Recent Comments

    LGBT Highlights at the San Francisco International Film Festival

    Gary The 58th San Francisco International Film Festival unspools at area screens April 23–May 7. The festival includes several films by American and international LGBT filmmakers.

    San Francisco-based Jenni Olsen’s The Royal Road is one of the highlights of the festival. An affecting cinematic journey, Olsen’s eloquent documentary consists of gorgeous still shots of empty streets, bridges, and buildings—many of which have an Edward Hopper-esque quality—and her poignant voice-over observations. She chronicles the history of the El Camino Real, while waxing poetically about the “pure industrial beauty” of the Oakland port. She traces Spain’s colonization of California and provides a brief, but cogent, history lesson about manifest destiny, the territorial expansion of the U.S., and the Mexican-American war. And Olsen discusses nostalgia and love and loss, as well as her flirtations with potential girlfriends (that never quite seem to work out).

    Jenni_Olson_The_Royal_Road_Image3The Royal Road is also a nuanced essay/memory piece about movies. Olsen describes the impact films such as Sunset Boulevard, The Children’s Hour, Vertigo, and Roman Holiday have had on her outlook on life. She explains how films provided an escape for her growing up as a tomboy in the Midwest, and how the catharsis of narrative continues to inform her life in San Francisco, where “self-discovery is a civic value.” The Royal Road is very much a trip worth taking.

    Another fabulous film is Dólares de arena (Sand Dollars). Set in the Dominican Republic, this romantic drama depicts the relationship between Anne (Geraldine Chaplin), an elderly French woman who is in love with Noeli (Yanet Mojica). Their relationship consists of playful moments of the lovers swimming, dancing, or lying together in bed pressing the soles of their feet together affectionately. The way Anne looks at Noeli conveys her tenderness towards the much younger native woman, and Chaplin is particularly expressive with her eyes and smile. But Noeli asks Anne frequently for money, which she sometimes explains is for her brother, Yeremi (Ricard Ariel Toribio). Yet viewers know Yeremi is not Noeli’s relation, but is actually her boyfriend.

    Dólares de arena becomes a love triangle, with Noeli at the apex, and things come to a head when Anne makes a decision to return to France with or without her beloved Noeli. Filmmakers Israel Cardneas and Laura Amelia Guzman have crafted a sensitive film about the love and money, and the film’s authenticity is one of its many strengths. The San Francisco International Film Festival is also presenting the Director’s Cut of Mark Christopher’s 54. This 1998 feature was heavily reshot and edited because of studio pressure before its unspectacular original theatrical release. Christopher’s version, which includes 35 restored minutes, proves the movie’s line “excess leads to wisdom,” as more is indeed more, and better.

    Studio 54 is only the setting of the film, not its subject. The venue provides nineteen-year-old Shane O’Shea (Ryan Phillippe) a crucible for coming of age and the getting of wisdom, albeit through the aforementioned excess. A not-too-bright pretty boy from Jersey City, his looks—he has what one character describes as the body of David and the face of a Botticelli—appeal to owner Steve Rubell (Mike Meyers) who hires him. As he gets caught up in the club’s sex, drugs, and disco, Shane makes friends with married colleagues Anita (Salma Hayek) and Greg (Breckin Meyer), and falls in love with soap actress Julie (Neve Campbell).

    Shane may be portrayed as green and a sex object—and Christopher does fetishize Phillippe frequently shirtless and occasionally naked—but Shane’s naïveté is charming. In one of his early leading roles, the actor delivers a fabulous performance. Mike Meyers also gives a notable turn as Rubell, and his come-on to Greg is fabulously awkward-creepy. 54 deservers another look, and thankfully, the festival is giving fans of the film and the just plain curious an opportunity to see this underappreciated period piece.

    Sworn_Virgin_01Other LGBT films at the festival (not available for preview) include out director François Ozon’s latest, The New Girlfriend, about a widower (Romain Duris) who dresses in his wife’s clothes to help care for his child, and Sworn Virgin, a drama about an Albanian woman (Alba Rohrwacher, the lesbian daughter from I Am Love) who poses as a man to obtain the rights denied to her gender. A transgender character also appears in Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere, an abortion-themed drama from Vietnam.

    Lastly, The Lexington, a short film about the famous lesbian bar, will be part of Boomtown: Remaking San Francisco, a program and panel discussion that is part of the festival.

    Happy movie going.

    © 2015 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