How fascinating to view two films within a day whose craftsmanship transcends their content. Both delve into ostensibly gay relationships but contain “lessons learned” for lovers of any persuasion. Curiously, both feature motorcycles as a mode of transportation and enticing seaside beaches (the North Sea pervades Bavo Defurne’s Noordzee, Texas, while the L.A.’s Venice Beach offers much-needed respite from the oppressive heat—both real and sexual—in Eldar Rapaport’s August). Coming of age is at the dramatic heart of the Belgian production while acting your age drives much of Rapaport’s cautionary tale of the unexpected reappearance of an ex-lover.
While Defurne made compelling use of reciting the alphabet, it seems that Rapaport chose to explore the letter “f,” in creating this wonderfully non-linear look at three men playing fast and loose with what should constitute a loving, mature relationship.
The old Flame comes in the furry form of Troy (Aussie Murray Bartlett has little qualms about going down under), who has returned to L.A. after a five-year sojourn in Madrid. Prior to leaving, he unceremoniously dumped his summer love, Jonathan (the boyishly attractive Daniel Dugan readily puts everything on the table as his character wrestles with the demons of unbridled lust and genuine devotion). Fire is at the root of Raul’s (an impressively sultry and stoic performance by Adrian Gonzalez) literal and emotional discomfort. L.A.’s nearby hills are alive with drought-induced infernos (a set piece of radio hosts providing the weather serves nicely as comic relief) and the heat wave is becoming unbearable. But he is also burning inside with anger once he realizes that his current beau, Jonathan has fallen back into Troy’s siren-like clutches. The perpetually ineffective Fan in Raul’s apartment provides a convincing metaphor for the decidedly not “cool” actions of his lover.
Also on the filmmaker’s subliminal f-list is Fad. Is Troy back for good (snaring a new job in the early frames where he touts his desire to “return home …”) or is Jonathan risking a rerun of early dismissal-without-cause and the loss of his Argentinean boyfriend?
Yet Raul is purposely living a Fake existence of his own. In order to “be with Jonathan forever,” the immigrant has legally married Nina (Hilary Banks makes the most of her role of “conscience”)—Jonathan’s best friend—to ensure he can remain in the land of the free until his hearing is successfully concluded. So in the eyes of the law (not to mention all of their friends) is the rekindling of Troy and Jonathan adultery, “none of my business” or the beginning of another unavoidable Fall?
Swirling around the theatrical scenes between the trio of desperate men (frequently in pairs yet the underlying tension points, inevitably, to some sort of showdown à trois) is a nimble Flute deftly accompanied by the wonderfully exotic hues from Surque (that soundscape comes into its finest glory as Jonathan’s 30th birthday party sets up shop in a Hookah bar with an array of intercuts between the revellers and the delectable belly dancer speaking volumes through the haze of shisha—still another reinforcement of the internal smouldering of hearts at peril).
Of course, binding all of the action/reaction together is the most infamous F-word. On the literal level, Rapaport (unerringly assisted by discreet yet sensuous cinematography thanks to James Adolphus and David Au’s masterful editing) treats the couplings (failures and successes) with just enough detail and weight to make his point. In the much richer realm of subtext, home wreckers and adulterers alike will find some truly awkward moments as all secrets never remain so, or considerable comfort when faced with the realization that none of these men can categorically claim the moral high road. All of which goes a long way to explain why the legions of false fronts in the world’s bedrooms are so stubbornly erected on the notion of Family and Fear of demonstrable Failure. JWR