Nine more gay short films are brought together in this fourth disc in the Boy On Film series. Ahead of the release of Boys On Film: Cruel Britannia on May 28th, we’re looking at all the releases, which showcase some of the best gay-themed shorts from around the world. This fourth collection includes films from the US, UK, Portugal, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and even Iceland, and while some are better than others, they’re definitely an interesting bunch.
Let’s take a look at the nine shorts:
Trevor (23 mins)
Director: Peggy Rajski
In the history of gay short films, Trevor has to be one of the most important. Not only did it win the Oscar for Best Short Film (Live Action) in 1994, but it also acted as the inspiration for The Trevor Project, the leading US organisation providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth. It all started from Peggy Rajski’s debut film, which manages to deal with incredibly serious issues while never losing its heart and sense of humour. When Trevor hits puberty, he doesn’t start liking girls as he’s expected to. Instead he starts paying more attention to the boys in his class. However as those around him realise that his love of dance and Diana Ross might mean he’s gay, everyone from his priest to his friends starts to reject him, to the point that Trevor feels his only option is to kill himself.
While that sounds horribly depressing, Trevor manages to deal with its dark themes with humour and a sense of eventual hope that makes it a real charmer. Indeed it almost feels like a precursor to the It Gets Better Project, dealing with many of the same themes and saying that no how bad things might seem when you’re a teen dealing with being gay, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. The short also includes an introduction by Ellen Degeneres.
9 out of 10
Protect Me From What I Want (14 mins)
Director: Dominic Leclerc
Starring Shameless’ Elliott Titensor, Protect Me From What I Want sees Daz (Titensor) meeting the closeted Saleem (Naveed Choudhry) and inviting him back to his flat for a night of sex. However what Daz and Saleem are looking for are very different, as while Daz hopes this can becomes something more, Saleem is merely looking to satiate his lust before disappearing back into the closet. But can the Indian student completely deny there could be something more between them? Although it rides along a fairly well-worn groove, Protect Me From What I Want is charming, sexy and has a great ending that’ll put a smile on your face.
7 out of 10
Steam (15 mins)
Director: Eldar Rapaport
This is the sort of film that some will find absorbing while others will just wonder what on earth is going on – but it’s impressed many, as it won the Iris Prize in 2009 (the world’s largest competitive gay and lesbian short film festival). Two men sit in a sauna and are soon having sex with one another. When it’s over, one gets up to leave but can’t find a door. Neither one knows why they can’t get out, but as the recriminations give way to resignation, one of them begins to remember how they got there. Slightly Twilight Zone-ish, Steam gets increasingly tense leading up to its final revelation. It’s not a film with an easy resolution and even at the end it’s still not 100% clear why the men are both in the sauna – or indeed if they’re even real or if they’re the imagined results of the writer characters’ fantasy about them – but it’s incredibly provocative and certainly makes you think.
6 out of 10
Heiko (13 mins)
Director: David Bonneville
If you’re a fan of the straightforward, after Steam you might be hoping for something a little more obvious, but if anything Heiko takes things in an even stranger direction. In this Portuguese short, a young man (who’s pretty sexy and spends much of the film wearing little more than shorts) returns from the beach, where an older man is waiting for him. The old man seems unimpressed, but what initially appears to be a fairly simple film about a sugar daddy relationship takes a left turn when we cut to the young man writhing on the floor wrapped head to toe in ropes – and it only gets stranger and more disturbing after that. With some interesting ideas about power dynamics and that a younger and older man may well both be using one another in a relationship, Heiko is weird but intriguing, while the ending is a bit freaky.
7 out of 10
Breath (8 mins)
Director: Margien Rognar
A boy on the verge of puberty heads with his female friend and her father to a lake to have a swim. While it’s the girl the boy is expected to be interested in, he spends his time watching her father. The girl wants a kiss, but will the boy give it to her? Breath is not a film packed with incident, but it’s a sweet and quiet look at the first realisations of sexual attraction. At first it’s unclear whether the boy looks at the man as a role model – an example of what it is to be grown-up, especially as the youngster seems shy and self-conscious – or if it’s something else, but the short slowly lays the groundwork for the revelation of his crush in a sweet, endearing and innocent way.
6 out of 10
Postmortem (16 mins)
Director: Eldar Rapaport
A couple of years after Postmortem was made, it was expanded into the movie August, which was released on DVD a couple of months ago (read our review here). However here we get the movie that film was based on, which incidentally comes from the same director as Steam, which is also on this disc. Years after a painful break-up, two ex-lovers, Troy and Thomas, meet up for lunch and discover that while there’s still a bond, times have changed and both are slightly different people. While Thomas now has a new lover, Raul, will Thomas and Troy be able to just be friends, and if they can’t, are they merely retreating into the past? With August it felt as if it hadn’t added enough compared to this short to justify a feature-length movie, but Postmortem is tight and many will recognise themselves in the lead characters. The remembrance of what once was is palpable, as if the desire to try and have it again, even while both characters know that’s not likely to be possible. It’s a great little film that packs a lot of feeling into its short running time.
8 out of 10
Vandals (17 mins)
Director: Simon Steuri
Set in the world of graffiti artists, two young men daub the streets with their work but are also having a sexual affair that neither of them has disclosed to those around them. Both want different things from their relationship, with one looking for love and commitment, while the other wants it to remain more about sex, seemingly afraid of what truly opening himself up will mean. In the midst of planning a big job on a railway car, their relationship issues come to a head, made even more pressing by the arrival of a woman one of them has a past history with. Gay working class characters on the edge of society (who aren’t rent boys) are still something of a rarity in LGBT cinema, and while some of the themes in Vandals are fairly well-worn, it still feels new and as if we’re seeing something a little different. It’s a world where the issues of what it means to be a man – and for your ‘masculinity’ to be seen by others – are acute, and Vandals handles it well.
8 out of 10
Wrestling (21 mins)
Director: Grimur Hakonarson
Quirky and quietly humorous, this short takes us into the idiosyncratic word of Icelandic Wrestling, a sport that initially looks like a dance before one of the partners tries to overpower the other. Denni and Einar are lovers in private but nobody know that, especially as Einar has a wife at home. However with Denni threatening to break things off unless Einar picks him over his wife, things come to a head at a local wrestling competition. Icelandic Wrestling is an odd sport, where men look like they’re doing a waltz with one another, before one of them makes a move and tries to throw the other. It’s oddly intimate and yet you never know what will happen next, making an odd but very effective thematic background to a film about two men negotiating their feelings for another in a world where being openly gay barely seems like an option. While there’s humour, there’s also a great sense of sadness in Wrestling. The two men’s struggle with their feeling feels like a bout that may go on and on and on.
7 out of 10
My Name Is Love (20 mins)
Director: David Fardmar
Undoubtedly the most powerful short on the disc, My Name Is Love is based on a true story and follows a young man called Love, who’s out partying with his friends one night when he meets the slightly older Sebastien on the street. Initially unsure what to do, Love agrees to go back to Sebastien’s place, but what at first seems like it’ll be an uncertain but exciting first sexual encounter begins to take a dark turn. The film’s great strength is in not overdoing anything, so that everything that happens has a ‘there but for the grace of God’ quality to it. Things that are warning signs in hindsight are easily ignored in the heat of the moment and much of what happens in the run up to the film’s main turning point are things many people will have done at one time or another.
My Name is Love also does a great job of making you feel for the young lead very quickly. From his walking back and forth outside a gay bar trying to find the courage to go in (something a lot of people will recognise), to the excitement and nerves of finding a potential sexual encounter, he’s extremely relatable. What happens next is unpleasant and disturbing, largely because it feels like the sort of thing that probably happens a lot and is presented in a way where you can see exactly how it could happen. It’s a somewhat chilling and very well made film, which should act as a warning bell to a lot of people.
9 out of 10
Overall Verdict: Once again Boys On Film comes up trump with a great selection of films. While some are perhaps less accessible than in the earlier releases, they all reward perseverance. A lot of the films certainly leave you thinking.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac