is gay, because that would shine a light to better understand the sexual elements of this movie. Note- You can watch this on Huluplus. Otherwise it is not available on DVD as far as I know. I hope you get the chance to watch this powerful film. Thank you.
                                                                             

Wild Tigers I Have Known (2006)

“Wild Tigers I Have Known,” Cam Archer’s visually striking but somewhat self-indulgent debut, is an abstract and meandering portrayal of teen angst and burgeoning sexuality. Its youthful protagonist, Logan (Malcolm Stumpf), seems perpetually caught between a daydream and and the harsh, uncaring real world.

Sounds kind of like Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Except that movie actually had substance. Oh well. This movie at least looks pretty, and art-chic-happy film students might find more to love in the film than I did.

13-year-old Logan is lonesome soul, given to walks on the beach and recording himself going on a abstract tangents. He also is in the midst of discovering his sexuality (gay as a maypole) while harboring a crush on Rodeo Walker (Patrick White), the most popular boy in school.

Does Rodeo feel likewise? Maybe so (“girls make me want to go to sleep,” he tells his youthful admirer), but whatever the case, Rodeo isn’t telling. Seeking Rodeo’s affection, Logan creates a female persona named ‘Leah.’ ‘Leah’ calls Rodeo up promising a wild night, but Logan’s naivete is apparent.

I “get” Logan’s inability to connect to, or even maybe occupy the same universe as, his junior high classmates. I go to a school of hundreds of students, and 99% of the time I feel like I’m off on my own planet.

But although Logan is intriguing, the film collapses under its own pretension, with scenes that have no clear dramatic purpose and dialogues that are laughable in their bloated sense of self-importance. And isn’t Logan’s mother’s response to the fallen groceries a little… psychotic? Nobody who’s still on the sanity wagon would react that way.

“Wild Tigers…” sports beautiful cinematography and a couple of well-known actors (Fairuza Balk as the mom, Kim Dickens as the school counselor,) but in the end, it hardly matters. Seeming long at 88 minutes, “Tigers…” ultimately seems like a bit of a chore, never a good  impression for a film to make. Logan entices us but the film keeps us at an arm’s length.