Taking on the challenges that come with being true to oneself will ultimately provide only one reward – that of knowing exactly who you are. Part Seven examines the emotional maze we find ourselves in whether we’re navigating relationships or finding a way through the hazards of life while steadfastly keeping one’s identity in tact.
Before Night Falls (2000)
Julian Schnabel really hits the core of raw emotion, suffering we are somehow blessed to endure. Before Night Falls is no different, with it’s heavy subject matter and story-telling tone – not to mention some semi-surreal casting inclusions. Based on the autobiography of Reinaldo Arenas, the sublime, heart-breaking Javier Bardem (rightly Oscar nominated) plays the openly gay Cuban poet with a hefty scoop of melancholy and mishap. Reinaldo is not afraid to explore his identity, even when he is arrested on numerous occasions for ludicrous charges. Bardem affords the gay man a ruthless, sympathetic energy, rallying the human soul through a seemingly relentless chain of persecution and wrongful treatment. It’s a remarkable film experience, for all its bleakness there is an abstract under-current of optimism – but not much.
Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
It’s dark in the closet in Oliver Hermanus’ Beauty, a South African shocker driven by genuine sense and sympathy, thereby only intensifying the impact of its explicitness in two crucial scenes. Hermanus doesn’t waste this more graphic material with gratuity, however – the film’s general restraint and incisive emotional portrait are forged only with the assistance of these moments, respectively disarming and distressing. The film as a whole thus forms a potent warning against self-denial and self-deception, and more subtly against social conditioning. South Africa is a country that has too long lived with division, and Beauty is a powerful recalibration of the global audience’s typical appreciation of the position on which said division’s lines are usually situated. Deon Lotz has a most difficult task in realizing this most indistinct, unlikeable character, a task which he accomplishes with an astounding display of sensitivity, communicating each layer of desire and disguise as experienced by his character, as observed by his fellow characters, and as observed by us.
Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)
Here we have a film that came out in 1971 and depicted a homosexual man in a relationship with much younger bisexual man who was also in a relationship with a woman. The older man is a Jewish, settled, rich and a doctor. Distant from his family yet very much a part having hidden his sexuality considering the strict religious nature. The woman in her 30’s have had a failed marriage, is growing wary of her career and her childhood follows her everywhere. The young man is an accommodation, both aware of the fact that this relationship won’t last, also of each other’s existence in his life. Roger Ebert called it a civilised film about civilised people and it is. Love doesn’t exist for them, they have settled for a little bit of it, however short and whatever quantity. Psychologically astute, emotionally focused relationship drama where the characters are real. They are all around us living their life however they can. Wonderfully written and directed as well as featuring two great performances, Schlesinger may have won Oscars for his earlier effort but this is his real gem.
Asif Khan @KHAN2705
The Kids Are All Right (2010)
One of the rare films to make the Best Picture list with the Academy Awards that is directed by a woman (Lisa Cholodenko), The Kids Are All Right is primarily a female-driven story. Co-written with Stuart Blumberg, Cholodenko’s screenplay plays the opposite-gender-affair card, only this time threatening to shatter the family dynamic as well as that of a once devoted marriage. The central couple are Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), the latter becomes embroiled in a physical foray with their children’s sperm donor father Paul (Mark Ruffalo). The film’s big emotional pull, as upsetting as it is, comes through Bening’s incredible performance, usually so confident and tough, Nic almost falls to pieces when she finds out of the infidelity.
Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
The Living End (1992)
“Fuck everything” was the theme of bisexual director’s Greg Araki’s third feature in which two handsome, HIV positive guys take on a world that seems bent against them. Its healthy nihilism was no doubt in response to the peak of the AIDS crisis as the two protagonists head down the same road as Bonnie and Clyde or Thelma and Louise. Its punky soundtrack and amateurish performances rankled critics at the time, but the film bravely touches a nerve – when you’re doomed and the rest of the world doesn’t seem to give a shit, go for it with gusto, including with guns and unprotected sex. Despite the dark premise, the film has many humorous moments, including a hysterical scene with two lesbians the boys pick up while on the road. Araki has since made a name for himself, defining his unique style of storytelling where he approaches life’s lessons from angles we don’t see from any other filmmaker.
Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)
At the time, my first experience with this extraordinary filmmaker, the subtle to explicit details in text, subtext, visuals and design were both baffling and distancing. As usual with Fassbinder, the characters in this film express and inhabit the worst qualities and illusions that would one day will be their downfall. There is melodrama but far from anything you may have seen. The setting is a single room, lavishly furnished, not very big, filled with mannequins. It is populated by the titular woman, a famous fashion designer and her assistant Marlene. Marlene tends to her every need and is kept and treated like a slave, someone beneath her ‘master’. Petra have had two previous marriages to men but both ended tragically. Her new object of desire and extreme obsession is Karin, a beautiful married woman. The setting and framing in this feature microscopically examine and focus on Petra and others by her association. Her sadistic nature and extreme dependency doubled by her obsession, desire and lust slowly and readily bring her back to ground and it isn’t pretty. Beautifully shot and designed the film is quite theatrical. Actress Margit Carstensen gives a marvellous performance.
Asif Khan @KHAN2705
In the midst of the multi-layered narrative, Transamerica also dons a multi-layered performance from Felicity Huffman as transgender woman Sabrina ‘Bree’ Osbourne. Just days before her clinching sex change procedure, Bree is forced to assist a teenage boy claiming to be the (unknown) son of her former male persona. Toby (Kevin Zegers), looking for his father, instead gets to hit the road with Bree (who sure takes her time telling the boy she is his father) which soon enough heaps on the troubles. Transamerica certainly does a fine job handling the treatment and coping mechanisms of the transgender identity, incorporating a mix of solid drama and subtle comedy without making a mockery nor a huge deal of Bree’s new twist on her personal journey of self-discovery.
Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Law of Desire (1987)
Only Pedro Almodovar could have come up with this premise: A porn director (Eusebio Poncela) entices a virginal young man (Almodovar one-time muse, Antonio Banderas) for sex at the release party for his film, only to later discover his sport-like intentions have been misinterpreted as something more serious, leading to obsession and a crime of passion. Almodovar is neither shy about colour – he loads his images with a playful palette to keep his mood light – nor characters. The film is loaded with eccentrics such as the trans woman (played by the hetero Carmen Maura) everyone thinks is a lesbian because she hates men and a hetero character played by a trans singer/actor. Almodovar never takes the predictable route as his romp of sexual intrigue and revenge twists and turns like a rollercoaster, always surprising and always amusing, right down to the final showdown. Antonio Banderas did his best work for Almodovar and this performance is probably his peak.
Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag
Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Boys Don’t Cry hasn’t aged a day since its 1999 release, partly because the 1993 events it depicts are still all too relevant, partly because its edgy, low-lit, prairie-flavored realism offers a harrowing, still-rarely-seen glimpse of what too many Americans think of as “flyover country.” As much as any two-hour fictionalized film can, Boys Don’t Cry atomizes the process by which rural, anti-gay bullying spirals into something worse, and even worse. Perhaps no film should ever have a rape scene; perhaps the filmmaker, portraying a true story of savage rape, should insert a title card that says “rape happened” and move on to the consequences. But if any film’s rape scene is justified, that film is Boys Don’t Cry. Director Kimberly Peirce wisely waits for 90 film minutes, saving her abstract effects for the moment that Brandon Teena/Teena Brandon is raped and finds him/herself desperately clinging to a memory, to another image, to any thought that can take Brandon out of his/her catastrophic reality. And unlike far too many films, the rape is not the least romanticized or titillating; for once, it’s 100% clear that the rape is about power, not sexual desire. (The rapists high-five as they take turns.) Peter Sarsgaard, then a young, unknown actor, brilliantly deploys a John Malkovich-like vibrato and sinister, recognizable pathos that comes to stand for every homophobic asshole who turns an LGBT person’s search for identity into his own identity crisis. But it’s Chloe Sevigny and Hilary Swank who own the show here. I have seen this movie twenty times (I’ve shown it to my college classes many times), and despite the film’s title, I still choke up every time Brandon, behind bars, half-stammeringly “comes out” to Lana and Lana says “I don’t care if you’re half-monkey or half-ape, we’re getting you out of there.” The love and forgiveness in her voice is so real, so tender, so of a piece with everything Sevigny has shown us about who Lana is and wants to be. Still, the astonishing Hilary Swank is the straw that stirs this drink. Swank has to convince on so many levels: she has to convince us she’s a rural girl who wants to be male without really knowing what that means, she has to convince the other main characters that she’s male, and Brandon has to convince Lana that their love is real and good enough to uproot their lives for. At $2 million, Boys Don’t Cry may be the lowest-budget film (in adjusted dollars) to catapult a woman to a Best Actress Oscar, but when you watch it, you realize the Academy had about as much choice as when it gave the same award to Sophie’s Choice. Hard-to-watch doesn’t get more essential than this.
Daniel Smith-Rowsey @smithrowsey
The Birdcage (1996)
For starters, this film seems timely, even though it came out 20 years ago. It’s about Armand, a gay nightclub owner (played by Robin Williams), who’s straight son is getting married, and her conservative parents are coming over to meet them. His son, afraid of what her parents would think if they knew his father was gay, confronts his dad about toning down his gayness, and pretending to be straight. Armand’s response is the sentiment that I think a lot of gay men and women feel at some points in their lives. “Yes, I wear foundation. Yes, I live with a man. Yes, I’m a middle- aged fag. But I know who I am, Val. It took me twenty years to get here, and I’m not gonna let some idiot senator destroy that. Fuck the senator, I don’t give a damn what he thinks.” It’s as true today as it’s ever been. I think if more homophobic people saw this film, they might have a change of heart and appreciate what gay people go through on a day to day basis. In the end, everything works out, and it has a happy ending. It’s both a comedy and a drama, and every bit an important film to see.
Al Robinson @Al_Rob_1982