Saturday, December 31, 2011

Gay Films

It has now become a trend of sorts. Every year one so called “gay film” is released and catches the imagination of the mainstream audience, in the context of Hollywood of course, and becomes the talking point during the award season. That it doesn't win any major award is another story altogether, but it does break the stereotype that “gay films” are only for gay audiences. I think, the trend sort of started with ‘Brokeback Mountain’ (2005). Last year, it was ‘The Kids Are Alright’. This year two films have vied for the slot — one American, ‘Beginners’ and one British, ‘Weekend’.

Compared to ‘Beginners’, ‘Weekend’ is more gay in the sense that it is directed by an out gay man and also stars an out gay actor as one of the protagonists.

However, ‘Beginners’ is one of those rare instances where a so called heterosexual filmmaker is able to understand the complexities of being gay, anywhere, especially in 1950s America. That this man is played by Ewan McGregor is a bonus (he played the object of Jim Carey’s affection in ‘I Love You, Phillip Morris’ (2010)). McGregor has this unassuming, unsuspecting quality that can draw you in. It is also the film that may finally help veteran actor Christopher Plummer win his first Oscar. Perhaps.

'Beginners' tells the story of Oliver, a graphic artist, reticent, lonely, not sure if he has it in him to fall in love again. He meets a French actress, Anna, played by sweet and immensely likable Melanie Laurent, and sparks fly. As he continues to fret over love, his tale is juxtaposed with the tale of his late father, who, after a long marriage, following the death of his wife, at 74, confesses to his son that he’s gay. He was always gay, but it was the first time, after the death of his wife, that he had the courage to come out. Since he had come out, now, Hal did not want to remain “theoretically gay” but wanted to do something about it. Soon he exchanged his sober clothes with flamboyant ones, joined various gay groups and got himself a younger boyfriend. Then he was diagnosed with cancer.

As Oliver fails to commit to his girlfriend, he tries to understand the predicament of his father, who couldn’t even say what he wanted during his prime, yet, seized the opportunity when it came to him and lived to the fullest.

The film is heart-wrenching portrayal of possibilities of love, brought to life by 80-year-old Plummer as the old man adamant on making use of the time given to him. It’s another story that the film is inspired by director Mike Mills’ own life; how his own father came out to him.

‘Weekend’, on the other hand, is a same sex love story, which, as the film progresses, transcends the bound of gender and sexuality. It’s ‘Before Sunset’ (where a man meets a woman on the Euro train; they spend the day together and then depart) of the gay world, accentuated by strong acting display of the lead actors, and a directorial vision by Andrew Haigh, who takes his subject very seriously and refuses to play camp. It’s an achievement how this small British film was picked up by all major mainstream critics in their year-end lists.

There were, however, other films dealing with homosexuality to varying degrees, which were released this year. The high-profile of them is ‘J Edgar’, written by Dustin Lance Black (a vocally out gay man who won the best screenplay Oscar for ‘Milk’ (2008)), and directed by veteran Clint Eastwood, a biopic of the infamous founder of the Federal Bureau of Investigation J Edgar Hoover.

The film has been in the news for various reasons, the least being Eastwood, the eternal symbol of American machismo, even when he is decidedly old, telling the story of a man who was overtly homophobic, or perhaps racist, and who may or may not have been a closet homosexual, or as popularly believed, a cross-dresser as well. Leonardo DiCaprio works hard to find a core for the much-maligned public figure in a screenplay which is jumps from one event to another, with DiCaprio turning old and turning young at regular intervals. Well, Eastwood steers clear of cross dressing, but he has one quite powerful scene of lover’s quarrel between Hoover and his long-time deputy, and a fleeing kiss, and there’s Judi Dench as the domineering mother, the reason for all of it.

Onir’s new film ‘I Am’ expectantly deals with homosexuality, involving actors like Rahul Bose and Sanjay Suri. The audience remained divided. Some loved the film that tells four different stories of personal anguish against the backdrop of larger social themes, from the Kashmir issue to child abuse, especially the Kashmir story with a haunting performance by Juhi Chawla. Others thought the film was too spineless to trust; it failed to find a focus, which is true to a certain extent. Onir is a good filmmaker and we expect great things from him.

Same is the case with the BBC film ‘Christopher and His Kind’, which supposed to be an adaptation of English author Christopher Isherwood’s biography about the time he spent in Berlin just before the great war. It’s a portrayal of excess, and the last days of glory before the war would devour all. The film is impressively mounted, and wonderfully acted. Yet, in the long run, it turns out to be a poor remake of the classic musical ‘Cabaret’ (1972), without the charm of Liza Minelli, of course.

Tom Tykwer German film ‘Drei’ or ‘3’ is unique. It may be simplistic, but it defines a possibility, where a middle-aged couple, who are together for a long time, find ailment, discover mortality and love; problem is both fall in love with the same man, helpfully called Adam, and Adam seems not to mind it at all. After all the talk and thoughts, the film finds the couple and their lover in bed, together in a perfect melange de trois.

‘Memories in March’, a Bangla, Hindi, English, production is much more problematic. Here a mother discovers her dead son’s sexuality, and on top of it, is forced to share her grief with a man who was her dead son’s lover. And when the lover in question is portrayed by renowned Bengali filmmaker Rituporno Ghosh with studied effeminate gestures and a sense of pride and purpose, things go over the top. It makes the task of Dipti Naval as the grieving mother all the more difficult. That she rises to the occasion speaks volume of her skills.

Dee Rees’ smart, sensitive feature debut ‘Pariah’ explores the acceptance (or not) of masculine lesbians within the African American community through an excellently acted and directed exploration of that theme. This is the kind of film that’s made or broken by performances, and Adepero Oduye gives a stellar turn in the lead role of Alike, a young girl coming to terms with her butch-dyke sexuality within her insular, controlling, religious Brooklyn family.

Roger Ebert gives the film a three and half stars and writes: "Pariah" is probably too loaded a word to be the title of this film. Alike lives in a world where homosexuality is far from unknown, and her problems will grow smaller in a few years as she moves away from home. This story, so tellingly written and acted, is about the painful awkwardness of that process. What makes it worse is that there's repressed hostility between her parents, and Alike's sexuality becomes the occasion for tension with deeper sources. More Here.

And should we discuss about ‘The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo’ and her love affair, and not with the film's protagonist played by Daniel Craig?

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