By Toby Ashraf, Austin Dale, Peter Knegt, Matthew Hammett Knott, Sophie Smith, Oliver Skinner and Erin Whitney | Indiewire December 6, 2013 at 12:43PM
It's quite likely that 2013 will be reflected upon as a landmark year for queer cinema and queers in cinema, for better or worse. And in the spirit of community, this column decided to open itself up to a half-dozen or so different folks, asking them for some of the highlights (and next week, lowlights) in that regard. Here are 10 (and please feel free to add your own in the comments section):
It was a queer old Berlinale this year, but for me its clear highlight was Sebastian Lifshitz’ “Bambi," winner of the Teddy for Best Documentary. The film is a portrait of Marie-Pierre Pruvot, a transsexual woman and 1960s Paris showgirl of fascinating candor and insight. Pruvot admits that her striking beauty and ability to “pass” made life easier for her than most mid-century transsexuals, yet explains how the realization that her looks would one day fade caused her to leave behind show business for a Sorbonne education and a career as a school teacher. A surprise appearance at the festival by Pruvot, a.k.a. Bambi (at 78, still striking and fiercely articulate), was a humbling bonus. [Matthew Hammett Knott]
The Depiction of Lesbian Relationships in "Blue Is the Warmest Color"
There are many highlights and lowlights in Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or winner “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” but one of the most commendable aspects of the film is its depiction of lesbians and lesbian relationships. While Kechiche has been attacked for his directing methods and the film’s notorious sex scenes, he successfully portrays lesbians free of common stereotypes. Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) isn’t shown as a typical hot straight-girl-turned-curious and Emma (Léa Seydoux) isn’t overly butch. They both have a decent mix of feminine and masculine qualities, as any character should since gender identity and expression aren’t wholly relative to sexuality. Even in the lesbian bar scene there is a realistic blend of butch and femme and everything in between -- although there are a lot more cute femmes than you’d find in a New York City bar, but maybe France is where it’s at. Kechiche also portrays Adèle and Emma’s relationship as any other without exploiting it as a lesbian one (excluding sex scenes) and instead revealing them as two women in love. “Blue” is the first film -- at least the first widely recognized and highly awarded film -- that focuses on two women in a realistic, passionate and troubled long-term relationship. You don’t have to be a lesbian or a woman to find something moving and relatable about their story, and that is a remarkable feat for a LGBT, or any, film. [Erin Whitney]
Lance and Gus Bring "Milk" To Russia
I think we can all agree that Russian queers have had one hell of a year. The entire gay world is watching in horror as Putin's government closes in on LGBT citizens for no good reason and stigmatizes support from straight Russian allies. Luckily, Russia's gay cinephiles are braver than we can possibly imagine. Even after this tumultuous year, a long legal battle, and five bomb threats, St. Petersburg's LGBT film fest Side By Side (which had a rough year itself) went on as planned last month with help from some distinguished guests. Gus Van Sant, Dustin Lance Black and producer Bruce Cohen were on hand in St. Petersburg last week to present "Milk", their Oscar-winning modern classic about the late, great Harvey Milk. When international relations are iffy, leave it to us queers to find common ground in good old-fashioned gay cinema. [Austin Dale]
This year was so strong for documentaries featuring LGBT content that they could easily fill this list on their own. And while it is indeed reductive to just throw them all into one blurb, it would be more unfortunate to not mention them at all. There were takes on LGBT culture past and present: Jeffrey Schwarz's "I Am Divine," a look at the life of John Waters' muse Divine; "Continental," Malcolm Ingram's take on the influential New York bathhouse where Bette Midler got her start; Dan Hunt's "Mr. Angel," a bio of trans male porn star Buck Angel; Travis Mathews and James Franco's semi-fictional "Interior. Leather Bar," which deconstructs queer sexuality in Hollywood through an attempt to recreate lost footage from "Cruising"; Nicholas D. Wrathall's Gore Vidal doc "The United States of Amnesia," which profiles the late, great gay icon. There were docs about human rights efforts in parts of the world where being LGBT can often mean death: Roger Ross Williams' "God Loves Uganda" and Katherine Fairfax Wright & Malika Zouhali-Worrall "Call Me Kuchu," both of which take on the horrific situation in Uganda. There were explorations of issues facing American LGBTs: Martha Cunningham's "Valentine Road," a harrowing
take on the story of openly queer eighth grader
Larry King and his ultimate murderer Brandon McInerney; PJ Raval's incredibly affecting look at gay seniors, "Before You Know It"; Linda Bloodworth-Thomason's "Bridegroom," which gives an intensely personal story that reflects the importance of same-sex marriage; Yoruba Richen's "The New Black," which details the complex relationship between the African-American civil rights and the LGBT rights movements. And then there's "What Now? Remind Me," Portuguese film industry veteran Joaquim Pinto's 164-minute portrait of his one-year experience taking experimental medication for AIDS and Hepatitis-C, an incredible feat of personal artistry that belongs in its own category. Alongside the aforementioned "Bambi," that makes 13 fantastic docs from '13, and I'm sure sure I'm missing a few. [Peter Knegt]
The Library Scene in "Kill Your Darlings"
In John Krokidas’ film, Allen Ginsberg’s infatuation with Lucien Carr does not -- spoiler alert! -- exactly have a happy ending, with even their first kiss going swiftly downhill. Indeed, perhaps its one true moment of consummation is the unlikely scene in which Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) lures librarian Gwendolyn (Erin Darke) into a tryst among the bookshelves so that Carr (Dane DeHaan) can steal the keys to some hallowed banned books. It’s a potentially ludicrous setup which Krokidas somehow turns into one of 2013’s most sexually charged screen moments. As Ginsberg struggles to maintain his enthusiasm for the act, so to speak, Carr re-emerges -- unseen by Gwendolyn -- and meets his friend’s gaze with such charged intensity that... well, let’s just call it the happy ending they never had. [Matthew Hammett Knott]
Maria Bello's "Modern Love"
It's hard to know what to adore most about the New York Times op ed in which, amongst other things, Maria Bello announced her relationship with best friend and crazy fabulous social activist Clare Munn. Was it the charming, disarming description of past relationships -- with both sexes -- as background to all that is singular about her current arrangement? Or perhaps the image of her “traditional” Philadelphian father puffing a cigar whilst offering acceptance atop an Atlantic city casino? Or her son, Jackson, proving for the umpteenth time that homophobia exists only insofar as it's taught? All good candidates, but for me this was a year high for Bello’s calm articulacy in revealing the lattice of cooperating partnerships which make up her modern family. It was a win, too, for those looking to discuss sexuality without resorting to restrictive labeling: Bello presented hers as a story which unfolds, often unexpected, always complex and not one that can be summarized in a single word. [Sophie Smith]
Ohad Noller in "Yossi"
Ohad Knoller’s performance in Yossi was a small sensation for me this year. His body bloated, his face in great despair and deep sadness, mourning the loss of Jagger, his secret boyfriend that he met and lost in the army. "Yossi" -- a sequel to a small independent gay production from Israel -- is unusual and yet the best and most mature film Eytan Fox has made to date because it leaves the big political and historical questions out and concentrates on his protagonist’s internal state of affairs instead. Yossi is much bigger than he used to be, and despite the normative body images he is subjected to he doesn’t care to optimize and shape his outside according to the visions of others. Once he tries to get away with it by going on an online date after using an old pic of himself. The reaction from his potential lover couldn’t be crueler and Yossi’s self-esteem not be further lowered. Ohad Knoller plays the older Yossi like he’s been waiting for this part his entire life -- every gesture is precise, each small movement tells a story of a life of sadness and insecurity. Until he meets Tom, played by straight TV superstar/hottie Oz Zehavi with equal fearlessness, full frontal nudity and all. For your consideration, Academy (but who am I kidding?). [Toby Ashraf]
Like pretty much every major festival this year, Sundance had an incredible amount of quality LGBT film, including the aforementioned likes of "Kill Your Darlings," "Interior. Leather Bar," "Valentine Road" and "God Loves Uganda." But for me, Yen Tan’s quiet, moving "Pit Stop" was the ultimate highlight. The film -- which hasn't quite gotten the attention it deserved since debuting in Park City (though it did just get a best first screenplay nomination at the Indie Spirits) -- depicts a series of characters living in small-town Texas, among them two lost gay men in their mid-30s (Bill Heck and Marcus DeAnda). Similar in tone to 2011’s queer cinema breakout "Weekend," "Pit Stop" has a sincerity that creeps up on you and will linger in your mind long after the credits roll. [Peter Knegt]
"Stranger By The Lake"
Some films are simply revelations, and Alain Guiraudie's "Stranger By the Lake" definitely belongs in that category for me. Not only did the film -- which premiered at Cannes in May before hitting essentially every major festival (it begins its theatrical run in the US this January) -- make a lot straight people very familiar with the phenomenon of outdoor cruising, but it also got a lot of general praise and attention for a film that is so uncompromisingly and explicitly gay. It’s in fact one the purest filmic translations of a gay experience (not every gay’s experience, mind you) that I have seen in a long time and it’s by far the most artistic approach to something so subcultural. The complete absence of women, the stress on non-verbal language, the unwritten rules of a sexualized and somewhat colonized space and the idea of danger in all that -- it all seemed very familiar. Gay sex as an everyday routine with the everyday world left behind at the car park. A beautiful boy disappears, a new one will come soon. Such a perfect day, and when it gets dark, we go home... or die. [Toby Ashraf]
Xavier Dolan's Big Year.
It nearly takes a suspension of disbelief to comprehend that Xavier Dolan's acclaimed 2009 debut "I Killed My Mother" and 2012's tale of star-crossed lovers "Laurence Anyways" both finally hit the United States just months before his latest "Tom at the Farm" made its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival. The latter marked Dolan's first foray into genre filmmaking takes a trip down the road into the secluded Quebec countryside where the grieving titular character (played by Dolan himself) must confront his recently deceased boyfriend's mother Agathe (Lise Roy) and brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), the latter whom will go to sadomasochistic lengths to keep Tom's mouth shut and maintain the facade that his sibling was solely heterosexual. Tom's visit develops into a case of Stockholm syndrome rampant with homoeroticism wherein he finds himself unable to leave the farm whose strands of wheat have seemed to become one with his golden locks. Classically Québécois combined with the refinement of the American masters, "Tom" has been lauded by some critics as being a step forward in Dolan's career. I personally fail to see where maturity might've lacked in his previous efforts, although sure, "Tom" doesn't contain any slowmo or Swedish pop. Yet the playfulness is as present here as in the phantasms of his other three films, perhaps best exemplified in a moment that shows Tom and Francis snort coke together before doing the tango in a barn, a scene which brilliantly recalls Richard Gere and J.Lo doing much the same in 2004's "Shall We Dance?" The picture's success is much due to this repressed chemistry between the male leads: Cardinal plays the token hot schoolyard bully while Dolan is the pensive victim mad at and for him. As their violent relationship spirals out of control and the farmland descends into a nightmarescape, the thriller foregrounds the true underlying darkness, which as it reads in the backside synopsis of Bouchard's play, that "gay men must often learn to lie before they learn how to love." [Oliver Skinner]