It’s the second day of Cardiff’s Iris Prize festival, where the 35 entrants in the International Short Film Prize are going up for the biggest LGBT Short Film Prize in the world, worth £30,000. We’ve been there watching all the International Shorts that have been screened so far, and it’s been a fascinating and diverse selection.
You Deserve Everything
Director: Goran Stovelski
A cancer doctor and the hospital’s young Arabic translator have fallen head over heels for one another, enjoying a sweet, tender romance. However, things aren’t quite as they appear, which causes major ructions for both of them and a possible end to their relationship. I wish I could say a bit more about the plot, but that would spoil things, partly due to the way the early part of the movie plays with the audience’s expectations of where the issues in the relationship might emerge. Indeed, after the reveal, the film’s not quite as strong, although it’s still very good and has a real emotional core that runs right through it. With things such as age, culture, truth and honesty (both internal and external) percolating under its surface, You Deserve Everything certainly leaves the viewer with plenty to think about.
4 out of 5
Cecil + Carl
Director: Elvis Leon & Gaston Yvorra
The first programme of Iris Shorts certainly wasn’t a great advert for being old and gay, with three films focussing in different ways on aging. Cecil + Carl is a documentary following the titular couple, who’ve been together for 43 years but are now confronted by declining health, and bodies that are giving out on them. Cecil is looking after Carl, who uses a wheelchair and has deepening dementia. Through interviews with Cecil and footage of their lives in a house that seems to be mirroring their decline, Cecil + Carl is a bittersweet look at the unfair trials that age can bring. Simultaneously though, it stands as a testament to a love that began the year of the Stonewall Riots and has endured the decades since, with Cecil’s devotion often truly moving.
4.5 out of 5
Thanks For Dancing (Takk For Turen)
Director: Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken
This Scandinavian short follows two men, one of whom is a former skiing champion who’s just left work at a saw mill. His partner of many years is pleased they’ll finally be together in retirement, but is also in denial about the serious illness that will soon take his life. Thanks For Dancing manages to be both a sweet look at an aging gay couple and also a thought provoking meditation on regret and attempts to ignore the truth. When one of them asks the other whether they regret anything, the film questions how true the answer is, and also whether the person answering is even aware they should regret some things more than they perhaps do. A film with charm, heart and also a great sense for the things we’ve lost, both physically and emotionally.
3.5 out of 5
Director: Rafael Aidar
An older man living alone has been learning about computers and so changes his social media status to say he’s in a serious relationship with a man. He can’t help but notice a lot of people are looking at him as he goes about his business, such as when he waits for his date at a restaurant. However, when someone says they saw his relationship status change, he professes he didn’t know it would be that public. It may be that the man isn’t quite as naïve as he suggests, even if only subconsciously. Submarine takes a while to get going, with a fair amount of setup before it makes it to the point where it starts to reveal itself and then gets much more interesting. It’s difficult not to feel the short could have done with a little tightening, but it certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome.
3 out of 5
Director: Daithi O Cinneide
On an Irish farm, a father shocked when his son comes downstairs one morning ready for school – but wearing a skirt and makeup. Unsure how to handle it, and with his son seemingly not keen to talk about what’s going on, they start an uneasy negotiation of what this means, with the father trying to work out how to handle things, and the son expecting the worst. Between Us is a genuinely sweet and hearftfelt film, which does a great job of negotiating the difficulties of communication across generations, life experiences, families and genders. Eschewing either immediate acceptance or absolute rejection, it instead focuses on a man who simply doesn’t have the life skills to know what to do when something happens he never expected. A real charmer.
4.5 out of 5
The Summer Of ABC Burns
Director: Dannika Horvat
An extremely mature film for something that was made as a university graduate project, The Summer Of ABC Burns follow Gem, a teenage girl with a crush on fellow student Drew. When they’re alone, it seems Drew may feel the same way, but in company it’s a different story. The film has an acute sense for the confusion, deep feeling and most particularly the casual cruelty that can so often be part of teenage life. It’s a smart negotiation of a bond between the two girls which they both want and don’t want simultaneously. Throw in an appreciation of the power structure of teenagers, and you’ve got a multi-layered short that works exceedingly well.
4 out of 5
Director: Renato Muro
Compared to some of the other Iris shorts this year, Il Manichino isn’t quite as easy to access, but there’s enough there to make it worth spending some time with. The film is seen through the eyes of a young boy, and his fascination with an abandoned mannequin, which grows after some young men steal it and pretend to have sex with it. Il Manichino negotiates that point in childhood when things are beginning to stir, ideas are being formed and you’re only just starting to figure out the questions, let alone the answers, particularly around sexuality and gender. This is a child who doesn’t know yet what he will be, but the mannequin becomes a surrogate to explore. It also has a great ending.
3.5 out of 5
Director: Eric Rockney
This short documentary follows six-year-old Jeffrey, who lives in Florida with his adoptive lesbian parents. However, while his Butch mom BJ was hoping to raise a boy, Jeffrey wants to play with dolls, wear dresses and to be a girl when he grows up. BJ has found herself treading a careful line, wanting to support her child – even if he isn’t what she expected or hoped for – while also knowing that in their conservative hometown not everyone will be supportive, and Jeffrey will inevitably be bullied. Pink Boy is a genuinely interesting portrait of a family trying to handle gender issues in the best way they can. It manages to underline the unexpected normality of Jeffrey’s situation, while also showing the threats he faces just for being who he is. Presenting a story like this through the openness of a young child – such as seeing his joy at being allowed to be a princess for Halloween – will certainly put a smile on your face.
3.5 out of 5
Director: Xavier Miralles
A man calls his ex when the dog that they used to share gets sick and has to go to the vet. Initially he says he called because the dog always liked the ex-partner best, but as the evening goes on, he begins to feel that perhaps there’s a chance at a reconciliation. While occasionally avoiding some obvious questions, Letargo peers into the feelings many people will have, where they know why they broke up with someone – and that perhaps it was the right decision – but still craving them back in your life. As one of the men talks about the dog in ways where it’s obvious he’s really talking about himself and his ex-lover, it becomes a rather affecting look at a broken relationship where the problem is that neither of them is a bad person, but it may not be possible for them to give each other what they need.
3.5 out of 5
I Don’t Believe In That
Director: Neil Fennell
Rather lighter than a lot of the other Iris shorts – it was certainly the only one with a toilet ghost – is the witty I Don’t Believe In That. A couple, approaching middle-age, start to talk about their thoughts about God, only for one of them to reveal he doesn’t believe in anything supernatural or which isn’t governed by natural forces. There is an exception though, he does believe in the romantic notion of ‘the one’, which it turns out is something his partner doesn’t believe in, who doesn’t believe in marriage either. As they both realise they have very different takes on relationships and their place in the universe, they begin to wonder what the best way forward is. Until the toilet ghost shows up! Although it’s somewhat difficult to believe none of the questions the guys are negotiating have ever come up in their relationship before, it’s still a fun look at two guys figuring out the move into middle-age partnership and what that means for both of them.
3.5 out of 5
Director: Niels Bourgonje
A young man agrees to accompany his ex-boyfriend to an HIV test. As they wait for the result he can’t help but see the situation as having the potential to rekindle things between them, especially if if his ex’s need for a test was just a singular blip. Based on a true story, Buddy may be slightly different in tone to Letargo, but shares its interest in the point where a relationship still isn’t quite dead in at least of one the former couple’s minds. While the dialogue is relatively simple, it does a good job of taking you into the young man’s head, as he tries to work out whether being invited to the test means something, or if he’s just there as an emotional support ‘buddy’. Helped by strong acting and a nice use of space and camera angles that help elucidate both the closeness and the divide between the men, it works extremely well.
4 out of 5
A Doll’s Eyes
Director: Jonathan Wysocki
This semi-documentary looks deep into Jonathan Wysocki’s Jaws obsession. Having been terrified by the film as a child, it’s left what he describes as a mental scar on his mind’s eye. Initially it made him afraid to go in the water, before he became obsessed with being in the ocean as he got older, almost daring the sharks to come and get him. However, is his relationship with Jaws about more than the movie itself, and does it perhaps relate to the fact he watched it at a time when he was realising he was gay? To be honest, I’m not sure I’m convinced by the ‘Jaws frightened me because I was gay’ hypothesis, as it feels like the filmmaker is reaching for an interesting correlation that doesn’t fully stack up. It is an interesting idea though, and Wysocki has certainly made a great looking and well-made film around it. But in the end, the film feels like it’s trying to say that 1+2=4. Perhaps there is another +1 around somewhere that would seal things, but as it stands it feels like a flawed premise.
2.5 out of 5
The Threshold (Daaravtha)
Director: NIshant Roy Bombarde
A young, Indian boy, Panjak, is on the verge of adolescence and beginning to realise he’s not quite the same as the other boys. He’s interested in dance, jewellery and things normally associated with women, and also develops a crush of an older boy. However, the rigid system he lives in puts pressure on him to conform to gender and sexual stereotypes. His mother begins to see perhaps both she and her son could defy the cultural mores. The Threshold is an interesting movie, which is Indian to its core, and yet still manages to show that there are more things we as humans share than divide us. That said, the meaning of sexuality and transgender identities in India don’t 100% match western expectations, so some of the meaning may go over our heads, but there’s still more than enough to make it an intriguing and enjoyable watch.
3.5 out of 5
Director: Tove Pils
Siri is a young woman looking to challenge her boundaries and see exactly what she wants in life. She takes inspiration from trans performance artist Lee, who likes Siri’s energy and leads her to push herself in everything from exercise to attending an S&M workshop. But has Siri gone too far, or does she just need to allow herself to be unleashed? Push Me is one of those films where I feel I’m slightly missing something. All the ingredients for something excellent seem to be there, and I can see that for some other people it would be a real stunner, but for me it didn’t quite come together beyond some interesting ideas and good performances.
2.5 out of 5
Director: Jake Graf
It’s still dark as two people – a man and a woman – meet at a bus stop. As they begin to chat, they reveal more about themselves, with both seeming like lost souls in need of connection. While the man is blind, as the sun starts to rise they may begin to see each other more clearly than either expected. Genuinely sweet and tender, Dawn has an interest in small moments and gestures, and those instances where something tiny might be a hint towards what’s happening inside two people. With a trans theme, there’s a beautiful sense of exploration and possibility, with a romantic core and moments of humour that will put a smile on your face, while not forgetting there may be an edge of threat to at least one of their lives.
4 out of 5