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    What to Watch at Frameline48

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    Without the Castro Theater as a venue this year, Frameline may feel a bit different, but there are still many great films to see. The festival opens with an outdoor screening of Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero, an entertaining portrait of the out Grammy-winning rapper, singer, and songwriter. Frameline concludes ten days later with the Bay Area premiere of A House Is Not a Disco, Brian J. Smith’s fabulous documentary about Fire Island.

    In between there are plenty of shorts, features, and documentaries portraying LGBTQ+ lives. And several films are by or starring local talent, including Lady Like, about drag artist Lady Camden, and local filmmaker Don Hardy’s documentary Linda Perry: Let It Die Here, whichchronicles the life of the former Bay Area singer.

    Here is a rundown of more than a dozen films screening the first week of this year’s fest.

    In the Summers

    In the Summers is a knockout feature debut by the queer writer/director Alessandra Lacorazza. Set entirely in Las Cruces, New Mexico, the film chronicles two sisters, Eva (Luciana Elisa Quinonez as a tween, Allison Salinas as a teen, and Sasha Calle as a young adult) and the queer Violeta (Dreya Castillo/Kimaya Thais/Lio Mehiel), as they visit their father, Vincente (René Pérez Joglar, aka Residente), four times over an approximately ten-year period. The first summer is mostly fun and games, but things get more distant and awkward as various changes take place during or between visits. Violeta, in particular, becomes more defiant, and develops a crush on Camila (Gabriella Surodjawan as a teen, Sharlene Cruz as a young adult). Eva feels lonelier, and Vincente struggles with addiction. Every frame in the film is artfully composed, providing a real sense of place, from the clutter and deterioration of the house to the vast landscape, as when Vincente takes his family to White Sands. What makes In the Summers so moving, however, is all that goes unsaid. This finely observed drama builds to a quietly powerful final sequence that may just prompt tears.

    The Summer With Carmen is an enchanting comedy that opens at a queer beach in Greece where Demosthenes (Yorgos Tsiantoulas), a hunky gay man, and his best friend Nikitas (Andreas Labropoulos) discuss shooting a film about the summer Demos took care of Carmen, his ex-boyfriend’s Panos’ (Nikolaos Mihas) dog. The film has a meta quality to it as Nikitas and Demos make references to plot points, character development, and even list the six messages of the film. But the cleverness of these scenes is overshadowed by the copious nude and sex scenes. Tsiantoulas, in his debut film, is a find, truly comfortable in the beach scenes where he’s naked, or during his trysts with Thymios (Vasilis Tsigristaris). The actor also displays a heartfelt mix of anxiety and despair in his scenes with Panos or his demanding mother (Roubini Vasilakopoulou). And he is charming interacting with the film’s scene stealer, Carmen. 

    I Don’t Understand You

    I Don’t Understand You is a darkly humorous but very funny comedy about miscommunication. Married gay couple Dom (Nick Kroll) and Cole (Andrew Rannells) are celebrating their 10-year anniversary in Italy. During their trip, they learn they will become fathers as the pregnant Candice (Amanda Seyfried) has selected the couple to adopt her baby. However, this good news comes at an awkward time. Cole and Dom are in crisis mode having made a wrong turn on the way to a restaurant. Lost and stuck in the woods in a storm, they mistake a local farmer’s (Arcangelo Iannace) good intentions for evil. Likewise, when they do arrive at the intended restaurant, the owner, Zia Luciana (Nunzia Schiano), speaks in Italian, and they don’t understand her. (Subtitles reveal what Zia and the farmer are saying.) Making matters worse, Zia’s son Massimo (Morgan Spector)—who does speak English—arrives, but his accent is very thick, causing more confusion. As Dom and Cole suspect homophobia, tensions escalate, and accidents happen. The high-strung performances by Rannells and Kroll are inspired, and the film gets funnier with each outrageous mishap.

    From Argentina comes Underground Orange, a ramshackle comedy about an American (writer/director Michael Taylor Jackson), who arrives in Buenos Aires and gets robbed of his money and passport before the opening credits. When he meets the members of a political theater collective—Paty (Sofia Gala Castiglione), her girlfriend, Goya (Bel Gatti), as well as Dante (Gianluca Zonzini) and Frida (Vera Spinetta)—he participates in their play about war criminal Henry Kissinger. There are tensions in the group when Paty robs a bank, or Goya objects to “the Yanqui,” but there is also same-sex and polyamorous love. Underground Orange has a playful, anarchic spirit that allows its cast to create and invent as the plot unfolds and the group find themselves in a series of unusual situations. Michael Taylor Jackson’s ambitious freewheeling experience has a scrappiness that is appealing, but the film also feels like empty posturing.

    Written, directed, and edited by Jules Rosskam, Desire Lines is an illuminating docu-fiction film about transmasculinity. Several narrative strands are used to explore the topic, including episodes set in a fictional bathhouse in the 1980s, to scenes of an Iranian trans researcher, Ahmad (Aden Hakimi), visiting a contemporary queer archive staffed by Kieran (Theo Germaine), as well as candid interviews with nearly a dozen transmen. There are also archival clips of interviews and letters to “transcestor” Lou Sullivan, who is “the first transgender man to publicly identify as gay.” Rosskam seamlessly interweaves each of these threads to comment on queer identity and sexuality. The subjects, both real and fictional, past and present, candidly express how they think of themselves, their experiences of dysphoria, and how they came to terms with their transness. But there are also valuable discussions about “desiring transness” and how these individuals actualize their desires, feel fetishized, feel alienated within the queer community, or feel objectified because of their race, gender, or sexual stereotypes. Additionally, Desire Lines provides overlapping storylines about trans experiences with HIV. This fascinating film is both experimental and ambitious, and it succeeds brilliantly.

    The Queen of My Dreams

    The Queen of My Dreams, written and directed by Fawzia Mirza, has Azra (Amrit Kaur), a Muslim lesbian, grappling with her anger towards her traditionalist mother, Mariam (Nimra Bucha) especially after her father Hassan (Hamza Haq) suddenly dies. This comedy/drama opens in 1999 Toronto, but long stretches of the film depict Mariam’s courtship with Hassan in 1969 Pakistan, where Mariam lied to and defied her parents. Other scenes depict Azra as a pre-teen (Ayana Manji), to add another layer to the mamadrama. The parallels between mother and daughter are meaningful, but The Queen of My Dreams does not build its drama; instead, it features music and dance numbers to make connections as well as scenes of Azra resenting the archaic patriarchy that Mariam endures. Fawzia’s film offers a percipient look at South Asian women and culture. 

    Carnage for Christmas

    The stylish and smart low budget “transgender holiday film” Carnage for Christmas isprolific trans writer/director Alice Maio Mackay’s most accomplished horror film to date. Trans podcaster Lola (Jeremy Moineau) returns to her small hometown for the holidays only to encounter a Santa-suited serial killer who is stalking members of the queer community. Because the local cops are useless—one identifies Lola as a person of interest in the case—Lola investigates the murders herself. The crimes echo on the town’s famous case of the Toymaker murders, which is recounted early on in a nifty animated sequence during Lola’s podcast. Mackay keeps the action nimble as the bodies pile up and Carnage for Christmas features some gory special effects along with plenty of queer positivity. Moineau makes an ingratiating protagonist, and viewers may hope Lola gets more mysteries to solve.  

    Rent Free

    Rent Free is an amusing, shaggy comedy directed, edited, and cowritten by Fernando Andrés, about two friends—the gay Ben (Jacob Roberts) and the bi Jordan (David Treviño)—who try to delay adulting and stave off homelessness in Austin after Ben’s horniness cost him an apartment in New York City, and Jordan’s girlfriend, Anna (Molly Edelman), breaks up with him. The guys try crashing with various friends for as long as possible, claiming it is a “social experiment,” but really, it’s their survival plan. Ben is a slacker who earns meager tips delivering food, while Jordan, a photographer, can’t find much work. As they move in with exes, a toxic gay couple, Ben’s dad, and even work for a housesitting app, the guys’ bromance shows signs of strain. The humor derives from Ben and Jordan’s self-destructive, codependent, selfish, and needy tendencies, and Rent Free generates its laughs from Roberts’ unselfconscious performance playing off Treviño’s not-so-straight guy. This comedy of manners is modest in its scale and ambitions, and, like its leads, it charms, though for impatient viewers, the film will likely wear out its welcome.

    Demons at Dawn is the latest hypnotic drama from Julián Hernández. Here Orlando (Luis Vegas), a dancer, falls at first sight for Marco (Axel Shuarma), who is studying to be a nurse. Their romance is sweet as they move in together and declare their love. Hernández films this all in his patented style; a kiss the guys share is shot in 360-degrees segueing to Orlando and Marco in bed making love. But around the film’s midpoint something forces both Orlando and Marco to recalibrate their relationship. Hernández depicts how each guy processes the change and its impact, but despite the leads’ efforts, there is more moodiness than palpable emotion. The overlong Demons at Dawn is gorgeously made, and Hernández showcases their bodies artfully, but it also feels underwhelming.


    Gondola is a sweet, wordless lesbian romance from Georgia. Iva (Mathilde Irrmann) arrives in a mountain village and gets a job working as a conductor in a gondola. Her colleague, Nino (Nini Soselia), flirts with her—they play chess, and share food (even in mid-air), and play music. Nino also elaborately designs her gondola and wears costumes (e.g, an astronaut going to Mars), or performs a nighttime striptease to attract Iva. Their love language is charming. Gondola is slight and gentle, and like Nino’s seduction of Iva, hard to resist.

    Duino depicts an intimate friendship that develops between two teens, the shy Argentine Matias (Santiago Madrussan) and the extroverted Swede, Alexander (Oscar Morgan), who meet at the United World College of the Adriatic in Duino, Italy, in the 1990s. When Alexander invites Mathias to stay at his family’s villa over Christmas, the unspoken desire between the teens intensifies, but Alexander’s sister, Kathrine (Julai Bender), falls for Mathias, creating some conflict. Duino recounts all of this decades later in a film-within-a-film being made by the adult Matias (out actor Juan Pablo Di Pace, who co-wrote and co-directed with Andrés Pepe Estrade). As Duino tells parallel stories it becomes an absorbing, sensitive drama about Matias’ first love. This personal film may be more subtle than explicit, but its most moving scene is a speech by Matias’s mother (Araceli González) that comforts her son during a time of heartbreak.

    The excellent character study Sebastian has Max (Ruaridh Mollica), a writer, secretly working as Sebastian, an escort. He is performing sex work as research for a novel he hopes to publish. Of course, his side hustle (no pun intended) distracts from his freelance work for a magazine, and it is only a matter of time before his two worlds collide. Writer/director Mikko Makela includes a line that acknowledges that a sex worker is a “stock character in queer literature” (and film). Even so, Sebastian remains interesting because of how Max handles the personal and professional conflicts he faces. Is he being self-destructive and feeling shame about living a double life? As he gets more involved with one particular client, is Max getting too deep into his work? Mollica’s high-wire performance blurs the lines—he is sexy and confident one minute, and full of anxiety the next. Sebastian may not add anything new to the sex worker narrative, but the film remains captivating because Mollica exudes charisma, and makes viewers care about Max even when he is at his worst.

    The Astronaut Lovers

    The Astronaut Lovers, the latest bromance by Marco Berger, has the gay Pedro (Javier Orán) reconnecting with the straight Maxi (Lautaro Bettoni), years after they knew each other at summer camp. The guys talk trash, flirt, and tease each other until Maxi loses a bet—which involves sucking the other guy’s finger—and must pretend to be Pedro’s boyfriend. Maxi participates eagerly in the charade, which both pleases and threatens Pedro, who may be falling for Maxi. Berger keeps the sexual tension percolating in his typical low-key, slow-burn style, but he amps up the heat when Pedro and Maxi kiss (and kiss). If The Astronaut Lovers gives Berger another opportunity to address sexual fluidity, this film borrows heavily from the filmmaker’s 2009 debut, Plan B. Devotees of the writer/director may feel déjà vu all over again. Even so, the leads are attractive, although their behavior is juvenile.


    1-800-On-Her-Own is a loving documentary showcasing Ani DiFranco, the bisexual folk singer and feminist icon who created her own independent record label, Righteous Babe Records, back in the 1990s. Director Dana Flor follows DiFranco on tour, at home (during COVID-19), and as she tries to produce a new album. The interviews as well as DiFranco reflecting on life and career are compelling—she worries about life/work (im)balance, has doubts and insecurities, and yet also inspires with her activism and fight for equality. 1-800-On-Her-Own, of course, features a handful of songs performed by DiFranco, which will please die-hard fans, but it is her observations about the changes in the music industry and her own aging and aspirations that resonate.

    For tickets, showtimes, and more information about Frameline48, visit

    © 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 June 13, 2024