The Iris Prize Festival has now drawn to a close, but its still worth seeking out some of the excellent short film that competed for the world’s largest short film prize, the Iris Prize. We’ve already posted our thoughts on the first 23 short films that screened across the festivals five days, and below you can find reviews of the final 12 (presented in screening order – opinions are mine and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts of the overall jury).
Get The Life
Director: Ozzy Villazon
Something has happened that young trans person Alex never expected – he has gotten pregnant. Unsure how to tell his partner, Jesse, Alex must decide what to do about the pregnancy. Should he keep the baby or can he go through with a termination?
While Get The Life presents some interesting ideas about male presenting trans people accessing healthcare and the issues they face, it does less well with the rest of its plot. That’s a particular problem as it’s dealing with the potentially sensationalistic issue of a trans person getting pregnant, so when it doesn’t seem 100% aware of what issues it is dealing with, it has to struggle to shake off the whiff of being a tiny bit exploitative. Indeed, as the film doesn’t properly address Alex’s gender identity, instead assuming things about him that may not be true if he identifies as non-binary, it affects how the viewer interacts with the movie and results in an interesting subject being given a problematic treatment.
2.5 out of 5
Director: Hillel Rate
Ultra-orthodox Jewish teenager Leah has decided to visit her estranged brother in a car park/metaphor next to a bus station. She isn’t certain what to do when a woman turns up who knows who she is. Should Leah leave, especially when she realises who the woman is?
Paperock was perhaps the most frustrating film of the festival, to the point where quite a few people had no real idea what it was about at the end, including that the woman who arrived had previously been Leah’s brother. All the way through its penchant for coming at things from an oblique angle forces it into obtuseness, so that rather than inviting the audience to look deeper, it feels like it’s actively attempting to go over their head.
1.5 out of 5
Goodbye Mr. B, Hello Ms. B
Director: Beatrice Wong
Last year ‘Kaspar X: If I Had A Soul’ screened at Iris, which followed Kaspar Wan from Hong Kong, in a heartfelt but relatively simple look at the life of a trans man. It feels like the director and subject of Goodbye Mr. B, Hello Ms. B looked at what Kaspar did (they know each other), and decided to take it to the next level. The film is a fascinating look at Beatrice’s transition, with an astonishing honesty and a determination that nothing should be off limits.
While the politically correct may shy away from the realities of gender confirmation surgery, as well as certain other things – such as whether transitioning or surgery results in someone who is happier – Beatrice does not. She confronts the viewer with her personal truth, whether that’s the weeping swollenness of her new vagina, or her feeling that her life is going to suck from now on. It is challenging, involving, and sometimes shocking, yet it’s simultaneously very entertaining as Beatrice is funny, engaging and very smart. Although some may take not like that it doesn’t always tread the latest orthodox line on trans people, it’s genuinely fascinating and thought-provoking.
4.5 out of 5
Kopriva (The Nettle)
Director: Piaoyu Yi
Young man Nikola heads with his girlfriend to her father’s house for a break. However, after a ‘joke’ leads him to wear makeup to a party, he starts to have feelings he isn’t sure how to handle. This causes increasing issues when he starts to have feelings for his girlfriend’s dad.
While well-intentioned, Kopriva is a bit of a mess, mixing together ideas of gender and sexuality in a rather confused way. Is it suggesting wearing makeup will turn you gay? Is Nikola in the first stages of realising a new gender identity? Does the film even realise sexuality and gender are different things? Maybe it does, but it gets perilously close to some offensive stereotype along the way. By the time it’s finished, it’s difficult to know quite what the point of it was, as it feels like we only got half the story.
1.5 out of 5
Director: Clara Stern
This Austrian film follows the title character; a trans man going into his first job after transitioning. He enters the rather masculine environment of a warehouse, where he isn’t sure how his co-workers would take knowing he is trans, especially as some of them knew him in his earlier life. He must also face the difficulties in his relationship with girlfriend, Marie. Their love has so far survived his transition, but staying together may not be right for them in the long run.
Until a few years ago it seemed that all trans stories were about women, so it’s good to see an increasing amount about trans men. That said, Mathias does seem to continue the problematic casting cis actors in trans roles, which is a shame as otherwise it’s a strong, interesting piece, engaging with trans issues that are often overlooked, such as negotiating a return to the workforce and the gender roles and prejudice that may mean you need to deal with.
3.5 out of 5
Director: Gregory Oke
Another film that was a favourite for many at the festival is a bit of a British Brokeback. It follows two young friends in Herefordshire, who are shearing sheep together one summer. One of them has a love for vintage French rock and a growing attraction to the other. However, they both have girlfriends and neither seems to know how to address the issues between them, except perhaps with violence.
While handsomely made and well-acted, One Summer gets far too close to one of my bugbears, which is to suggest rural folks are a bit backwards and simpler than everyone else, and therefore any plot involving a potentially gay/bisexual person in the countryside has to feel like the basic plot is from 15 years ago. The surface is very good and there are some fascinating moments exploring the complexities of male bonding, but under the surface it doesn’t have much new to say.
3 out of 5
Director: Huang Ting-Chun
This one certainly wins the award for best film title of Iris 2017. Sun heads off to a sex party, but once there he finds it difficult to enjoy himself. While others are getting down and dirty, he can’t engage or get an erection, despite the best efforts of others to make him ‘happy’. So what is he really looking for?
Sodom’s Cat intrigued some audience members while perplexing others, to the point where some had no idea what was going on. Indeed, some wondered whether it was about a man who really, really loves plastic cups (you’d have to watch it to see what I mean). However, it certainly holds your attention and often gets pretty sexy – half of it is based at a five-man sex party, so it would be a little difficult for it not to – as it explores a man’s attempt to move past the emotional rut he’s become stuck in.
3 out of 5
Director: Vincent Fitz-Jim
Tommy is 15-years-old, knows he’s gay and is keen to start expressing that, whether it’s watching porn, looking at hot guys or seeking out sex. He’s not fully out and so while his straight friends can date one another, he downloads gay dating apps to find other people like himself. However, he’s still underage, which could cause trouble for any adults he meets – and the age disparity could cause trouble for Tommy too.
Tommyteen18 does a good job of capturing the feeling of being a hormone-soaked teen, for whom sex is a complete pre-occupation. It then layers in the extra complexities of being a young gay man in the modern world where technology offers an array of possibilities, whether they’re a good idea or not. Although some felt the story was a bit old-hat, my personal feeling was that it managed to spin it into something new by exploring what is happening between Tommy and an older man who initially had no idea he was meeting someone so young. It allows it to explore a situation where the power imbalance is more complicated than it first appears. Nothing is whitewashed or absolved, but it successfully shows how complex these things can become, while maintain a tense, sexual atmosphere.
4 out of 5
Taste Of Love
Director: Paul Scheufler
Taste Of Love was unlike anything else in the Festival. A narrator talks about her desires and the different tastes and sensations she associates with different things and people. Each foodstuff has a different meaning and association for her as she explore the breadth of sex, love and passion.
Coupled with some vibrant, striking imagery of food and people covered in it, Taste Of Love stood out from the crowd. However, what it’s saying isn’t really that complex, daring or interesting, with the result that if a brand logo had come up at the end, it wouldn’t have been surprising to discover the whole thing was an elaborate advert for something. However, director Paul Scheufler certainly has an interesting and bold visual style, which is all the more impressive considering he made the short just after leaving high school. I’m glad I saw it and look forward to what Scheufler does next.
3 out of 5
Mother Knows Best (Mamma Vet Bäst)
Director: Mikael Bundsen
Winner of the Iris Prize 2017
A teenage boy has just introduced his boyfriend to his mother for the first time. As they drive away after the meet, the mother and son discuss the meeting, whether he should tell his father he is gay and the issues they may have between then.
The whole film consists of just two shots, with the vast majority of it a static camera looking through a car window. At first it seems almost too simple, but the setup allows it to create a rich world beyond what we’re actually seeing. In 13 minutes we get a complex look at the entire family dynamic, from the difficulties between the divorced parents to the fact the mother way not know her son as much as she thinks she does. Tensions and bonds between the mother and son are explored, as he negotiates her tendency to make things about herself, and she attempts to understand why her son doesn’t always tell her things.
Expertly acted and paced – it’s a film where the extended moments of silence are as important to the dialogue – Mother Knows Best gets better the more you think about it. It’s also a smart look at being gay for young people nowadays, where parents may battle for who can be most okay with having a gay kid, even if that obscures issues that lurk under the surface. Even without the gay angle, it would be a beautiful and oddly profound look at mother and teen son dynamics.
While the choice to give the deceptively simple Mother Knows Best the Iris Prize surprised some – perhaps due to the deceptive simplicity – it is a more than worthy winner.
5 out of 5
The Whole World
Director: Julian Quintanila
Another genuine audience pleaser, and one based actor/director Julian Quintanila’s desire to brings his mother back to on-screen life. Julian heads to his mother’s grave and ends up chatting with the spirit of ‘La Chary’. They recall a time when Julian was a young boy, when La Cahry did nothing after seeing a group of teens abusing a gay man on the street – although shortly afterwards she did go to see a psychologist, with unexpected consequences that even now Julian may not be aware of.
Bold, funny and told with genuine love, it’s hard not to like The Whole World, which edges towards the fantastical while maintaining a strong thread of human connection and nostalgia. Loles León is brilliant as the Almodavar-esque La Chary (indeed, León has appeared in numerous Almodovar movies), who is determined to defy convention and who ends up changing her gay son’s world and indeed the whole community. It’s a genuinely heart-warming love letter by a filmmaker to his mother, and will leave you with a big, fat smile on your face.
4 out of 5
Director Jamieson Pearce
A woman walks into a sex shop and heads to the gay section to find a film featuring a specific actor. It was only after her estranged son died that she discovered he was working in porn, and so she looks for one of his films in a perhaps misguided effort to connect with the child she hadn’t seen for years.
It’s certainly not every movie that features a grieving mother actively wanting to watch her son in a porn movie, and to be honest, it might have been better if they’d found another way to show her trying to reconnect, as it tends to overwhelm everything else. Perhaps the makers liked the odd, reverse-Oedipal connotations of a mother who rejected her son because of his sexuality reconnecting with his through sex, but while it’s a striking idea, it also pushes the film towards the hyperbolic and makes it more difficult to emotionally engage with.
2.5 out of 5