Arts festivals are obviously having a bit of a time of it at the moment. Last year’s Melbourne Queer Film Festival in March marked the moment the pandemic became real for me when it was cancelled midway through. I managed to squeeze in one film, Tell It To The Bees, less memorable for Anna Paquin’s excellent performance as a lesbian Scottish doctor than some terrible CGI insects.
In mid-October the festival held an online-only event to tide us over, featuring the sexy Chilean lumberjack romance The Strong Ones (think unstained wood, flannel and, unfortunately, one instance of a poorly done CGI fox) and the exhilarating Georgian dance flick And Then We Danced (its existence alone – bodyguards stationed outside film sets to prevent homophobic violence – remarkable enough).
This March we finally got an in-person event at actual cinemas, and apparently we’re getting another one later in the year, so queer cinema is back in full force. Even though this iteration was apparently smaller, it felt as full and complete as a normal billing, and the films I saw were of an extremely high quality – no bad CGI animals in sight. So here’s my pick of five films to look out for, whether at home or maybe one day in cinemas.
P.S. Burn This Letter Please directed by Michael Seligman and Jennifer Tiexiera – In 2014 a box of old letters was found in LA belonging to Hollywood talent agent Ed Limato. They turned out to be a window into 1950s and ’60s queer New York, with letters addressed to “Reno” (Limato’s DJ name) from characters like Daphne, Adrian and Claudia. The filmmakers set out to find the people who wrote the letters, now in their 80s and 90s, and recreate their escapades (stealing wigs from the opera; allying with the mafia to host drag nights). In the event, the letters are the least interesting part of the documentary, which is enlivened by archival footage and endearing interviews with the older queens.
Kiss Me Before It Blows Up directed by Shirel Peleg – In this completely nuts lesbian rom-com set in Tel Aviv, German Maria (Louise Wolfram) arrives in Israel to meet Shira (Moran Rosenblatt), her girlfriend. They accidentally get engaged, and then have to tell their respective families, including Shira‘s grandmother who lives in Palestine and is having a secret romance with Palestinian man. Cue lesbian hilarity, sharp commentary on the legacies of history, big family shenanigans and some very good Holocaust jokes (one laugh-out-loud scene takes place at a Holocaust memorial. Yes, you read that correctly). The film dares to play with the Israeli version of Chekhov’s gun, the Arabic character who is said to blow up before the end of the film, giving the film its title. This is obviously a film that thinks no topic is off limits, but even in this context its portrayal of the dire situation between Israel and Palestine ultimately comes across as simplistic and mawkish, as if all that’s needed is a tearful reunion on the border to set things right. Still, worth checking out for a laugh.
Cocoon directed by Leonie Kripendorff – This film set in one hot, climate-changed summer in Berlin opens with a group of young teens drawing a penis on a homeless person, filming it and posting to social media for laughs. Yeah, this film is about how terrifying and nihilistic teenagers are, from the same school as Euphoria or Luca Guadagnino’s We Are Who We Are. Nora (Lena Urzendowsky) is in her early teens and like the caterpillar in the cocoon of the title (and the caterpillars she keeps beside her bed) is on the brink of transformation. Through the painfully awkward events of early puberty, Nora learns new things about her body and sexuality. Full of teenage madness, it’s also a moving portrayal of sisterhood.
Summer of 85 directed by François Ozon – This film opens with one of the most sublime scenes I’ve seen in a while. Alexis (Félix Lefebvre), 16, in Normandy borrows a friend’s boat for an afternoon, sailing it out onto the lurid aquamarine waters framed by the stunning white cliffs that Monet painted. Then a summer storm rolls in and he is rescued by the dangerous David (Benjamin Voisin). What follows is a torrid and just a little bit disturbing summer romance, all porn lighting, spectacular scenery and a mother who knows no boundaries. But when tragedy strikes it becomes a genuinely sweet film about young love and tumultuous feeling, and includes a bonkers use of Rod Stewart’s song Sailing to boot.
I Carry You With Me directed by Heidi Ewing – An extraordinary hybrid movie, this film starts in Mexico in the 1980s. Iván (Armando Espitia), an ambitious young chef, works hard to support his ex and child while meeting men covertly. When he meets lecturer Gerardo (Christian Vazquez) a beautiful romance blooms. But with an eye always on possibility, Iván decides to leave Mexico for New York, escaping local homophobia and conservatism for the American Dream. There the film gently transforms into a semi-documentary about the real Iván and Gerardo, acted by their older selves. But even as Iván finds success, he finds himself cut off from his family and friends in Mexico because his illegal immigrant status means he would never be able to return to the US. The early scenes in Mexico are dreamily shot, with flashbacks of childhood organically emerging from the narrative, and some of the most beautiful sex scenes – all hyper close-up, almost abstract – I’ve seen in a while. Scenes of the border crossing are so harrowing I fully expected it to have a miserable ending. But it is ultimately a wonderful depiction of Iván and Gerardo’s lives, and an indictment of the US’s brutal border policies.