Every spring the BFI hosts Flare, the London LGBT Film Festival, but the British Film Institute certainly doesn’t believe that just because the gays have their own fest, it means they shouldn’t screen gay-themed movies elsewhere.
Indeed the upcoming BFI London Film Festival, which runs from 7-18 October, includes a great selection of LGBT-themed movies, including Todd Hayne’s Oscar tipped Carol, which gets its UK Premiere as part of the festival on Wednesday 14th October at the Odeon Leicester Square.
So what other LGBT-themed movies are screening? Well, here are some of the highlights (as provided by the BFI):
Dir Todd Haynes.
USA-UK 2015. 118min.
Cinema at its most intoxicating and immaculate, Todd Haynes’ Carol is a deeply romantic, emotionally honest love story about two women who courageously defy the suffocating conformities of mid-century America. Therese (Rooney Mara) is an aspiring photographer, working in a Manhattan department store where she first encounters Carol (Cate Blanchett), an alluring older woman whose marriage is breaking down. Ambushed by their sudden attraction, the two women gravitate toward each other despite the threat their connection poses to both Therese’s relationship with her steady beau and Carol’s custody of her beloved young daughter. Blanchett is magnificent as Carol, whose elegant poise thinly veils her crumbling interior world, whilst Mara is mesmerising as the ingénue whose capacity for love awakens a newfound fearlessness. Phyllis Nagy’s (Mrs. Harris) adaptation deftly retains the rich interiors and exquisite tension of Patricia Highsmith’s groundbreaking novel The Price of Salt, written and published in 1952 at a time when its subject was considered scandalous.
Haynes has created a shimmering companion work to both his lush Technicolor melodrama Far From Heaven and the shadowy domestic noir Mildred Pierce, adopting a starkly different, more naturalistic prism through which to examine the contradictory optimism and paranoia of post-war America and its oppressive social mores. Whilst never abandoning its characters and their story, the film also consistently reveals the power of the image itself – Therese’s interest in photography, a glimpse of Sunset Boulevard, and Haynes’ brilliant use of the gaze in the film’s final moments. It also knowingly plays with the image of perfect femininity – the dolls at the counter where Therese works, the Christmas department store trappings reminiscent of Sirk’s Imitation of Life. Haynes’ filmmaking eloquence is sublimely enhanced by the cinematography of frequent collaborator Ed Lachman (who filmed with Super 16mm to produce the muted hues of glamour magazines of the era), the precision of Judy Becker’s production design and the expressive palette of Sandy Powell’s gorgeous costumes.
Dir Hansal Mehta
India 2015. 120min
Probably the best film yet on the Indian gay male experience, Hansal Mehta directs a riveting and nuanced tale that is as touching as it is powerful. Professor Siras is suspended by his university after a photographer breaks into his house and catches him in bed with his male rickshaw-driver lover. Deepu, an ambitious young journalist, hears of the sensational story and heads to Aligarh University to meet Siras. What he discovers is a shy intellectual, wracked by embarrassment. Deepu carries out a more detailed investigation and reveals that the university was behind the break-in. Deepu and LGBT activists convince Siras to challenge the suspension in high court, becoming the spearhead in the fight for gay rights in India. Apurva Asrani’s script allows Mehta to take us on a delicate journey of subtle emotions, while Manoj Bajapayee and Rajkummar Rao deliver compelling performances as the professor and campaigning journalist.
Dir Sean Baker.
USA 2015. 88min.
Fizzing and popping with the energy of as-it-happened classics like Before Sunset and Do the Right Thing, Sean Baker’s Tangerine, a tale of two transsexual hookers on Santa Monica Boulevard, could prove the sleeper hit of the year. On Christmas Eve, released from a brief stint in jail, Sin-Dee Rella meets her best friend Alexandra who reveals that her beau, Chester, has been cheating on her with a ‘white fish’ (a Caucasian female-born woman). The news propels the mercurial Sin-Dee to find Chester’s new girl and teach her a lesson. Remarkably, considering the richness of the bold, saturated colour and widescreen photography, Baker and his co-cinematographer, Radium Cheung filmed this on iPhone 5s, grabbing most scenes with just two cameras and dolly shots filmed from cycles. The result is a film of urgency and veracity, with charming performances from transgender non-actors Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez. From donut shop to Hollywood dive bar, the comedy of hair pulling and bitch slapping gives way to something altogether more tender and unexpected: a film about female friendship and solidarity.
Dir Maya Newell
Australia 2015. 85min
Maya Newell’s documentary follows the lives of four Australian children – Gus, Ebony, Graham and Matt – whose parents all happen to be gay. Having grown up with same-sex parents, Newell brings her insight and empathy to bear on one of the most debated contemporary issues today, giving a rare and intimate look at same-sex parenting through the eyes of these engaging youngsters. Gus is obsessed with professional wrestling, Ebony wants to become a pop star, Graham is struggling with his reading and Matt is questioning religion. Each displays remarkable maturity, eloquence and humour as they cope with their own challenges of growing up, further complicated by the pressures of societal stereotypes and prejudice. Eschewing the polemical in favour of the personal Gayby Baby is both a social action film and a cinematically beautiful portrait of four loving families suffused with colour, sweetness and warmth.
Dir-Prod Carlo Lavagna.
Italy 2015. 85min.
Arianna is a teenager with emotional and physical insecurities who,unbeknown to her parents, embarks on a quest to discover her sexual identity during a summer trip to the family holiday home on the shores of Lake Bolsano. What follows is a coming of age drama featuring at opical twist, with Arianna attempting to cope with all the typical challenges young girl faces, yet also having to face the realisation thather parents have lied to her and that nothing about her life is quite what it seems. Neither prurient nor sensationalist, this debut feature by Carlo Lavagna came out of a documentary he made on a real life case in Italy, but transposed the action to the everyday lives of a seemingly unassuming Italian family. Consequently, Arianna is an arresting, Wouching and inspiring story, superbly performed, particularly by wonderful newcomer Ondina Quadri, in the title role
Dir-Scr Paul Weitz
USA 2014. 80min
Elle (Lily Tomlin) is a sharp-tongued, foul-mouthed poet in her 70s. Still reeling from the death of her long time partner Violet, and in the process of breaking up with much younger new girlfriend Olivia, Elle’s defences are at an all-time high. When her 18-year-old granddaughter turns up needing help, the pair embark on a road trip through LA, which gives them just enough time to confront both their demons and each other. Unsurprisingly, Tomlin is nothing short of divine as the gloriously profane septuagenarian, whose curt words and emotional armour can’t quite mask her broken heart. It’s impossible to deny this is Tomlin’s film, although the excellent supporting cast all get their chance to shine. Displaying a lightness of touch, along with a fair dose of insight, About A Boy director Paul Weitz has crafted a supremely enjoyable, consistently surprising road movie. About a girl. Or two
Dir-Scr Stephen Dunn
Canada 2015. 90min
Oscar Madly is an artistic, sexually confused teen desperate to escape his hometown. Troubled by the strained relationships with his absent mother and emotionally volatile father, Oscar has a tendency to drift into a fantasy world where his anxieties take on very physical forms, including conversations with his pet hamster (voiced by Isabella Rossellini). But when Oscar falls for a brooding new boy at his work, life becomes even more confusing. He realises that he must make sense of the world around him in order to understand what will make him truly happy. Following his series of acclaimed short films, Stephen Dunn’s remarkable debut feature is a genuine surprise. Brimming with insight and invention, this alternative coming-of-age tale imaginatively weaves together offbeat humour, grotesque body horror and stark realism to authentically capture the feeling of growing up as an outsider
Dir William Fairman, Max Gogarty
UK 2015. 80min.
A shorthand term made popular by gay men in recent years for the use of drugs (specifically crystal meth, GHB and mephedrone) in a sexual context, ‘chemsex’ has been seen by some as a significant contributing factor in the rise of HIV diagnoses in London. Often referring to group sex that can last several days, with one or more of the specified drugs used to free inhibition and enhance libido, the trend is argued to be fuelled by the growing use of online apps as a means of sexual hook ups. In this unflinching documentary, we meet a host of men whose lives have been affected, from self-confessed ‘slammers’ to sexual health workers, each of whom talk candidly about the pleasures and perils associated with the scene. Much more than just a sensationalist exposé on a small portion of London’s gay community, this powerful and often graphic film offers a vital insight into a potent and potentially destructive issue.
Dir-Scr Sebastián Silva
USA-Chile-France 2014. 100min.
Sebastián Silva’s Nasty Baby is one of the most original works of the year, by turns beguiling, seductive and confrontational. Successful artist Freddy (Silva) and his boyfriend Mo (Tunde Adebimpe) are happily ensconced in Brooklyn and preparing to have a baby with Freddy’s best friend Polly (Kristen Wiig). Silva quickly draws us into their world and we identify with their worries: how to impregnate Polly; what Mo’s conservative family make of it; how to manage their increasingly disruptive neighbour. All against the backdrop of Freddy’s attempts to create a new work for a major gallery and struggling with the threat of deportation. These truthful and urgent cares are more than enough to make the film compelling. But the roguishly brilliant Silva hasn’t set out to deliver an absorbing ‘post-race’ drama about gay parenting. Instead, he plays a breathtaking and audacious late curve ball that is guaranteed to spark passionate post-screening debates
Dir-Scr Andrew Steggall
UK-France 2015. 109min.
Elliot (Alex Lawther) is a wispy dreamer who, with his mother Beatrice (Juliet Stevenson), is packing up their French country house in preparation to sell it. There is a melancholic air to their efforts, with forced companionableness from Beatrice who insists on dinners with her distant son. Alex takes breaks to wander into the local village bar, where he writes romantic poetry, wearing a vintage French army coat and eyeing up the rough beauty of local boy Clement, who works on his motorbike. Clement is as natural as Elliot is awkward and they strike up an unlikely friendship. Longing, loneliness, nostalgia for a sense of family that may have never existed permeate this delicate first feature from British debut director Andrew Stegall. It’s a fine, elegantly crafted debut with Alex Lawther (X+Y, The Imitation Game) impressing as a major British star in the making.
TAKE ME TO THE RIVER
Dir-Prod-Scr Matt Sobel
USA 2015. 84min.
En route to a dreaded family reunion, Californian teen Ryder is asked by his mother to keep his homosexuality secret from their conservative Nebraskan family. Although he reluctantly agrees, Ryder’s deliberate choice of bright red short shorts raises eyebrows among his male relatives. But while treated with suspicion by some, he is an instant hit with his young female cousins, one of whom, Molly, takes him to a nearby barn. However, the bucolic idyll is shattered when Molly emerges from the barn screaming, her skirt stained with blood. What first appears to be a simple story of familial dysfunction deftly transforms into an altogether more surprising tale of psychosexual mind games and repressed emotions, leaving the viewer as bewildered as young Ryder. Capturing a dread so palpable it can often be difficult to watch, first-time filmmaker Matt Sobel has crafted one of the strangest and most unexpectedly menacing family dramas of recent years.
Booking for the BFI London FIlm Festival is now open.