Film Festival: 25th London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival 2011

We Were Here

Featuring road movies, rent boys and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell rules, London’s 25th Lesbian & Gay Film Festival explores gay identity on the run.

Sex On A (Small) Plate by Mark Wilshin

What a shame that the 25th anniversary of London’s Lesbian & Gay Film Festival should be neutered by austerity cuts down to a meagre six days. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have balls as well as cupcakes. And this year, perhaps most prominently in the shape of two films featuring is-he-even-former porn-star François Sagat – Christophe Honoré’s Homme Au Bain and Bruce LaBruce’s LA Zombie. There was the usual deliciously eclectic mix of gay, lesbian and transgender UK and euro-flicks, documentaries and shorts, and a rare chance to see highlights from previous years in the BFI’s 25th anniversary strand, including Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent gay love story Mikael, Patricia Rozema’s sexual crossroads When Night Is Falling and even Gregg Araki’s previous cinematic outing Mysterious Skin.

After the blink-and-you’ve-missed-it Smiley Face, Araki returns with Kaboom, which won the inaugural Queer Palm at Cannes last year. A collegiate romp through roommate fantasies, Eyes Wide Shut masked conspiracy theories, general trippiness and all-out armageddon, Kaboom is a painfully pretty, hilariously entertaining yarn, with telegenic performances from Thomas Dekker, Haley Bennett and Juno Temple. Its joie de vivre is only rivalled by Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats – the Jules Et Jim to his previous Les 400 Coups 21st century update J’ai Tué Ma Mère. It’s less angsty than his feature debut, and – dare I say it – less egocentric, but equally enjoyable, a glorious combination of Dalida scored slow-mos, sartorial retro and sun-flared lensing.

And like last year’s The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, this year’s festival brings us another sneak preview of the BBC’s upcoming lesbian drama The Night Watch. Adapted from the novel by Sarah Waters, who also appeared as a guest speaker during the festival, The Night Watch focuses on war-torn London and the unusual liberties accorded women under the Blitz. It’s a freedom Berlin’s cash-strapped rentboys can’t afford in Rosa von Praunheim latest documentary Die Jungs Vom Bahnhof Zoo which explores the unhappy lot of impoverished, immigrant (but in the main heterosexual) sex workers. And also from Germany there’s Dennis Todorovic’s sweet crush drama Sasha, about homophobia, hidden desire and runaway lies in an immigrant family.

Man At Bath

Virginie Despentes of Baise-Moi fame finally returns with Mutantes (Punk Porn Feminism) while Christophe Honoré throws down his high-budget production values of Ma Mère, Dans Paris or Les Chansons d’Amour for an intimate and quietly reflective portrait of a break-up. Based on the Gustave Caillebotte painting of the same name, Man At Bath is a film about looking, featuring François Sagat not so much as an actor as a muscle-bound object of reflection. Whether it’s erotic desire, queer or cinematic theory, Honoré leaves it up to his audience to construct their own gaze as they contemplate Omar’s fascination with Emmanuel’s “kitsch” body or Canadian pick-up Dustin’s flocculent naturalness. And with a semi-documentary strand cannibalised from his own visit to the New York Film Festival with Chiara Mastroianni for Making Plans For Lena, there’s real soul in Honoré’s film. And despite the handheld DV, real beauty too.

Following gay-themed Wild Side and Presque Rien, Sebastien Lifshitz’s 2009 film Plein Sud makes a bid for the mainstream, reuniting Yannick Renier and Théo Frilet from Born in 68 with Léa Seydoux as the über-straight Sam and his sexy hitchhikers drifting aimlessly southwards. Halfway between a western and a road movie, Going South focuses on Sam’s quiet trauma, his troubled soul and matricidal rage slowly pieced together through flashback. It’s a shame his journey towards queerdom doesn’t build half so well as his fractured identity, but it’s nice to see Nicole Garcia in front of the camera again, at least on this side of the Channel.

Going South

Sweet but short, it’s hard not to miss the diversity of last year’s two-week festival, with its smorgasbord of LGBT delicacies from all over the world. And in trying to pull together both UK and world cinema, feature, documentary and short film, contemporary drama and classics from the archive, as well as lesbian, gay and transgender agendas, this year’s symposium runs the risk of spreading itself a little too thin. It’s perhaps a sad reflection of the state of funding for LGBT films. But with Marco Berger’s Ausente and Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways in the making, there’ll be a voracious appetite for a longer festival this time next year.

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