Peccadillo Pictures’ Boys on Film series has reached double figures, and X stands without the usual subtitle that ties the short films together in a helpful little bundle. That might be because the short films here cross the spectrum of gay issues and the cinematic modes of approaching them; as a collection, it’s the least cohesive yet, but as a summation of what the series represents, it’s an ideal anniversary celebration.
Kicking off the collection, Blinders is over in a flash – a lyrical, pensive piece, it shows a straight couple (Nathaniel Brown and Byrdie Bell) encountering a beautiful boy (Luke Worrall) in a bar, who leaves Brown’s character spinning. Too compact to really have much effect, Blinders can be proud of its beauty beyond anything else, though the shoehorned titular metaphor leaves the brief dialogue sequence feeling rather airless. It’s matched in its intimate focus by Inflatable Swamp, which saves speech until the final moment – instead, William Feroldi’s explicit piece shows us how one man makes art from his anonymous hook-ups, each man becoming a tag on a balloon string hanging in his bathroom. By reducing the character interaction to the basics of human physicality – though in more ways than one – Feroldi is more adept at maximising worth from a short running time.
If the X made itself known in Inflatable Swamp‘s brief carnality, it’s even more prevalent in the longest short of the collection. Little Gay Boy, Christ Is Dead is an alarming narrative set in France where Jean-Christophe (GaÃ«tan Vettier) – or JC – endures a day of homophobic abuse and sexual imposition from everyone he encounters. Directors Antony Hickling and Amaury Grisel blur the lines between fiction and reality, as the dreamlike spectre of a male dancer, covered in plaster, throws himself around a blank room and becomes increasingly reddened by blood. But the abuse JC is subjected to in his life – from the unprovoked bile of a train passenger to a photographer insisting he strip off – is too immediately extreme, and JC is far too docile a character to become invested in, which becomes a real problem across the 30-minute running time. There’s intrigue in his relationship with his English mother (Amanda Dawson), a prostitute who lies slovenly on her sofa, and the boundaries of family and sexuality therein, but the film is too hung up on JC’s fantasies of S&M and their blunt parallels to crucifixion to really pay it mind.
Fantasies might be the theme running through the collection, as many of the boys imagine or simply hope for other plains of existence where they might be more accepted. This makes for fun and games in the closing short, Yeah Kowalski!, where a gay teenage boy (Cameron Wofford) uses discarded haircut strands as stick-on armpit hair in an attempt to attract his crush (Conor Donnelly). Swift, sharp and sensitive, Evan Roberts’ short is one of the gems here, closing the collection on a bright, inclusive note.
Elsewhere, those fantasies tell darker stories, including the awkward humour of A Stable for Disabled Horses, where a leaving party for Norwegian Kanoute (Daniel Simonsen) devolves into something more anguished for his self-appointed BFF Benny (Daniel Swan). While Benny’s desperation to cling onto the one person he feels a connection with makes for sympathetic viewing, the interpolation of the title is extremely on the nose, and the short has an overall aura of precocity.
Similar themes are more delicately explored in Headlong, where a lonely teenage ballet dancer’s (Jelle Florizoone) hotel room is suddenly invaded by a rugged, mysterious man (Thomas Coumans) on the run from the law. ‘It’s not good for you to follow me,’ says the man, as the dancer does just that, intrigued, possibly attracted, and definitely needy. Florizoone is a soft, appealing presence, whose emotional perspicacity makes this condensed ‘coming of age’ narrative a subtle little cracker with a quietly powerful ending.
Fantasy begets tragedy in the remaining two shorts, which could be described as the dark heart of the collection. Boys Village sets its lot in the decrepit ruins of a Welsh boys’ holiday camp, where the lonely, 11-year-old Kevin, wearing an old-fashioned sweater vest, spends his days, ragged dolls his only company. When a gang of local youths make the buildings their new haunt, Kevin finds himself drawn to the quietest, most sensitive of them. Till Kleinert’s short moves craftily between melancholy reflection and sharp menace, leaving questions about both boys lingering until the end.
But the real heartbreaker here is Teens Like Phil, which clearly and directly confronts the homophobic bullying in American schools and the struggle for teens – like Phil (Adam Donovan) – to accept themselves. With the opening sequence immediately establishing the short’s dark emotional angle, directors Dominic Haxton and David Rosler then rewind to contextualise the build-up to Phil’s most desperate of acts. His crush Adam (Jake Robbins), once a friend, is now an unfriended Facebook page, and Phil’s only gay role model is his deadbeat, drug-addled uncle who lies immobile in the park.
Haxton and Rosler meld high school drama with more lyrical, effervescent filmmaking, capturing nature in its illusory, wild self. Crackling quotes from Alan Watts’ recorded lectures on human sexuality play sparsely through the short, his observations a disembodied commentary on the disconnection between society and humanity. Direct and affecting, Teens Like Phil is the bold crown of a varied but vital new Boys on Film collection, once again showing Peccadillo’s prowess in distributing the freshest, most valuable voices in LGBT cinema.
Boys on Film X is available on DVD from Monday 25 November and can be pre-ordered via Amazon. Featured images courtesy Peccadillo Pictures. Stay tuned for our celebratory retrospective piece on the Boys on Film series next week!