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    Frameline 2015 Must-See Films By Gary M. Kramer

    firstframecGaryFrameline, San Francisco’s annual LGBT Film Festival screens at area theaters June 18–28. There are dozens of features, shorts, documentaries and revivals playing. Here is a rundown of what to watch.

    San Francisco writer/director Joseph Graham (Strapped) has created a striking mood piece with his sophomore feature, Beautiful Something. Set in Philadelphia, the film follows a handful of characters over the course of a single day. Brian (Brian Sheppard) is a writer who falls in love with just about every guy he meets. Meanwhile, Jim (Zack Ryan) is making an important decision about his relationship with Drew (Colman Domingo), a famous artist, while Bob (John Lescault), is cruising around town in his limo, looking for someone to love, if only for a little while. Beautiful Something eschews plot and dramatic crescendos to focus on the intimate and intense moments shared by the gay men who reveal their insecurities as well as their chiseled chests to one another. Graham’s strength as a writer/director is to give his actors room in each scene to breathe and develop; Sheppard delivers an outstanding performance. Unfortunately, Ryan is weak in the pivotal role of Jim, since the gravitas of his angst is never palpable.

    firstframeaThis year’s Frameline Award will be presented to Jeffrey Schwartz, the director of the documentary, Tab Hunter Confidential. An affectionate hagiography (co-produced by Hunter’s off-screen partner Allan Glaser), the film chronicles the life and career of the “6 feet of rugged manhood” that is Hunter. Schwartz shows, through nimbly edited photos and interviews, how this dreamy all-American boy became a screen and recording sensation. His good looks gave him opportunities to develop as an actor, and get under contract at Warner Brothers. His carefully managed career involved studio dates with Natalie Wood and others. Yet while Hunter played along, he tried to keep his relationships with figure skater Ronnie Robertson and actor Anthony Perkins on the q.t. Tab Hunter Confidential does not dish much dirt, or provide any new insights into how gay men fared in the Fifties, but Hunter is extremely likeable in his interviews, and the film’s nostalgia factor compensates for its more superficial moments.

    A modest, incisive gem, Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party, is the latest film from writer/director Stephen Cone, whose film The Wise Kids was a must-see at Frameline in 2011. This film takes place during the title character’s (Cole Doman, in a sly, winning performance) 17th birthday. Twenty characters come together to celebrate, and dramatic tension is generated as the characters reveal secrets and lies, both large and small over the course of the day. Cone’s film unfolds in an organic, not didactic manner, with characters being entirely defined by just snippets of dialogue, or even an unspoken moment between them. This narrative strategy provides many subtle, heartbreaking moments. When one boy looks with desire at his straight, best friend, he is also unaware of the boy looking with desire at him. Cone’s film, like The Wise Kids, addresses issues of faith and sexuality—Henry is, after all, the son of a Preacher—but it never feels heavy-handed.

    Eisenstein in Guanajuato is Peter Greenaway’s visually breathtaking and extravagantly sexy film about the famous gay Russian director (Elmer Bäck, fantastic) in 1931 Mexico. His guide is Palomino Cañedo (Luis Alberti, irresistible), who initiates him to gay sex. Greenaway shoots the film, which includes many dazzling bedroom scenes (and considerable nudity), in his eye-popping style. He artfully plays with shadows and projected images, split screens, camera pans, and distorted lenses, photographs, and film clips. The film is impressive, especially for bringing Eisenstein’s emotional catharsis—in the heat of professional crisis—to life.

    Luis Alberti plays a very different (but no less seductive) role in Carmín Tropical, a Mexican mystery written and directed by Rigoberto Pérezcano. Mabel (Jóse Pecina) is a muxe (transwoman) who returns to her hometown after learning that her friend (and fellow muxe) Daniela has been murdered. Mabel regrets having never said a proper “goodbye” to Daniela when she left town, and takes it upon herself to investigate her friend’s death. With the aid of Modesto (Alberti), a taxi driver she befriends—he is smitten with her—Mabel visits the nightclub where Daniela performed, and the prison where a suspect is being held. What makes Carmín Tropical so compelling are the performances by the two leads and that Pérezcano keeps the story percolating even after he reveals who the killer is.

    Out filmmaker Jamie Babbit’s Fresno is a comedy, albeit a dark one, about Shannon (Judy Greer), a registered sex offender who takes a job cleaning hotel rooms in the titular city with her “employee of the month” sister, Martha (Natasha Lyonne). When Shannon accidentally kills a guest, Martha helps cover it up. Comedy ensues along with a series of very bad decisions. If there are cheap, obvious laughs from selling dildos to a lesbian softball team, or an outrageous Bar Mitzvah rap, Fresno excels at giving Greer some hilarious lines for her crackerjack deadpan delivery.

    The Summer of Sangaile is a visually stunning Lithuanian drama depicting the coming of age of the vivacious Auste (Aiste Dirziute) and the shy, self-harming 17-year-old Sangaile (Julija Steponaityte) who meet at a local air show. The young girls quickly develop an intense friendship, which begins with Sangaile modeling dresses Auste designs then posing for photographs she takes, and turns into an erotic romance. Writer/director Alante Kavaite creates some gorgeous ethereal moments of the young women in water, on the beach, in the fields, and, in one mesmerizing sequence, of Sangaile trying to conquer her vertigo. Gorgeously filmed and well-acted, The Summer of Sangaile is a beguiling romance.


    Those People, is an absorbing American indie about Charlie (the adorable Jonathan Gordon), a gay, Jewish artist whose queer best friend, Sebastian (Jason Ralph) is wracked with feelings of inadequacy after his businessman father is imprisoned for financial crimes. Charlie’s codependent relationship with Sebastian is tested, however, when he meets Tim (Haaz Sleiman, all confidence and sexiness), a Lebanese pianist. The sexy romantic spark between Tim and Charlie forms the soft, gooey center of Those People, and viewers will be seduced by the flirtations and physical affections between these two characters. Writer/director Joey Kuhn handles the dramatic love triangle—the diffident Charlie is afraid to fully commit to Tim because he has unresolved feelings for Sebastian—with less finesse, but his film nicely captures the shifting dynamics between the characters as Charlie comes of age.

    How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) is Josh Kim’s sensitive Thai film (adapted from two short stories) about 11-year-old Oat (Ingkarat Damrongsakkul), who fears losing his older gay brother Ek (Thira Chutikul) to the army at the annual draft. Ek’s wealthy lover Jai (Arthur Navarat) bribes his way out of service, and some of the film’s drama hangs in how their relationship will continue if Ek is drafted. While too much of How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) focuses on the brothers’ relationship and not enough on the queer couple’s, the film also features a storyline about the transgender Kitty (Natarat Lakha). Curiously, late in the closing credits, a transgender woman describes being drafted and serving in the military. Her story would have made for a more interesting film.


    While You Weren’t Looking is an ambitious South African feature that packs too many issues into its 72 minutes. Wealthy housewife Terri (Camilla Lilly Waldman, in an affecting performance) feels distanced from her wife Dez (Sandi Schultz) after she discovers a sexy dress meant for someone else. Meanwhile, their adopted daughter Asanda (Petronella Tshuma) is turning 18 and pulling away from them. Asanda unexpectedly becomes attracted to Shado (Thishiwe Ziqubu), a streetwise “tommy boy” (butch female) from the Khayelitsha township.

    While You Weren’t Looking makes valid and important points about gender identity and homo/transphobia, as well as keen observations on differences of race, class, and sexuality, but they are often applied with a trowel. A series of scenes set in Asanda’s queer theory class are particularly didactic. The film’s messages are worthwhile; they just could have been more subtly delivered.

    The Chilean film In the Grayscale has Bruno (Francisco Celhay) meeting Fer (Emilio Edwards), a man who insists that being gay is black or white: one is or one isn’t. Bruno of course, is struggling with the same-sex desires he has been repressing. He is in the grayscale. The film somberly chronicles Bruno’s mid-life coming of age by having him slowly couple up with Fer, only to have their relationship discovered. In one of the film’s most beautiful scenes, Bruno’s grandfather (Sergío Hernandez), reassures him that he loves Bruno no matter whom he loves. Celhay gives a beautifully modulated performance here, making Bruno’s despair palpable. Edwards and Celhay generate some real heat in their sex scenes.


    Mariposa (Butterfly) is gay filmmaker Marco Berger’s elegant, slow-burning drama that depicts two variations on romantic love. In one episode, Germán (Javier De Pietro) falls for Romina (Ailín Salas), who was found by the side of a road and raised as his sister. In the other, Germán meets Romina by accident and befriends her, hoping to woo her. Berger toggles back and forth between the would-be pairs of lovers as well as their friends and boyfriends, including Bruno (Julian Infantino), who figures prominently in a gay subplot. Mariposa’s emphasis on heterosexual couples might disappoint Berger’s core gay fanbase, but he still includes his trademark sexual tension and satisfying episodes of homoeroticism.

    Guidance, written, directed by, and starring Pat Mills, is an amusing Canadian comedy about David Gold, a “gentle voiced” childhood actor who is now an adult in deep denial. Broke, and ignoring his drinking problem, his Stage 3 melanoma, and his homosexuality, David passes himself off as Roland Brown to get a job as a guidance counselor at a local high school. His inappropriate conduct with students—he does shots with students to boost the kids’ confidence, and trades alcohol for weed—generates most of the film’s laughs. Alas, Guidance is on less sure footing when it explores David’s own inadequacies. Once his ruse is discovered, the film goes almost completely off the rails. Nevertheless, Mills demonstrates some smart and smartass comic talent.

    Cheeky gay French filmmaker François Ozon’s latest, The New Girlfriend, has Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) discovering that her late best friend Laura’s (Isild Le Besco) husband David (Romain Duris) likes to dress as a woman. Initially taken aback, Claire eventually enjoys the company of “Virginia” (David in female garb) and befriends “her” as intensely as she once did Laura. Ozon’s film is a comedy about secrets and lies—there are amusing double entendres, and a series of queer love triangles—but the film is also an affecting drama about grief, love, and identity. Duris is remarkable in the dual role, and Demoustier is especially impressive. Ozon has a fabulous cameo as a man in a movie theater.

    Alex Sichel directed the lesbian film All Over Me, but there is nothing queer about her latest effort, A Woman Like Me. This interesting documentary chronicles the filmmaker’s struggle with terminal breast cancer. Sichel copes with her illness by practicing Buddhism, seeking alternative medicine, and making a film, starring Lili Taylor, in the fictionalized version of the woman she would like to be. A Woman Like Me is a very cogent story about acceptance and the difference between fear and hope. There are moving scenes of Sichel discussing her treatments, and drugs, but the filmmaker goes off in too many directions trying to understand and make sense of her situation. As a result, the film ultimately fails to congeal.

    But wait, there’s more! Frameline also offers festivalgoers another opportunity to screen local lesbian filmmaker Jenni Olsen’s eloquent documentary Royal Road; Mark Christopher’s Director’s Cut of the underappreciated 54; and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s final film, the highly stylized Querelle starring Brad Davis as the sweaty, frequently shirtless title character, in a film that practically drips with eroticism.