JWR Articles: Film/DVD - 22nd London Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival - Shorts (Programmer: Brian Robinson) - April 10, 2008
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22nd London Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival - Shorts

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Reviewed at the 22nd London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival
The Good, the Sad & the Pathetic

Coming to the realization that you're inexplicably drawn to other boys or men instead of giddy girls or débutantes has frustrated hormones and driven certain body parts to unexpected, untimely heights since Adam began wondering if Eve might have a brother (forbidden fruit on another plane).

In this specially programmed septet of films from both sides of the Atlantic and the Middle East, the resulting situations are thrown onto the big screen in a wide variety of gays and means with decidedly mixed results.


Go ahead - make a wish

The Saddest Boy in the World
Jamie Travis
2006, 14 minutes
Canada 4 and one-half stars

Director/writer Jamie Travis employs the conceit of Timothy Higgins’ (Benjamin Smith) ninth birthday party to paint an often hilarious, but ultimately courageous portrait of the trials (being picked last—yet even after the wheelchair-bound child draws a troubling laugh from the crowd), tribulations (sent to a shrink for “the cure,” all of the ink splotches are deemed butterflies) and taunts (the fat bully with the bat bashes Timothy’s rabbit at the fête and demands “winky” service in the school washroom) of what a queer-and-everybody-knows-it child might face (even the pedophile rejects him). (Curiously, when introducing the film at the April 7 screening, Travis confessed after seeing his creation at many festivals, “It’s way more autobiographical than I ever thought.”)

As the party progresses much imagery both discreet (butterfly hanging on the kitchen wall), charmingly obvious (“rainbow” ice cream truck) and subliminal (the dripping wax from the never blown-out birthday candle and the kick-line chorus of tormenting kids licking their cones in unison) provides convincing depth to child-queer’s aching despair. The film stops abruptly, landing an emotional punch that will linger in memory for months with its all-too-sad truth.


Thomas and his dolls

Dolls
Randy Caspersen
2008, 9 minutes
United States 3 stars

Dolls begins with exceptional promise: Teenager Thomas (quietly effective by Joshua Brail) plays with his male action figures in the attic (symbolically more like a spacious “closet”—with an extra-large U.S. flag draped ominously in the religious-right background) when his fantasy (a pair of plastic superqueeroes kiss; one with his shorts pulled down to the factory-molded ankles) is unceremoniously interrupted by the inflamed lad’s single mom, Bess (Abby Rowald). Then, before you can say “lavender icon,” he tries to beg off the next day’s annual garage sale in favour of taking in a Bette Davis classic. Once his nervous gatekeeper realizes his date won’t be a girl, she nixes the plan, setting up the ensuing driveway drama.

Sadly, director/writer Randy Caspersen loses his way and begins serving up an unwanted helping of clichés (awkward dialogue between Bess and haven’t-seen-you-for-awhile beau; his from-nowhere chastisement of Thomas for not being on the basketball team; the Samson-like sheering of one of the super doll’s locks by the muff-hunter’s pipsqueak brat). From that moment forward, the end is never in doubt, further weakening this story’s captivating opening frames.


Remembering the past

Chalk Lines
Dan Brophy
2006, 9 minutes
Australia 3 and one-half stars

As writer/director Dan Brophy explained to the capacity crowd, his film is emotionally—if not factually—autobiographical and it was shot on location at his old secondary school—still, the memories of times past must have flooded back every day.

Teacher infatuation crosses all gender and age boundaries, but in Brophy’s capable hands he’s managed to capture the boy/man (and a brief side order of boy/boy) infatuation with looks that speak volumes—on both sides of the will he/won’t he ledger. Fascinating is the newly arrived literature teacher’s (John Teague plays Mason), conviction—enthusiastically shared by Agosto (Callum McBain, destined for larger roles)—that the Capulet glove in Romeo and Juliet heralds unbounded sexual desire most severe: “O, that I were a glove upon that hand.” Somewhat surprising that the assumed metaphor didn’t work its way up more convincingly into much more personally sheathed limbs.

By film’s end, a pair of wayward pecks wreak more havoc that Agosto could have imagined; if only one of those had been returned, the pain and debilitating embarrassment of acting on one’s feelings might have been worth the risk. And so to search again.


The final kiss

Romeo’s Kiss
(Le baiser)

Julien Eger
2007, 12 minutes
France 4 stars

Coincidentally, the evening’s second act of Romeo and Juliet concerned the painstakingly detailed rehearsal of the famed couple’s kissing scene. This film’s success stems directly from the honest intensity of its young cast and marvellous camera (Fred Vallet) and editing (especially the glorious black-and-white dream sequences).

Invited to observe the rehearsal of his sister, (Héloïse Adam), playing Juliet as she builds up to a lip smack with Jeremy (Matila Malliarakis) as Romeo—his secret heart-throb—her pent-up brother (Florent Arnoult) becomes hilariously pained in the early going (“cut” never sounded so funny). But then the tables are magically turned in a magnificent display of “careful what you wish for.” Juliet is unexpectedly called off set—she’s been accepted in an acting school: her talent’s been recognized. So, in the best tradition of “the show must go on,” Arnoult takes her place and prepares to pucker up with the unsuspecting (perhaps—cue Jeremy’s bare ass Internet profile sequence—“He doth reveal too much, methinks.”), wispy male lead.

Fantasies ensue, opening night arrives, leaving Arnoult pining miserably in the audience. But the final post-performance dressing room scene—complete with a stolen rose to kindle the romance—at face value could well serve as either a warning to those who assume everyone is gay until proven otherwise, or an advanced state of cock-tease denial. You decide.


Getting to know his friend

Shotgun
Ronny Hirschmann
2007, 16 minutes
Israel 3 stars

Like fifth-species counterpoint, short stories and Haiku (or even reviews!), telling a tale and making a point quickly is frequently a far more onerous task than employing the long form.

Ronny Hirschmann starts off with a bang and a classic urinal encounter: an unbidden pop-out limb saves hours—perhaps days—of an invitation to “the dance” that could instantly result in humiliation at best or a thorough bashing at worst.

But then the complications (Mother finds porn under mattress, sees her son stoned when, concurrently, meeting his two-grade higher friend—“expelled from boarding school for sleeping with the math teacher”; perpetually absent dad is summoned to reclaim his poofter heir, thereby moving him out of harm’s way and using his manliness to snuff out any chance of becoming a wayward Haifa queer) pile up higher and deeper only to let the engaging narrative collapse when the production meter runs dry.

Sadly, “End now, we’re out of resources” trumps a narrative that has much longer legs than 16 minutes can provide. On to the next!


The awkwardness of saying goodbye

Silver Road
Bill Taylor
2007, 13 minutes
Canada 4 stars

Arguably the prequel to Brokeback Mountain (also shot in Canada but in Alberta rather than the spectacular farmland of Caledon, Ontario), director/writer Bill Taylor has stepped into the cornfields and come out with a minor masterpiece that teems with the treacherous undercurrents of daring admission and steadfast denial. What luck he managed to find Andrew Hachney as Danny and Jonathan Keltz as Mark for the leads.

Anyone who has fought off “impossible” feelings for a best friend then, with time running out (Danny is leaving tomorrow), takes the plunge to express in the most awkward yet obvious way imaginable—with apparently disastrous results (a first kiss is usually led up to and wanted; an out-of-the-blue lip-lock is a completely different matter), will appreciate Taylor’s honesty and subliminal technique. In the affairs of the heart, timing is everything, but how can you guarantee that seizing the moment will be the right thing to do?


Bjorn and Hampus

Flatmates
(Kompisar)

Magnus Mork
2007, 21 minutes
Norway, Sweden 2 and one-half stars

Sad to report, this set ended with a whimper—not even a loud thud.

Straight roommate Hampus (Sven Boräng) and gay roommate Bjorn (Jonas Eskilsson) move into their new digs and celebrate by having a playful romp on the couch (“You’re hard. That’s disgusting,” protests Hampus but doesn’t feel the need to run away in a hurry).

When night falls, hetero man goes off to town in search of fresh pussy, but not before offering to take his stay-at-home bud to a gay bar—respectfully declined.

Left alone, Bjorn sniffs his one desire’s pillow then leaves a hilarious space shuttle lift-off message (complete with a scale replica prop that becomes his security blanket) on his not-intended’s cell phone, demonstrating his constant interest for his unrequited love in an unusual if still metaphorical way.

But all hopes are soon dashed (including the viewer’s, who may, understandably, have already been awaiting the sure-to-come money shot when Hampus respells his name and mutual intimacy begins). For - horrors! - the straight man of this odd couple brings home a woman for more than a nightcap.

Here, there’s good news and bad: both men have separate bedrooms, but the walls are paper thin, forcing Bjorn to live his lust surreptitiously through the opposite sex. Once removed, it falls to her to extract the orgasm from Hampus’ personal Cape Canaveral and, for those who need imagery assistance to unravel the symbolism, NASA T-shirts are sported when the chests aren’t bare.

Cliché to the rescue. Several nights later, even as the girlfriend has become a regular fixture, politely going out of her way to bid the increasingly frustrated Bjorn adieu as she departs in the mornings, Hampus comes home dead drunk and opts to sleep in his roommate’s twin bed. Not at all reluctantly, Bjorn acquiesces, obligingly strips his vision down to the last item of privacy, then, not exactly invited, slips under the covers and begins his long anticipated harvest of seedy joy, which—of course how could there be any other ending?—will turn the sexuality tide and forever purge their freshly decorated abode (any need to guess who holds the paintbrush in the family?) of the female form.

No spoilers here. Suffice it to say the ending is as unsatisfactory as the unlikely pair’s credibility. Not enough attention was paid by Mork to all aspects of character development, leaving the audience in an uncaring, “Who gives a crap?” state of mind for both protagonists.

Ah well, nor does every space mission lift off as expected. JWR

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Programmer - Brian Robinson
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