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Martin Foreman

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Raging and Twisted
The 24th BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival

April 2010: So, the Festival is over for another year. Lack of time – I was in Athens for four days, in addition to preparing the launch of Arbery Books – meant that I saw fewer films than I would have liked. But here’s a quick look at the ones I did see.

Leo’s Room (Uruguay, 2009: El cuarto de Leo)
This low-key portrait of a young man struggling to come out of the closet, surrounded by friends and acquaintances as emotionally withdrawn as he is, was one of the better films this year. Well worth seeing, although it is unlikely to turn up in many cinemas outside the Spanish-speaking world. Director Enrique Buchichio and leading man Martin Rodriguez (pictured, with Cecilia Cosero in the role of Caro) deserve to move on to higher things.
Raging Sun, Raging Sky
(Mexico, 2009: Rabioso sol, rabioso cielo)
A note to the Festival organisers: when describing a film in your brochure, pay attention to the fact that in a 191 minute film, the first 146 minutes are at least as important as the final 45 minutes. So, don’t give the impression that the bulk of the film is concerned with the scenes in the desert when two protagonists fight effetely for the body of the third. Especially when these scenes are less successful than the two hours that preceded them.

Now that I have that off my chest, I can say that this is a fascinating film which – despite being almost wordless, at times difficult to follow (there are so many handsome young men cruising each other in a fleapit cinema and elsewhere that we are often unaware who is who, although we never lose sight of the young and sexy Ryo, played by Guillermo Villegas pictured), is seductive, sensual and engrossing, let down only by the pretentious ending. (If you have seen Tropical Malady and been entranced by the first half and alternately bored and enraged by the second half, Raging Sun, Raging Sky will offer you a similar experience.)
The Famous and the Dead
(Brazil 2009: Os famosos e os duendes da morte)
Note to Festival organisers: this was not a gay film. It was not even a homoerotic or homosocial film. A one-second clip where the protagonist is arm-in-arm with a dead girl and her boyfriend does not make this a gay film in any sense of the word. As a film, it rated about 7 out of 10 for a portrait of teenage life in a small town lost in the heart of São Paulo state, but let me repeat to the Festival organisers: this is not, repeat not, a gay film.
The Gay Deceivers (US, 1969)
Two straight young men pretend to be gay in order to avoid the draft. Cue stereotypes and laughter. That was presumably the rationale of this film which premiered two weeks after the Stonewall riots in New York. The reality was a weak script, unimaginative direction and stilted acting by individuals whose careers never recovered. (Ok, Michael Greer, playing the swishy landlord, did turn up later, as Queenie in Fortune and Men’s Eyes, is the exception and you might have spotted him The Rose.)

But The Gay Deceivers is worth watching as a curiosity, as a reminder both of women’s appalling beehive hairstyles and of the butt-high skin tight swim trunks that American men wore until, scared of their own sexuality, they adopted knee-lengthy floppy trousers, for occasional flashes of real humour and because, despite all its weaknesses, it somehow manages to hold our attention for 90-plus minutes.
To Die Like A Man
Portugal 2009: Morrer como um homem)
I am of the school of the thought that whatever moves the painter, the writer, director or other creator to produce their work of art should remain deep within their subconscious. The work should stand alone and explanations should be neither wanted nor made. Director João Pedro Rodrigues’ musings on this film - provided in the Festival notes - definitely fall into this category.

That gripe aside, this was a fascinating, occasionally frustrating and ultimately moving film about Tonia (Fernando Santos), a travesti coming to terms with the fact that she is over the hill. Woven into the story is her love affair with Rosário (Alexander David), a drug addict, and, less successfully, her relationship with her semi-estranged son. The film teeters on the edge of the surreal, particularly at the point where Tonia meets the reclusive María Bakker (Gonçalo Ferreira de Almeida), but that is part of its strength, not weakness. By the end of the film we have come to know Tonia very well – not the superficial details of her birth, life and death, but, much more importantly, her emotional core.
Twisted Romance (Argentina, 2008: Vil romance)
The title is wrong, both in English and the original Spanish, not because the words do not describe what we see before us, but because they sensationalise a complex, intense, destructive and powerful relationship.

In a grubby Buenos Aires suburb, where many of the inhabitants live on the edge of poverty, morality, self-respect and the law, young Roberto (Nehuén Zapata), who lives with his semi-prostitute mother and sister, picks up Raúl (Oscar Génova), a man more than twice his age. Despite being raped, Roberto decides to move in with Raúl and the early scenes of the film show us clearly how these two very different individuals are drawn together. As time passes, Roberto attempts to make their relationship more equal; Raúl offers minor changes but is too set in his ways to give Roberto what he needs, both within and outside the bedroom. A third person enters the scenario, the couple’s relationship with Roberto’s family grows more complex, and the film moves inevitably towards a violent climax.

Unfortunately, that climax ruins the film in Anglo-Saxon eyes, because in the last ten minutes, what has been a serious and gripping film degenerates into way-over-the-top telenovela. At the point where director José Celestino Campusano expected us to be shocked into silence, the London audience, which had until then been fully absorbed by the story and the first-rate acting and direction, burst into loud laughter. Those last ten minutes aside, this film was the best of the six that I saw at this year’s festival and one which I would otherwise keenly recommend.

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