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    Four Queer Films Opening in the Bay Area This Month

    By Gary Kramer–

    No less than four queer-themed films open in Bay Area theaters over the next two weeks. Here is a rundown of what to watch.

    Ondi Timoner’s ambitious but uneven biopic Mapplethorpe (opening March 8) opens in 1969 with Mapplethorpe (Matt Smith) meeting Patti Smith (Marianne Rendón) and moving in together. While they struggle as artists and share a comfortable domesticity, Robert eventually starts to explore his sexuality with men. He also starts taking photographs.

    It isn’t until Sam Wagstaff (out gay actor John Benjamin Hickey) turns up to praise Mapplethorpe’s work and to help him sell his dirty pictures that the film hits its stride. However, like Sam and Robert’s relationship, this bliss is short-lived. Instead, Mapplethorpe continues to hit the expected beats of the photographer’s life, having about as much depth as a Wikipedia entry.

    When the film depicts Mapplethorpe’s relationship with Milton Moore (McKiney Belcher III), an African American model he discovers on the street, Timoner uses broad strokes to have Milton argue about Robert’s bad behavior rather than to portray the actions and let viewers determine what to think and feel. Smith at times resembles Mapplethorpe, especially in his later years when he is suffering with AIDS, but the actor seems mostly to be going through the motions in the role. Mapplethorpe presents too much of its subject in black and white, when a shade or two of gray would have been much better.

    Giant Little Ones (March 7 at AMC Kabuki 8) is out gay Canadian writer/director Keith Behrman’s over-stuffed drama about queer teen sexuality. The film introduces Franky (Josh Wiggins) and Ballas (Darren Mann), two handsome 16-year-old bros who have been best friends forever. They, like most teenagers, have sex on the brain. When Franky celebrates his 17th birthday with a party at his house, the night ends with sex—he and Ballas end up in bed together.

    Behrman deliberately keeps what happens between the guys ambiguous, revealing the ramifications of the event before the truth comes out, which is noble. However, while Giant Little Ones wants to explore gay, straight and fluid teen sexuality, the film merely raises the points without much depth. Behrman certainly tackles important issues, but he does it in a clumsy manner that dilutes the impact of his messaging.

    Out gay filmmaker Christophe Honoré’s Sorry Angel (opening March 15) is an affecting drama, set in 1993 France that alternates between Jacques (Pierre Deladonchamps), an HIV+ writer in Paris, and Arthur (Vincent Lacoste), a Breton. There is an imbalance between them: Jacques is 35 and cynical, while Arthur is 22 and sentimental—so, of course, they belong together.

    As the protagonists slowly give in to their longing, viewers become invested in the guys coupling up together. Honoré’s elliptical narrative approach keeps the men apart for much of the film, detailing their lives and other relationships. However, Sorry Angel captures a feeling of romance and intimacy that is so strong, viewers may also experience the flush that comes from unexpected love. A letter Jacques writes to Arthur fills the screen with text at one point, and includes the phrase, “Paris kisses on your salted butter skin.” It’s enough to melt the hardest of hearts. This melancholic romance is often swoon-inducing. Therein lies the magic of Honoré’s film.

    The Gospel of Eureka (opening March 15) is out gay filmmakers Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher’s revealing documentary—expanded from their 2016 short, Peace in the Valley—about Eureka Springs, Arkansas, population 2073. In this town, which is home to the largest statue of Jesus Christ in the U.S., the Great Passion Play, a dramatic reenactment of Christ’s last days, is performed regularly. But this town is also home to Live Underground—dubbed “a hillbilly Studio 54”—a popular bar where drag queens lip sync gospel songs.

    The film cross-cuts between performances in each venue to show that, while the Christians and the gays may be very different, they really are more alike than they think. The Gospel of Eureka, which is narrated by Mx. Justin Vivian Bond, also presents the town’s battle over a local ordinance that would grant bathroom rights and other LGBT protections.

    The filmmakers introduce interesting folks, from Lee Keating and Walter Burrell, a gay Christian couple who own the Live Underground; to Jayme Brandt, a straight Christian shop owner whose father is gay; to Randall Christy, the CEO of the Great Passion Play; as well as various drag queens, a transwoman and even the actor who plays Jesus. Their stories show how the interviewees reconcile faith and sexuality (or don’t), and this provides the value of the film. The lessons of (in)tolerance illustrate the humanity of these people, and how they try to live side-by-side. The film includes several lyrical and powerful moments that indicate just how fragile that balance can be.

    © 2019 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer