I've seen three short film packages this year: Sex Drives and Videotape, a selection of edgy gay shorts exploring fetishes and the dark side of sexual desire; another collection of gay shorts, Short & Burly, and the lesbian shorts selection, Short & Girly. As always, an ecclectic range of films, none of them bad (in my opinion) but only a couple that were truly memorable.
Highlights included the wry American animation Numerology (dir. Paula Durette) which playfully mocked lesbian relationships through the mystic art of numerology; another animation, from Canada, The Island (dir. Trevor Anderson), inspired by a hateful email; and two films about sex and violence, the confronting Weak Species (dir. Dan Faltz, USA, 2009), and the meditative and murderous Heiko (dir. David Bonneville, Portugal, 2007).
My favourite short film though, was Second Guessing Grandma (dir. Bob Giraldi, USA, 2008), an emotionally engaging and surprisingly touching story about coming out to an elderly relative.
THE FISH CHILD
(Dir. Lucia Puenzo, France/Spain, 2008)
Set in Argentina and Paraguay, this new film from the director of lauded intersex drama XXY (which screened as the closing night film at the MQFF in 2008) was a heady mix of crime drama, lesbian love story, class structure critique and magic realism. From a fractured, multi-linear beginning featuring flashbacks a-plenty, the film gradually coallesces into a love story between the privileged young Lala (Inés Efron, who also played the lead in XXY) and Ailin (singer Mariela Vitale Emme in her screen debut). When Lala's father, a judge, is murdered, she flees to Ailin's village in Paraguay, while Ailin herself is arrested. Returning to take the rap and set her lover free, Lala is drawn into a web of corruption and exploitation, with devestating results.
The Fish Child is not as solid a film as Puenzo's remarkable debut feature, lacking the emotional impact of XXY, but it is still beautifully crafted and exquisitely shot, with excellent performances from all the cast. The storyline, with its turbulent mix of robbery, murder, incest and more, strains belief, so that one never quite believes the relationship which holds the story together. It was, nonetheless, an intellectually engaging cinematic experience.
Rating: Three stars
Next up was another feature, one I'd already seen but which I was keen to see again, and I wasn't disappointed. It held up extremely well the second time around, proving just as emotionally engaging as I remembered it - but rather than write a brand new review, here's what I said about it last year, when I reviewed the film for Arts Hub.
THE MAN WHO LOVED YNGVE
(Dir.Stian Kristiansen, Sweden, 2008)
This excellent Norwegian drama, directed by Stian Kristiansen and based on the acclaimed young adult novel by Tore Renberg, proves that there is life yet in that relatively tired queer film genre, the ‘coming out’ story.
Set in 1989, and opening with a direct-to-camera monologue that quickly establishes the light and engaging tone of the film, The Man Who Loved Yngve centres on Jarle Klepp (Rolf Kristian Larsen), a bored teenager living in Norway’s oil capital, Stavanger, who finds a new friend in fellow punk rock fan Helge (Arthur Berning). The pair form a band with a third friend, Andreas (Knut Sverdrup Kleppestø); and Jarle soon finds himself with a new girlfriend, the frank and fascinating Cathrine (Ida Elise Broch), as well as an important upcoming gig. But the arrival of a new student, Yngve (Ole Christoffer Ertvåg) disrupts Jarle’s life and forces him to reconsider everything he knows – or thinks he knows – about himself and his world.
Over its 90 minute running time, the film captures the highs and lows, the turmoil and the intensity of Jarle’s world, from his awkward and sometimes angry discussions with his separated parents, to his rapid infatuation with Yngve and all he represents.
Featuring charming performances from some of Norway’s best young actors, and incisive direction from newcomer Stian Kristiansen (who was still studying at Sweden’s National Film School in Lillehammer at the time he was appointed to helm the production) The Man Who Loved Yngve avoids clichés and sentimentality while telling a fresh and authentic story about adolescent life. Characters are appropriately inarticulate, avoiding the faux-adult teenage dialogue depicted in such staples of US drama as Dawson’s Creek, The OC and more recent productions such as Gossip Girl; and the pangs and pains of adult life are fleetingly though accurately portrayed.
Important alternative bands of the era – Joy Division, The Cure, The Jesus and Mary Chain – pepper the soundtrack, further establishing the period in which the film is set but also providing insights into the characters’ emotions, such as a scene in which a pensive Jarle lies on his bed as The Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)’ plays in the background.
The contrast between Jarle (an endearingly goofy, outgoing redhead who listens to bands like The Clash and Einstürzende Neubauten) and Yngve (a shy, blonde, tennis-playing fan of synth-pop and New Wave bands like Japan) couldn’t be more pronounced, but as the film unfolds the undeniable attraction between the two youths plays out with all-too-believable consequences. Especially welcome was the film’s refusal to resort to cliché, and the filmmakers’ decision not to pigeonhole Jarle’s sexuality: too many coming out films focus purely on gay life and gay desire, whereas films acknowledging bisexual identity are rare.
Having won the Best Feature award at the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in October 2009, as well as two Amanda Awards (Best Children’s or Youth Film, and Best Direction) at the 2009 Norwegian International Film Festival earlier in the year, The Man Who Loved Yngve marks Stian Kristiansen as a major talent to watch.Rating: Four and a half stars