The festival might be over, but we’ve still got plenty of reviews from a week crammed with LGBT film. This round-up includes accusation, transition, liberation, and romance.
365 Without 377
Director: Adele Tulli
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, as imposed by the British colonial rule in 1860, stated that any sexual act that was not orientated towards reproduction was, ‘against the order of nature’. On 2 July 2009, the Delhi High Court passed a landmark judgment repealing the clause, which the Indian LGBTQ community had been campaigning against for ten years. 365 Without 377 reflects on a year of new freedoms for the LGBTQ community in Mumbai, following three individuals as they head for the anniversary celebrations in the city centre.
Adele Tulli’s intoxicating documentary mixes an intense focus on the three characters; Beena, a lesbian whose first love was stolen away by family tradition; Pallav, a gay man who tried to repress his sexuality, and; Abheena, a transgender male with a passion for Indian dancing. They are portrayed with a vibrant experience of the multiculturalism of the city streets. Tulli’s close camera angles and sharp editing techniques create a film that really feels alive with the sights and smells of the city, bolstered by rich colour photography and a pointed sense of humour. As the film builds towards the triumphant anniversary celebrations, Tulli dynamically depicts a Mumbai that has bloomed into full colour under the progression of a fairer society.
The stories selected provide a similarly keen strike of emotion. Beena recounts the affecting story of her closeted girlfriend who was forced into an arranged marriage, while Abheena’s story of his lasting dedication to his mother – ‘I have not forgotten my duty as a son’ – heartwarmingly prefigures the familial bonds depicted during the anniversary celebrations. As blankfaced straight males look on from behind the gates, the LGBTQ community perform, chant, and celebrate their freedom with abandon. Tulli’s deft, electrifying approach make 365 Without 377 a joyous documentary that proves absolutely unmissable.
Review by David William Upton
Director: Steven Williford
Starring: Jason Butler Harner, Illeana Douglas, Cheyenne Jackson
In a picturesque north-western town in the USA, school teacher Michael (Jason Butler Harner) has his idyllic life thrown into jeopardy when a misunderstanding on campus leads to an allegation of sexual assault. A press sensation, Michael finds he is already convicted in the eyes of many of his previously supportive friends. As things spiral, he alienates his long-suffering best friend Trish (Illeana Douglas) while his relationship with his partner Daniel (Cheyenne Jackson) becomes strained.
The Green begins promisingly enough – the themes tossed into the mix are provocative and fertile. One idea, for instance, is that when a person is put in a hot spot, they will throw someone else under the bus. And then there’s the intensely discomfiting notion that in our flawed society a gay carer of children may only ever be a hair away from suspicion. All of the performers are wholly committed to the cause, although Illeana Douglas is criminally underused. Coupled with some intermittently very funny writing, the premise provides the foundations for something potentially fresh and original.
However as with many movies dealing with provocative issues The Green soon drops it’s more challenging ideas in pursuit of a plot that’s just too neat. One badly-judged moment, which triggered much unintentional laughter amongst the audience, culminates in a dramatic scenario as contrived, tacky, and ineffective as a particularly bad season-closer to a soap opera. Furthermore, the fact that the problem in this peaceful middle class community comes from the one family from the wrong side of the tracks is a tad uncomfortable, while a long played subplot involving a nosy neighbour sets up a narrative shrug.
The Green could have been very good, but is instead a bit of a disappointment.
Review by Dominic Graham
Gun Hill Road
Director: Rashaad Ernesto Green
Starring: Esai Morales, Judy Reyes, Harmony Santana
After a three year stretch in prison, Enrique (Esai Morales) comes home to discover that his wife, Angie (Judy Reyes), has been having an affair, and that his child, Michael (Harmony Santana), has started transitioning. How he deals with this, is the film’s focus, showing his attempts to readjust to life after his stint inside amidst the turmoil of his own family.
Gun Hill Road’s biggest strength, but also greatest weakness, is how Michael is portrayed transitioning to Vanessa. On one hand it is fantastic to see a trans person not singled out but to have their story just part of an overall narrative. On the other, key facets around trans personality are ignored which leave’s the audience with only a shallow understanding of salient issues. What is clear is the maturity and honesty dealing with the serious issues – admitting being trans to a potential partner, back-door plastic surgery and hormone therapy, the role of religion in the LGBT community, and dealing with a child coming out as trans – are all mixed in with heavy doses of race and cultural politics which add to the film’s hook and interest.
The cast does a stellar job. Judy Reyes visibly starts to break as she attempts to keep the family together. Esai Morales’s thoughtful depiction of Enrique invokes a series of conflicting emotions. And Harmony Santana’s hard work as a non-actor really pays off as her characters struggles with her parents and her gender is brought to the fore.
There is brutal honesty and raw emotion here that really captures the kind of pain, frustration and torment that many trans people have to face on a daily basis.
Review by Jake Basford
Yes Or No?
Director: Saratsawadee Wongsomphet
Starring: Sucharat Manaying, Supanart Jittaleela
Pie (Sucharat Manaying) is a pretty university student who changes her dorm room to escape her lesbian roommate Jane’s (Arisara Thongborisut) relationship dramas with her tomboy girlfriends. Naturally, minutes after Pie steps foot into her new dorm, she’s confronted by a budding tomboy, Kim (Supanart Jittaleela). But Kim ignores Pie’s disdain and gradually the pair become friends. It soon becomes increasingly clear that there might be more to their relationship.
A respectable mainstream success in its native Thailand, Yes or No? was billed as the country’s first lesbian romantic comedy. It even garnered a nomination for director Saratsawadee Wongsomphet at the Thailand National Film Association Awards – essentially the Thai Oscars. Only the film’s first half really matches the label of comedy, as the burgeoning friendship of the central pair is surrounded by stock supporting characters like an awkward nerdish girl called Nerd and a flamboyant, wise-cracking gay male friend. As it enters the second half, feelings start to be realised, and Yes or No? slows and becomes rather too saccharine.
It’s hard to really dislike such a sweet, bubblegum romance between such a likeable pairing. But the film almost turns into a strange checklist of every romantic cliché in the rulebook. There’s a dramatic confrontation in torrential rain, one character eavesdropping on an emotional declaration, an obsessive rival threatening suicide, and so on. Meanwhile, the melodic musical score begins to overwhelm every other scene, risking converting the whole film into the realm of parody.
Essentially, though, Yes or No? comes equipped with enough charm and lightness that it’s impossible to leave without a heart that feels at least lightly toasted. Manaying and Jittaleela give beguiling, subtle performances that counter the more caricatured characters around them, going a long way towards negating the quilt of clichés they have to navigate.
Review by David William Upton
All films were shown as part of the British Film Institute’s 26th London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (LLGFF). This took place between 23 March – 1 April 2012. To see more of our coverage, please visit our 26th London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival section. For more information about the festival visit www.bfi.org.uk/llgff.
Featured Image: 365 Without 377.
All images of the British Film Institute.