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    SF Film Festival Features Four Worthwhile LGBTQ Films

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    The 65th San Francisco International Film Festival has announced their lineup for this year’s program, being held April 21–May 1 at venues around the Bay Area. Actress Michelle Yeoh will be honored with a tribute, as will comedian Jenny Slate.

    The festival opens with the North American Premiere of Stay Awake, a drama about the opioid epidemic, and it closes with the comedy-drama Cha Cha Real Smooth. In between there are several films with LGBTQ themes or by queer filmmakers. Here are four particularly notable films to catch at the fest. 

    One of the highlights is Benediction by out gay writer/director Terence Davies. This elegant, elegiac biopic of the gay British poet Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden plays him as a young man; Peter Capaldi takes over the role in his later years) is exquisitely filmed. As one expects from a Davies’ period piece, every frame belongs in a museum. The filmmaker juxtaposes backgrounds, changes time periods (sometimes in a single shot), and intersperses footage from the Great War as Sassoon’s poetry is read in melancholic voiceover. Benediction traces Sassoon’s life starting from the time he was a soldier and protested the war—which lands him in the care of Dr. Rivers (out gay actor Ben Daniels). It is in hospital that Sassoon meets Wilfred Owen (Matthew Tennyson) and falls in love. However, Owen gets sent back off to fight. Sassoon later has relationships with Ivor Novello (Jeremy Irvine), Glen Byam Shaw (Tom Blyth), and Stephen Tennant (Calam Lynch) before marrying Hester (Kate Phillips) and having a son. Benediction chronicles all of this and more, with gorgeous costumes and music (a Davies trademark), as well as plenty of witty dialogue. This classy, tasteful film is a magnificent tribute to the poet.

    Two Latin American films are worthwhile. Mars One is an involving drama that depicts the dignity of a lower middle-class Black Brazilian family. Wellington (Carlos Francisco) is the patriarch, who works at a luxury apartment building. He is underpaid but he engenders respect with the manager and his coworkers. His wife, Tércia (Rejane Faria), cleans houses, but she has had a hard time finding work of late. Her troubles are compounded after she is in a café where a bomb goes off. Surviving the attack, she feels she is bringing bad luck on everyone around her. Meanwhile, their daughter Eunice (Camilla Damião) is coming to terms with her sexuality, and is planning to move in with her girlfriend, Joana (Ana Hilario). They have been “looking” at apartments and having sex in the empty spaces. Her brother, Deivinho (Cícero Lucas), plays soccer—Wellington wants him to be a star—but he would rather study astrophysics. How their lives and storylines play out in this modest film is interesting; a scene of the girls holding hands when Joana is introduced to Eunice’s parents is both sweet and prickly. But the love this family feels for one another through the difficulties they experience resonates.

    The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future is a lyrical domestic drama with a supernatural twist. Magdelena (Mía Maestro) emerges from the water, returning after a long absence—she died years ago. Her husband Enrique (Alfredo Castro) is shocked when he sees her and ends up in the hospital. Their son Bernardo (Marcial Tagle) calls his sister Cecilia (Leonor Varela), who arrives with her son Tomas (Enzo Ferrada Rosati), who is transitioning to female, and her young daughter Alma (Laura del Rio). Magdelena’s presence isn’t the only disruption on the family’s dairy farm; the bees have gone, and the river may be polluted—fish are dying in large quantities. Moreover, there is something going on with the cows. It is all wrapped up in the past, and as the truth plays out, strange things happen. Director/cowriter Francisca Alegria creates more atmosphere than drama, which forces viewers to create meaning, but Tomas’ storyline is nicely and sensitively handled.

    Original does not even begin to describe Neptune Frost, a heady, visually stimulating, sci-fi musical extravaganza from Rwanda about gender and economic inequality, as well as the exploitation of mines (and miners) among other political topics. (One sample lyric: “Underscore the overpaid.”) The encrypted plot involves Neptune (played by both Cheryl Isheja and Elvis Ngabo), and Matalusa (Bertrand Ninteretse aka Kaya Free), and a coltan miner, inspiring revolution and resistance. Neptune has an interesting encounter with a man named Innocent (Dorcy Rugamba), who discovers they are intersex, while another storyline involves the promotion of MartyrLoserKing (a play on Matalusa and MLK). Neptune Frost pulsates to a rhythmic beat and the musical sequences are fabulous. So too, are the makeup and costumes (one character sports a jacket made from a disassembled computer keyboard). It may be overwhelming, but take in Neptune Frost, and absorb its messages about belonging and dissonance, as well as power and how to wield it.

    For tickets and more information, visit

    © 2022 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 April 7, 2022