After two weeks in which we’ve been reviewing all the Boys On Film gay short film compilations, we’re finally come right up to date with Cruel Britannia. As the title suggests, all 10 shorts on the disc come from the UK and cover a broad range of gay-allied themes, most of which tend towards the darker side of life.
It’s a great selection, showing there’s a lot of talent out there in the UK working on LGBT themed film projects. Here’s what we thought of the shorts.
All Over Brazil (10 mins)
Director: David Ward
Set in the 1970s, Stephen goes upstairs while his dad watches football. While his father is engrossed in the man’s man sport, Stephen just wants to get his glam-rock on, putting on his sister’s gold platform boots and makeup. However when his dad discovers him, he’s less than impressed. A very slice of life short that feels like someone’s recollections of youth, All Over Brazil manages to suggest a lot in only a short running time, from the masculine culture of the era to the pressures faced by a man bringing up children on his own at a time before sexual equality had taken hold. It creates a great sense of tension and I have to say I loved the conclusion, which brings a sense of hope without doing very much at all.
8 out of 10
Nightswimming (14 mins)
Director: Dominic Leclerc
A night-watchman at a swimming pool is on duty when a boy and girl break in, looking for somewhere to sleep. He agrees to allow them to stay as long as they promise not to break anything and that they’ll be out before anyone arrives in the morning. As the night goes on the watchman spies on the boy’s attempts to sleep with the girl, and it’s not long before the boy realises the man may be interested in him. Right from the start there’s a sinister air surrounding Nightswimming that never lets up. It’s a tension that builds through the characters’ uncertainty, the possibility of intimacy and the sense that no one here is either wholly innocent or completely guilty. It cleverly moves between the different viewpoints of the characters, who all have different agendas and fears – is the watchman afraid he’s a paedophile? Is the boy gay, manipulative or confused? It’s a complex little tale with a lot to offer.
9 out of 10
I Don’t Care (25 mins)
Director: Harry Wootliff
Originally made for a Channel 4 series of 30-minute shorts by new writers/director, I Don’t Care follows Luka, a young man stuck in a seaside town looking after his sickly mother. On his 30th birthday be meets Dan, who’s a bit wild and reckless, but initially seems like a kindred spirit who’s leading the carefree life Luka wants. However the aggressive and sexual Dan proves to be a lot more to handle than Luka realised. Still wanting more from life, can Luka really leave his responsibilities behind? I Don’t Care is the sort of film that’s interesting to watch but quite frustrating at the same time. It has the whiff of a young writer without enough editorial oversight, so there are a few too many obvious metaphors and ideas (and lines of dialogue that seem designed to bluntly highlight the metaphors and ideas just in case anyone missed them), plus everybody has a tendency to talk in writer-speak that doesn’t sound quite real. If those involved could take another crack at this, it could be really good, but at the moment it’s undercooked. That said, Iwan Rheon as Luka is great, who’s since gone on to win an Oliver Award and star in Misfits.
5 out of 10
Director: Hong Khaou
Hong Khaou directed Summer, which opened the very first Boys On Film disc. Now he’s back with the more provocative Spring. Two men – one young, the other a little older – are in a café, chatting. The younger one seems nervous about what they’re about to do, while the other is more at ease. They head off to a room where they immediately begin to engage in some S&M play. The young man seems unsure about whether he really wants to be dominated, but as time goes on and things get more extreme, it turns out the older man may actually be looking for something else. Spring is fascinated by what’s really going on in S&M and the power-play it represents, as well as the discovery of new experience. It creates a great feeling of danger and apprehension as it plays with assumptions and control, and has a nice few touches towards the end where it gets you to reconsider what’s really been going on. Interestingly, most of it was shot in the same place that served as Geoffrey Rush’s office in The King’s Speech.
7 out of 10
The Chef’s Letter (14 mins)
Director: Sybil Mair
Jonathan Firth plays a chef who sits in his office one night composing a letter, which once read could change his ordered life forever. As he goes about his day, waiting for the recipient to find the letter, tensions begin to rise until it’s not just the pans in the kitchen boiling over. The Chef’s Letter is an interesting idea that doesn’t quite come together. Because we don’t know what the letter is about, it slightly undermines the film’s attempts to get us to consider who the chef is looking at and why he’s getting increasingly frustrated. It’s an interesting exercise in trying to tell a story though looks, editing and the audience’s expectations, but it’s more intriguing formally than emotionally. I realise I’m probably in a minority here as the short has won awards at festivals around the world, but for me it didn’t quite work.
5 out of 10
We Once Were Tide (18 mins)
Director: Jason Bradbury
If this disc in anything to go by, a lot of young gay men are stuck by the sea looking after invalid mothers. After I Don’t Care comes We Were Once Tide, which sees Anthony living on the Isle Of Wight with his terminally-ill mum. The main bright spot of his life is his boyfriend, Kyle. Over the course of 12 hours or so, tensions rise and fall as they try to define their relationship and negotiate the issues surrounding Anthony’s mother. But while Anthony begins to see hope, bad news is just around the corner. A film about what people don’t say or can’t admit, We Were Once Tide has a sad melancholy to it, contrasting the bleakness of the rocky Isle Of Wight shore with the potential intimacy and future of the lovers. The ending is sad but understandable – one of those moments where nothing you can do is fully the right thing, everything is a bit wrong and choices need to be made – even if people can’t voice them.
8 out of 10
What You Looking At? (10 mins)
A drag queen and a young Muslim woman get into a lift. No, this isn’t the start of a bad joke, it’s a short film. As the lift descends, it breaks down. Each assumes they have nothing in common and that the other will naturally have antipathy towards them, but stuck together they start to realise that while they have their differences, perhaps they’re not so different after all. Despite a tendency towards being a little like an after-school special in which we learn gays and Muslims are just people too, What You Looking At? has a simple, sweet message that’s given extra power by a great ending. It also has a wonderful song over the closing credits that does as good a job at highlighting the potential conflicts between Muslims and gay people (and indeed anyone else) as the film does, and does it with great humour.
7 out of 10
Man and Boy (19 mins)
Director: David Leon, Marcus McSweeney
A teenager called Alf is talking to his father and tells him he was in a man’s flat upstairs and something happened. The father immediately assumes the man touched his son and goes off to confront him, with devastating consequences. Challenging, dark, complex and very cleverly put together, Man And Boy constantly challenges the audience and the assumptions that we and the characters make. A man befriending a boy has to be something dodgy, doesn’t it? Would you be justified taking the law into your own hands? Would you tell a big lie to cover up a smaller, more personal lie? With some great performances, including Eddie Marsan as the potential paedophile, Man And Boy has a real intensity and a surprisingly complex plot for such a short film, this is top-notch filmmaking. Based on a true story, it’s a film that never stops evolving from the beginning to the end and knows the world is a complex place where snap judgements rarely reveal the whole truth.
9 out of 10
Diana (11 mins)
Director: Aleem Kahn
Set on the day the Princess Of Wales died, Diana is an Indian pre-op transsexual working as a prostitute in London to pay for her hormones. Scarred by the family that rejected her, she goes about her day constantly aware that she is different from others. She learns that while everyone is obsessed with the death of Diana, there’s been even greater tragedy in India. Rather bleak and not exactly suggesting the life of a pre-op transsexual is a fun one, Diana is well made and absorbing. Its clever use of voiceover from news channels about the death of the Princess Of Wales to comment on the film’s title character is a neat touch.
7 out of 10
Downing (16 mins)
Director: Ben Peters
Teenagers are idiots, manipulative and do stupid things. It’s surprising this basic truth isn’t often dealt with well in films. In Downing, isolated gay lad Jason heads to a house party with his friend. At the shindig is Daniel, a popular, incredibly handsome boy Jason seems to both love and loathe, something Daniel seems well aware of and likes to play with. However when Daniel makes a move on Jason’s drunken female friend, he sees a way to get revenge and perhaps reveal a few home truths. Downing has a great feel for the mix of arrogance, selfishness, insecurity and sense of infallibility many teenagers have. Nobody comes out of this exactly smelling of roses but it feels true to the teen experience. My only issue is that sometimes it feels a bit too clever for its own good, so that there appears to be a lot more going on than we’re being told. It’s still a very strong and rather sexy end to the disc though.
8 out of 10
Overall Verdict: A great selection of shorts, showing that Blighty is producing a lot of great LGBT films. One of Boys On Film’s best.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac