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    Highlights From Frameline47

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    The 47th Frameline Film Festival opens June 14 with a screening of the Bay Area-set Fairyland and ends June 24 with the drag comedy God Save the Queens. In between, there are opportunities to get a sneak peek of upcoming releases including Kokomo City, a fabulous documentary about Black trans sex workers (made all the more powerful as one subject was killed earlier this year), and the silly mockumentary Theater Camp, as well as films that may not play in the Bay Area ever again. Here is a rundown (in alphabetical order) of some of this year’s festival selections.

    All the Colours of the World are Between Black and White is a remarkable drama about Bambino (Tope Tedela), who strikes up a close friendship with the charismatic photographer Bawa (Riyo David). They convey their unspoken desires through glances, and a lovely, affectionate moment has Bambino wiping food from Bawa’s mouth. But when Bawa touches Bambino’s arm in public, it causes tension; Bambino is full of fear and self-loathing about being gay in Lagos, Nigeria, where homosexuality is criminalized. All the Colours of the World features gorgeously framed scenes that build to a brilliant final moment. Not to be missed.

    Anhell69 is a lyrical, meditative documentary on queer youth in Medellin, Colombia. Writer/director Theo Montoya interviews various friends about their lives and dreams, while also featuring scenes from his own B-movie. The subjects discuss their studies (or dropping out of school), drug use, and HIV status, as well as their inability to see a real future for themselves. As Montoya’s voiceover indicates, “I’ve been to more wakes than birthdays,” since several of his friends have died via suicide, overdose, or other means. Anhell69, named after one of his subjects, shows the beauty and brutality of Medellin, a city haunted by ghosts, made visible in this poetic film.


    Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is trans writer/director Aitch Alberto’s superb adaptation of the award-winning YA novel by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. The title characters are two Mexican American teenagers in 1987 El Paso—cue ’80s music needle drops—who first meet at a swimming pool. Introverted Aristotle aka Ari (magnetic newcomer Max Pelayo) learns to swim with the assistance of the outgoing Dante (Reese Gonzales). The two teens develop a close friendship that becomes a kind of bromance. However, the art and poetry loving Dante drops a bombshell when his family moves to Chicago for a year—and then another, when he comes out as gay. Will the teens’ relationship be the same when Dante returns? Alberto’s sensitivity is in every frame as the film traces the emotional ups and downs of these teens in ways that are poignant without being cloying. As this wonderful film delivers all the feels in its conclusion, it is hard not to cry happy tears.

    A fascinating time capsule, Ask Any Buddy is a dazzling compendium of clips from more than 125 adult films made between 1968 and 1986. This documentary, directed by Elizabeth Purchell, is almost like spying through a glory hole as it features an assemblage of images of nude men, often in sexual scenarios. Films by auteurs including Wakefield Poole, Joe Gage, and Arch Brown, among many others, range from amusing to erotic as scenes depict trysts at the piers and in bathrooms, bath houses, and porno theaters, to cruising on the streets and subways, as well as Pride parades. The images kind of wash over viewers; there is no narrative nor are there credits (until the end) that identify the scenes that portray gay life as it was recorded at the time—from men kissing and being affectionate in public, to having moments of real ecstasy. 

    Before I Change My Mind, set in 1987 Canada, has Robin (Vaughan Murrae) reluctantly befriending Carter (Dominic Lippa), a school bully. They bond during a school trip, but things get complicated when they meet Izzy (Lacey Oake) at an ersatz theatrical production of Jesus Christ Superstar (the show is the film’s lowest point). Carter is attracted to Izzy, Robin is attracted to Carter, and Izzy is attracted to Robin. The queer angle here is that Robin’s gender is ambiguous. That makes for a possibly interesting examination of identity, but director/cowriter Trevor Anderson fails to explore these themes in any depth, which is one of many drawbacks for this well-meaning but flawed film best suited for younger viewers.

    Before I Change My Mind

    Casa Susanna is a poignant, affectionate documentary about a Catskills house for heterosexual cross-dressing men and trans folks in the 1950s and ‘60s, when dressing as not one’s gender was illegal. Out gay director Sébastian Lifshitz uses fabulous photographs, archival footage, and interviews as the trans subjects recount anecdotes of “how I needed to be.” The interviewees also describe the courage of these men to reveal their “secret” lives to their wives—who were largely accepting—as well as the risks of the men being discovered or blackmailed. This is a talky but compelling documentary about a largely hidden queer history.

    Casa Susanna

    Chestnut is an intimate romantic drama about Annie (Natalia Dyer), who is preparing to leave Philadelphia for Los Angeles. However, one night, in a bar, she meets Tyler (Rachel Keller) and Danny (Danny Ramirez) and becomes infatuated with both. Spending nights together drinking, dancing, and hanging out, Annie can’t resist the magnetic Tyler—Keller’s slinky performance is the film’s highlight—but perhaps she should. Moreover, when Annie and Danny cozy up and get affectionate one evening, things get emotionally sticky. Chestnut’s easygoing approach to its bisexual love triangle and the attractive leads will carry viewers through this low-key, mumblecore-ish drama.

    Queer writer/director Stephen Winter’s radical 1996 debut feature, Chocolate Babies, concerns a “queer terrorist group” comprised of a handful of Black and Asian HIV+ activists. Fighting for respect and justice in New York City, they assault Congressman Freeman (Bryan Webster) who may have the AIDS acquisitions files, a nefarious list of HIV+ people in the city. Sam (Jon Kit Lee), one of the group members, works in Freeman’s office—the Congressman is secretly having an affair with him—but Sam really loves Max (Claude E. Sloan). The film also features storylines about Max’s HIV+ sister, Jamela (Suzanne Gregg Ferguson), and group members Larva (Dudley Findlay Jr.), and Lady Marmalade (Michael Lynch). Chocolate Babies is a bit crudely made, but Winter’s film thoughtfully addresses several critical topics ranging from parent/child conflicts and issues of faith, to homophobic news reports and politicking.

    Drifter has Moritz (Lorenz Hochhuth) moving to Berlin to be with his boyfriend Jonas (Gustav Schmidt), only to be dumped shortly after arriving. Finding himself adrift, he makes connections, sexual and otherwise, with various people he encounters, including Noah (Cino Djavid), Stefan (Oscar Hoppe), and Kasi (Catalin Jugravu). Immersing himself in clubs and drugs, participating in sex work, shaving his head, and getting tattoos, Moritz comes of age. This episodic film feels as restless and as unfocused as Moritz, but little of it is compelling because Moritz is mostly passive. Hochhuth gives a suitably empty performance as a guy whom everyone desires—he is repeatedly told how beautiful he is—but who does not know what he, himself, desires. Director/cowriter Hannes Hirsch presents Moritz’s experiences with a detached eye, but this moody character study, however fascinating, is mostly frustrating.

    Golden Delicious has high schooler Jake Wong (Cardi Wong) discovering what he wants and who he is after the openly gay Aleks (Chris Carson) moves into his neighborhood. While Jake is pressured by his father to play basketball, he is inspired when Aleks helps him with his game. And while Jake’s girlfriend Valerie (Parmiss Sehat) is pressuring Jake to have sex, he cannot resist kissing Aleks when the two are alone together. Golden Delicious earnestly depicts Jake’s coming of age, which includes additional family stresses as his parents George (Ryan Mah) and Andrea (Leeah Wong) are both struggling in their lives and careers. This sensitive drama is a bit amateur at times, but its heart is in the right place.

    Golden Delicious

    Jess Plus One has the messy title character (Abby Miller) sabotaging others when she is not sabotaging herself. Despondent over her breakup with her girlfriend Sam (Scout Durwood), eight months ago, Jess is in a relationship with Cliff that is far less satisfying than the one she has with her vibrator. When her best friend Mel (Marielle Scott) is getting married to Greg (Scott Speiser), Jess forces herself to go to the wedding—she is Mel’s maid of honor—even though Sam will be there. As Jess makes inappropriate comments and acts selfishly, she makes everything worse, irritating her gay friend Peter (Rory O’Malley) by insulting his partner Vince (Craig Thomas), and infuriating Mel with negative remarks about her fiancé, Greg. Miller’s broad and grating performance rarely makes Jess Plus One funny despite running jokes about her needing a shower (which doubles as a metaphor), or Jess getting caught masturbating while thinking of Sam. There are a few decent speeches by various characters trying to repair damaged friendships and relationships that are heartfelt, but most of this strained situation comedy is tired and uninspired.            

    Jewelle: A Just Vision

    Jewelle: A Just Vision is a laudatory, hour-long documentary about Bay Area-based author, poet, and playwright Jewelle Gomez. Director Madeleine Lim features interviews and clips of Gomez reading her celebrated work, The Gilda Stories, as well as snippets from her plays Waiting for Giovanni, about James Baldwin, and Leaving the Blues, about Alberta Hunter. The film showcases the speculative fiction writer’s place in queer and popular culture, but Gomez’s activism as a Black, feminist, lesbian is also at the heart of her story. A fabulous raconteur, Gomez tells moving tales about her mixed-race family history, and trauma. In addition, her anecdote about attending her first Pride parade is as inspiring as her efforts to campaign for same-sex marriage with her partner, Diane. This is a marvelous portrait of a writer who, as the film indicates, deserves more attention than she has received.

    Lie With Me is a tender French drama that toggles back and forth in time as Stéphane (Guillaume de Tonquédec), a writer, returns to his hometown after 35 years away. As a teenager, Stéphane had a secret relationship—“only you and me know”—with Thomas (Julien De Saint Jean). In present day, Stéphane meets Lucas (Victor Belmondo), Thomas’ adult son, and both men hunger to know more about the Thomas they don’t know. The lies that are told and the truths that are kept hidden form the emotional core of this involving drama that culminates with an exquisite, romantic letter.

    The Lost Boys

    The Lost Boys immerses viewers in a Belgian juvenile detention center where Joe (Khalil Gharbia) meets William (Julien De Saint Jean). The two youths steal kisses where they can and communicate at night through the bedroom wall they share. A beautiful scene has William giving Joe a tattoo. The teens find comfort in each other given the harsh world inside the center, and on the outside, where freedom comes with responsibilities. However, when Joe is up for release, the dynamic of their relationship changes. The Lost Boys is a quietly powerful and economically told love story that smolders.

    The Mattachine Family is a feel-good comedy-drama about gay photographer Thomas (Nico Tortorella) choosing the family he wants. It goes beyond marrying his husband Oscar (Juan Pablo Di Pace), or having supportive friends—Leah (Emily Hampshire), her partner Sonia (Cloie Wyatt Taylor), and Jamie (Jake Choi); it’s about having a child. After his foster child, Arthur, is returned to his birth mother, Thomas is wary about being a dad again, but he wants to fill the void Arthur’s absence created. The film’s bittersweet nature—Thomas’ poignant voiceovers and photographs consider what family and friends mean—will melt the hearts of sentimental viewers. Cynics should steer clear of this sweet film about love and family that features an ensemble cast of out LGBTQ talent.

    The Mattachine Family

    Norwegian Dream has Robert (Hubert Milkowski), a young, closeted Polish guy, taking a job at a salmon factory in Norway. He meets Ivar (Karl Bekele Steinland), the Black, queer, adopted son of Bjørn (Øyvind Brantzaeg), the factory manager. Robert’s unspoken attraction prompts both young men to connect, but Robert wants to keep their relationship secret. Meanwhile, Robert’s mother arrives seeking work to pay off a huge debt, and the factory’s immigrant workers seek to unionize to protect themselves. These circumstances prompt Robert to make some difficult and unpopular decisions that may impact his job, as well as his relationships with both his mother and Ivar. Norwegian Dream deftly captures the rawness of Robert’s situation with intimate closeups as he tries to work out his problems as pressures mount from all sides. Milkowski delivers an intense, internal performance in this absorbing drama. 

    Opponent is an outstanding character study of Iman (Payman Maadi, from The Separation), an Iranian refugee living in Northern Sweden with his pregnant wife, Maryam (Marall Nasiri) and their two young daughters. Iman was a wrestler back home, and this beefy, tightly coiled guy is burdened by the situation that drove him to leave Iran and makes it dangerous to return home. While appealing his asylum case in Sweden, he joins the wrestling team and befriends Thomas (Björn Elgerd). The sexual tension between the two men—a clue to why Iman left Iran—is palpable whenever the guys are together. Opponent is an intense film with Iman fighting himself and others as he tries to eke out a life for himself and his family. Maryam’s frustrations and despair, however, boil over—especially when she sees Iman and Thomas wrestling together. This is a taut, engrossing drama that puts a human face on the refugee crisis and on a man who cannot live freely. Maadi is phenomenal in the lead role, giving an aching, internal performance, and Nasiri is excellent as Maryam.

    Out gay filmmaker Sebastián Silva directed, co-wrote, and plays himself in the spiky black comedy Rotting in the Sun.Feeling hopeless—his reading The Trouble With Being Born doesn’t help—Sebastián has been struggling artistically and even contemplating suicide. After his latest painting is ruined by his housekeeper, Vero (Catalina Saavedra from Silva’s The Maid), he goes off to Zicatela to decompress. However, while out for a swim at the beach—there are copious nude men, many having sex—he meets Instagrammer Jordan Firstman (Jordan Firstman). Jordan insists on collaborating on a project together, but Silva is hesitant until a pitch meeting with HBO encourages this partnership. Seeing this as an opportunity to get out of his creative funk, Sebastián invites Jordan to come to his studio in Mexico City. However, when Jordan arrives, Sebastián isn’t there. As Vero claims to know nothing about Sebastián’s whereabouts, Jordan becomes suspicious and insists something is wrong, and sets out to solve the mystery. Rotting in the Sun is quite clever in its plotting, and the performers all lean into their abrasive characters; the tensions between Vero and Jordan are especially strong, as are Vero’s fears about losing her job. Silva is shrewdly commenting on how folks present themselves—in life and on social media—and the decay that causes. His film is nasty, cringey, sexy, and very funny.

    Rule 34 is director Julia Murat’s intriguing investigation of racial, class, gender, and sexual power dynamics in Brazil. Simone (Sol Miranda) participates in sex cam work while also attending law school to become a public defender. Her classroom discussions address various forms of oppression and her work helping physically and psychologically abused women soon takes an emotional toll on her. This may be why she starts exploring her sexual desires and getting involved in BDSM for her followers. Rule 34 also depicts Simone’s relationships with her girlfriend, Natalia (Isabela Mariotta); Joaquim, aka Coyote (Lucas Andrade), her queer classmate and occasional webcam partner; and Lucia (Lorena Comparato), who has concerns about Simone’s increasingly harmful behavior. This engaging film is sometimes disturbing, but it wisely does not judge Simone. Miranda gives an intense, ingratiating performance as a young woman in control but also capable of losing control.

    The Danish import The Venus Effect has Liv (Johanne Milland) meeting cute with Andrea (out lesbian Josephine Park), when the latter’s car runs out of gas. Liv is enchanted by this manic pixie dream girl, and soon bonds with Andrea over cider and photographs and accompanies Andrea to her ex-girlfriend’s wedding. But Liv is still dating Sebastian (Clint Ruben), and what is meant to be a romantic date with Liv turns into a breakup when Sebastian unexpectedly arrives. Liv’s messy life is further complicated by her parents’ (Sofie Gråbøl and Lars Mikkelsen) deciding to divorce. At least her gay brother, Jonas (Morten Hee Andersen), is in what appears to be a stable relationship. The Venus Effect artfully shows how Liv grapples with her feelings about love. Milland conveys all of Liv’s conflicting emotions well, and Park is a delight as the catalyst for getting Liv to realize her best self.

    The Venus Effect

    Out gay writer/director Christophe Honoré’s most autobiographical film to date, Winter Boy,is a warm character study about Lucas (Paul Kircher), a gay teen in France. His life changes when his father (played by Honoré) dies in a car accident. He, along with his mother, Isabelle (Juliette Binoche, excellent), and brother, Quentin (Vincent Lacoste), cope in different ways with the tragedy. Lucas goes to stay in Paris with Quentin and has a series of experiences—a conversation in a church, hooking up with a stranger (or two), and crushing on Quentin’s roommate Lilio (Erwan Kepoa Falé)—as he searches for truth and vows to live life on his own terms. However, he becomes emotionally overwhelmed and has episodes of acting out. Kircher gives a remarkably unselfconscious performance, which captures his fragility, despair, sullenness, hope, and courage. Honoré’s deeply moving film is unbearably sad but it is also quite life affirming.

    Winter Boy

    For tickets, showtimes, and more information, visit

    © 2023 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

    Published on June 8, 2023