July 29, 2008

Coming Out: in Belgium, Thailand and Japan

chance

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Ratings (out of 5):
The Curiosity Of Chance: **
Down the River: **½
Love My Life: ***


For gay and lesbian filmmakers (and, it would appear, their audiences), the hot topic remains "coming out" and/or learning to live with that decision. It's not difficult to understand why: unlike most minorities, those of us whose sexuality is focused on our own gender can hide this "difference" if we choose -- more easily than can those in the categories of race, religion and country of origin. Hiding seems a less-used option these days, but it's still there, and, clearly, still fascinates. (The "Salvatore" character -- played quite well by Bryan Batt -- on the current Emmy-nominated show Mad Men is but the most current case in point. Even though the series is set in 1960, Salvatore's dilemma seems oddly au courant.) Three movies making their DVD debut this month—two gay and one lesbian—offer up their individual "take" on this ever-popular situation. None succeeds completely but each has its merits.

river

Set and filmed in Belgium, at what is supposed to be an international high school, The Curiosity Of Chance posits a hero who's pretty much "out." He swishes, dresses in drag, and generally comports himself in a can't-miss-it manner, but is having some trouble coming to terms with what "out" means to and for him. That he is quite good-looking, as are a few others in the cast, is a bonus that will not be lost on the audience for whom the film is intended. But unless you are very young or have only recently encountered the coming-out genre, the situations shown here will seem awfully second-, if not third- or fourth-hand, and most of the would-be witticisms fall like stone doughnuts from the mouths of the cast. In Oscar Wilde territory we are not. Writer/director Russell P. Marleau clearly knows his way around a cliché and has no trouble leading us along that same path. In a very international cast, the actor most likely to be recognized is Chris Mulkey (whom I remember most fondly from The Hidden). There are moments throughout--few, I admit--that point to what might have been, and there's a lovely, long kiss at the climax. Otherwise, it's been-there/done-that squared.

What hath Thailand's foremost filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul wrought? He didn't direct it but his influence is all over Down the River, a small (just 52 minutes) but nicely-made student film directed by Anucha Boonyawatana. In it, two attractive boys on the brink of manhood wrestle with sexuality, longing and love, but in a manner much more readily apparent than what goes on in Weerasethakul's movies. The gorgeous Thai countryside--complete with water motifs, flora and fauna, and the tactile human body--is everywhere to be seen, as are temples and other local objet d'art. The psychology here may be obvious and a bit simple (one boy is fixated on the other, who hangs back, asking "Do you think I'm gay?" while wishing to high heaven he weren't) but the sense of yearning and hunger on display is so strong that it mows down most objections, including those of the "love object" himself. And the visuals are often stunning, filled with a quiet beauty and poetry that captivate and seduce. Since the film is so short, you might have time to take a look at the relatively interesting interview with director, writer and cast that also appears on the DVD.

lovelife

Japan joins the coming-out parade with a sweet, fast-moving—and mostly intelligent—romance titled Love My Life, in which a daughter brings her girlfriend home to meet Dad and discovers… hey, I won't tell. What sets this frisky and maybe too-happy little film above the others is its insistence on probing ideas about family, sexuality and the uses of the closet. The kids shown here—their parents and friends, too—want to think and talk and ponder the whys and wherefores of their life, gay or straight, which is a pleasant change from many gay and lesbian films. And because this is done with a light touch and some lovely visuals, the movie works more often than not. Unfortunately, the director Kôji Kawano has seen fit to give us WAY too much happy-running-and-jumping from his two lovely leading ladies, and there is an unconscionably long-winded and suspense-free ending that almost destroys much of the good will that has built up along the way. But not quite. What you're likely to remember about Love My Life are the positives in both its conception and execution.



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Posted by cphillips at July 29, 2008 12:20 PM
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