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    New Queer Films for the New Year

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    New year, new films. There are a handful of queer features and documentaries from around the world available this month on demand and in theaters. Here is a rundown of what to watch.

    Norwegian Dream (VOD)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 while pressures mount from all sides. Milkowski delivers an intense, internal performance in this absorbing drama.

    Going To Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project

    The documentary, Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project (HBO and MAX), directed byMichèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster, is a celebratory portrait of the esteemed poet. Filmed over the period of a several years, Giovanni is seen reading poems such as “The True Import of Present Dialogue, Black vs. Negro,” and speaking truth to power. Archival interviews with James Baldwin on the TV show Soul!, on a stage with Pearl Cleage, and at the Apollo Theater also provide a platform for Giovanni. In addition, she talks about her family, from her difficulties with her abusive father, to her love for her granddaughter, as well as civil rights, and “going to Mars.” (Giovanni thinks a Black woman should be first to visit Mars to check it out.) There is more, including a brief segment dedicated to a controversy that arose over her reluctance to protest against Apartheid, as well as scenes featuring Giovanni’s spouse, Virginia Fowler. (But the film does not concentrate much on their relationship.) With its focus on Giovanni and her impact (especially on fans), Going to Mars is a bit hagiographic, but that does not make it any less inspiring.

    The impressionistic Spanish romance, Stroking the Animal(VOD), has Mariña (Lidia Veiga) and Ada (Ánxela Rios) becoming sexually intimate with Tomás (Xulio Besteiro). The film, just over an hour long, and divided into chapters, has the women meeting Tomás in the summer, while swimming, and then dancing and having sex with him in the autumn. There is not much discussion about their polyamorous relationship, but the trio take a little trip together, read tarot cards, and have more sex. An intimate encounter between Ada and Tomás is especially explicit. Writer/director Ángel Filgueira is far more interested in mood and tone, leaving viewers to piece together the drama. But a scene where Ada and Mariña talk, kiss, and cry is revealing. This film is slight, but it will satisfy viewers who sink into its rhythms.

    A Place of Our Own

    Another feature that is highly empathic is the drama A Place of Our Own (in Bay Area Theaters, January 12; on VOD starting January 16). Directed by the Ektara Collective, this film showcases Laila (Manisha Soni) and Roshni (Muskan), two transgender women in Bhopal, India. Laila is spending the night in an apartment she and Roshni have rented when she is harassed by a male neighbor. Finding the situation untenable, the women are evicted and hole up in a friend’s empty apartment as they look for another place to live. Their efforts are fraught, and their time is often wasted. One possible housing option is dismissed because the landlord will not rent to “these people.” Another opportunity has the agent asking questions about Laila and Roshni to satisfy his curiosity about transpeople, rather than discussing apartments. The women are kept out of society, insulted, and even injured as they try to enjoy the same basic human rights as everyone else. A Place of Our Own shines a necessary light on the trans experience in India, but the discrimination it reveals is certainly taking place worldwide.


    Fireworks (on VOD and DVD January 16) is a sensitive, heartfelt romantic drama from Italy about two teenagers in 1982 Sicily who fall in love, but face homophobia from their families and others. Gianni (Samuele Segreto) lives with his mother Lina (Simona Malato); his father is “away.” Gianni is bullied by a handful of guys in his village, but his life improves when he meets Nino (Gabriele Pizzurro), by accident—their mopeds crash as Gianni is being chased by his tormentors. As the teens develop a fast friendship, they eventually both work for Nino’s father’s fireworks company. But when they give into their unspoken passions, both Lina and Nino’s mother Carmela (Fabrizia Sacchi), among others, put an end to the budding romance. Fireworks has many affectionate moments and the attraction between Gianni and Nino is palpable—but the film also contains several scenes of violence that can be difficult to watch. Director/cowriter Giuseppe Fiorello dedicated his film to two teenagers whose lives inspired both Fireworks and the gay rights movement in Italy. 

    © 2024 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.” He teaches Short Attention Span Cinema at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute and is the moderator for Cinema Salon, a weekly film discussion group. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer

    Published on January 11, 2024