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    Hits and Misses at Frameline40

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    Daddy’s Boy

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    Girl’s Lost

    GaryKramerbyRyanBrandenbergIt’s that special time of year, The Frameline Film Festival! Featuring hundreds of LGBTQ features, documentaries and shorts, this year’s festival–the 40th!–offers a terrific program of independent and international voices showcasing queer lives and issues. Here are reviews of more than a dozen films screening at the fest.

    Akron, a modest low-budget indie set in the Midwest, has college students Benny (Matthew Frias) and Christopher (Edmund Donovan) falling in love. Akron is enjoyable during its first act when the guys get to know one another as they date, kiss, and have a chastely-filmed sleepover. However, writer/co-director Brian O’Donnell telegraphs the central conflict–a tragedy the boys shared from their childhood–that generates too much emotion for the characters and too little for viewers. While the performers are affable, and often better than their material, this well-meaning effort about love conquering all is ultimately too amateurish.

    A romantic melodrama, based on Deb Shoval’s 2010 short film of the same name, AWOL is a gritty little indie about Joey (Lola Kirke), who is looking to join the army, in part, to get money for college. But when she falls for the married-with-children Rayna (Breeda Wool), Joey’s priorities change. She only wants to be with Rayna, a “bad influence,” who talks about moving to Vermont where they will be able to live together and more freely. AWOL builds its romance from the young women sneaking around, trying to hide their affair in a small town. The drama stems from the push-pull relationship that develops between the two women as they struggle with issues of money and obligations until they make a risky decision that may alter their lives and fates forever (the title is a bit of a spoiler). Kirke gives a fantastic performance as Joey, capturing her emotional cadences as she grapples with pangs of the heart and the consequences of her actions. Moreover, AWOL portrays rural queer life in a sensitive way not usually seen on screen, which also makes it worthwhile despite some narrative contrivances.

    The hate crime rate for LGBTQ youth in Washington, D.C., is alarmingly high, so a gang called Check It was created to (literally) combat bullying. With 200+ members, this group has fought, rather than run, when faced with adversity. By standing up for themselves, they serve as role models for other queer youth of color. But as this inspiring documentary shows, there are still problems, ranging from violence and rape to prostitution and more as the young African American men and women try to survive, often on the streets. Check It chronicles several key members of the gang, including Trey, who is more comfortable as a woman than a man; Alton, who is trying to overcome a troubled childhood; and Skittles, a wiry, talented young man who could have success on the boxing circuit. In addition, Ron, a mentor to the gang, helps get Trey and Alton involved with a Fashion Camp that might help them find some direction. The episodes that comprise this film are engaging, but also frustrating, as when Skittles does not show up for a meeting with his trainer, Duke. What comes across is the resilience of these members who must fight for what they have. As filmmakers Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer show, they do it passionately and with style.

    Daniel Armando (What It Was) returns to Frameline with his ambitious Daddy’s Boy, a luminously shot black and white drama that depicts various father/son dramas. The film is episodic, even experimental, as vignettes depict a father talking to his son about a same-sex experience in his past; a gay photographer talking with his handsome models about how to pose; and Jorge (James Koroni), a dancer, performing in his studio. The most involving story, however, features two straight men, Max (Al Miro) and Manuel (Jonathan Iglesias), who meet and spend some time together in New York City before shooting a gay porn scene in a hotel room. Armando concentrates more on mood—the tactile feel of a body, or the masks that various characters wear–than plot. That may be enough for some viewers looking to sink into the dreamy landscape of the city and stylized bodies on display, but for others, it won’t be nearly enough.

    Alexandra-Therese Keining’s engaging drama Girls Lost is a curious gender-bender about three teenage girls, Kim (Tuva Jagell), Bella (Wilma Holmén), and Momo (Louise Nyvall), who are bullied in school. All this changes when the girls discover a magic female flower that transforms them overnight into boys. Kim (Emrik Öhlander) Bella (Vilgot Ostwald Vesterlund) and Momo (Alexander Gustavsson) soon enjoy male privilege, and the girls are emboldened by the physical changes they experience, however briefly. Girls Lost is intriguing as it focuses on the characters’ emotions as they grapple with same-sex or trans-sexual desire vs. physical gender. But while the points Keining makes about gender identity and sexuality are interesting—would Bella, who prefers being female, become male to be with the male Kim?—the film never sufficiently explores these ideas it raises. Moreover, Girls Lost closes with a scene that is meant to be open-ended, but it is really more of a cop out or a compromise.

    The ambitious Australian import, Holding the Man, based on Timothy Conigrave’s celebrated memoir, recounts the relationship between two classmates, Tim (Ryan Corr) and John (Craig Stott). The film toggles back and forth over 15 years starting in 1976, to chart the relationship’s key moments. Director Neil Armfield leaves some points for viewers to piece together, which dilutes the film’s dramatic tension, and Tim is rather selfish and unlikable in the first half, but Holding the Man does have some strong emotional moments. The best scene may be the subtlest: Tim dancing with his dad (Guy Pearce) at a wedding. The film makes points about pride and activism without hectoring about gay rights and homophobia during the early days of AIDS, which is both a benefit and a drawback. Corr and Stott are fine leads (though they don’t pass for teenagers), however, Anthony LaPaglia gives the best performance as John’s disapproving father.

    I Promise You Anarchy

    This promising, but ultimately disappointing, Mexican drama has Miguel (Diego Calva Hernández) sexually involved with Johnny (Eduardo Eliseo Martinez), the straight-ish son of his family’s housekeeper. The guys have a mostly aimless life, skateboarding through the streets, hanging out and procuring blood donors for gangsters, which is how Miguel earns money. With Johnny’s help, Miguel rounds up 50 folks to be “milked,” but then a situation develops that changes things. I Promise You Anarchy makes Miguel’s personal and professional situations interesting enough, but the film is too slightly plotted and its tone is too casual to deliver enough drama for viewers to become suitably invested in Miguel’s and Johnny’s fates and their relationship. Hernández has a charismatic screen presence, but Martinez’s Johnny is underdeveloped, even though he does get to skateboard naked.

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    Women Who Kill

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    I Promise You Anarchy

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    Holding the Man

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    Retake

    Ovarian Psycos is the name of a feminist, women of color and women-identified collective. This warm documentary about rebellious spirits profiles several members of this bicycle brigade in East L.A. that have been victims of abuse and/or empowered by their commitment to their community. The film shows the backlash and difficulties the Ovarian Psycos experience as well as their family-like bond. However, this documentary is best at illustrating the power these women feel when they have control in their lives, families, and society, rather than being victims of sexual and/or physical violence and discrimination.

    In Retake Jonathan (Tuc Watkins) hires prostitutes to relive his experiences and recreate his memories with Brandon, his boyfriend of three years. When Evan (Devon Graye) agrees to “be Brandon” to go on a road trip to the Grand Canyon with Jonathan, the role playing involves dressing like Jonathan’s lover, and doing whatever Jonathan says. The dynamic between the men is forced at first, but it shifts periodically when Evan as Brandon tries to get Jonathan to let go, taking time to watch a sunset, or coping with the fact that a wine Jonathan favors is not available at a recreated dinner. Retake is a bit contrived in its plotting as Evan will undoubtedly help Jonathan cope with the loss from his past, but the actors have chemistry when they play a truth game poolside, or dance together in a bar. Watkins is appropriately stiff as the heartbroken Jonathan, but the pain in his every expression is palpable and heartbreaking. Graye is looser as Evan, which keeps the film from being a total bummer. Retake is poignant an affecting, and while this two hander takes a not unexpected trip, the ending is highly satisfying and earned.

    Southwest of Salem is a heart-wrenching documentary that recounts the agonizing story of four lesbian women, Anna, Cassie, Liz and Kristie, who were wrongly convicted of sexually abusing two young girls in 1994. Maintaining their innocence, the San Antonio Four, as they are known, were falsely accused of Satanic sexual abuse even though there were inconsistencies and errors made in court testimony. Homophobia, by the police, in their trial, and in the town and media, played a strong factor in why the women were sentenced for 15–37½ years. Their story is clearly recounted here, using interviews with the women in prison to explain how the truth was ignored until the Innocence Project of Texas took on their case and fought for the Four’s exoneration. It’s best for the facts that come to light to be revealed to viewers in the film, but Southwest of Salem is sure to outrage viewers as it raises questions about the kind of crimes it depicts.

    Summertime, is a beautiful and moving lesbian romantic drama about living one’s truth in a rural environment. In 1971, Delphine (Izïa Higelin) works on her family farm near Limoges. When she moves to Paris, and becomes involved in a woman’s group. Delphine not only becomes empowered by this, but she also becomes smitten with Carole (Cécile De France). Before long, the women embark on a passionate affair. When a family matter forces Delphine to return to the farm, Carole soon follows. On the surface, Summertime may follow the standard coming out tale trajectory, but this lovely period film is much deeper.

    More deadpan than screwball, Women Who Kill is a comedy thriller about two exes, Morgan (writer/director Ingrid Jungermann) and Jean (Ann Carr), who run a podcast on female serial killers. What starts out in a quirky, amiable low key mode shifts gears when it introduces Simone (Sheila Vand), a mysterious beauty who becomes Morgan’s new girlfriend. While themes of jealousy play out in not unpredictable ways, and there are a few chuckles and wry observations about friendship and relationships along the way, Women Who Kill never generates enough dramatic tension to sustain its central question: Is Simone a murderer? Alas, this means the film boxes itself into a corner from which it never escapes. While the red herrings are more pinkish, and the performances are affable, Women Who Kill is ultimately too mild to be truly thrilling.

    You’ll Never Be Alone is an intense Chilean drama. Pablo (Andrew Bargsted) is a young gay teen who lives with his accepting father Juan (Sergio Hernández). Juan may not be aware that Pablo likes to dress up in women’s clothing, or that he is having sex with Félix (Jaime Leiva), their neighbor. When Pablo is beaten up by Martin (Benjamin Westfall) and two others and left for dead, Juan must grapple with his son’s condition. However, Juan is stymied at every turn, which prompts him to take some drastic actions. You’ll Never Be Alone is a powerful film told in an intimate style that magnifies the emotions. Both Bargsted and Hernández’s expressions reveal what their characters are thinking at every moment, and it is impossible not to be moved by their moments of happiness, frustration, and pain. This may be a tough film, but it is rewarding nonetheless.

    For showtimes and tickets, visit: https://ticketing.frameline.https://ticketing.frameline.org/festival/index.aspxorg/festival/index.aspx © 2016 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