19. July 2018

My identity is non-negotiable. That’s how this year’s Christopher Street Day in Frankfurt is promoting equality. SCHIRN MAG marks the occasion by presenting selected highlights of queer cinema.

By Jens Balkenborg

Equality is an ongoing, yet slow process, which in many places continues to be delayed. As a critical medium, cinema has been responding to this for some time In the early 1990s, among others, Gus van Sant`s film “My Private Idaho” set off the New Queer Cinema, a movement of American independent films. By now, at the very latest since “Love, Simon,” a high-school comedy with gay heroes, male homosexuality has finally arrived in Western mainstream film. In the Netflix series “Godless,” for example, women – including lesbians – somewhat conquer the male-dominated Wild West for themselves. And with the Netflix special “Nanette,” Hannah Gadsby has become a household name as she uses the format of comedy to talk about her coming out.

The following recommendations show just how varied and touching queer films can be. The works represented come from countries as diverse as Germany, South Africa, France and Argentina, whereby the specific cultural contexts play sometimes a greater, sometimes a lesser role. There are films that focus entirely on a love story, while others discuss social hurdles and intolerance. All eight films are recent, but of course this list can only be incomplete, just as the efforts towards equality are continually evolving.

1. The Wound

Against the background of the Ukwaluka, a traditional rite of circumcision and initiation among the Xhosa in South Africa, director John Trengove tells a story of love between two of the tribesmen. With a menacing silence, the camera follows the young Xolani, who is traveling to a camp in the mountains to act as a mentor supporting the Ukwaluka of townsman Kwanda. After the cutting, the men spend several days in straw huts, where the mentors tend to the wounds of their charges. While the angry and homosexual Kwanda acquiesces to the coming-of-age imposed upon him by his father, Xolani secretly meets his friend Vija for sexual adventures.

On the mountain, tradition and modernity clash. Rather than telling a story of (sexual) emancipation, “The Wound” is in fact a stock-take of complex social problems which, like the wounds in the flesh of the initiated, cannot be healed merely with a band-aid. It is an important and delicate film, as the Xhosa men are strictly forbidden from talking about their circumcision, and homosexuality remains a taboo in South African society. “The Wound” is available on DVD.

John Trengove, The Wound, 2017 © Pyramide Distribution
John Trengove, The Wound, 2017 © Pyramide Distribution

THE WOUND

by John Trengove

2. Beach Rats

Rowdy protagonist Frankie spends the summer on Coney Island with his friends in a bubble of intoxication. Driven by boredom and drugs, the beach rats live it up at the fairground, stealing, literally checking out the women, or trying to outdo each other as they smoke in the shisha bar. At home in his basement, Frankie secretly chats to men in the “Brooklyn Boys” cam-chat. The sexual curiosity that he surrenders to as he meets guys in the forest or in hotel rooms is written on his face as much as the socially indoctrinated repulsion of his desires.

Rarely has intimacy between men been shown with the naturalness of “Beach Rats.” The movie’s director Eliza Hittman knows – and this is something one sees very seldom in cinema – how to capture youthful madness with poetic, yet always realistic insight, and she refrains entirely from self-satisfied aestheticization and straightforward answers. Hittman’s film is available as a DVD and for streaming on Netflix.

Eliza Hittmann, Beach Rats, 2017 © Salzgeber & Co. Medien GmbH
3. Blue is the warmest Colour

After her first sexual experiences with a man, adolescent Adèle undergoes a true moment of initiation when she sees blue-haired Emma for the first time. A passionate affair develops between the two young women, which later becomes a struggle for love and recognition. The film by Abdellatif Kechiche, loosely based on the graphic novel of the same name, was the event of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. By way of exception not only the director, but also its two stars Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos were awarded the Palme d’Or. Never before has a lesbian love affair been portrayed with the intensity of “Blue is the Warmest Color:” A film full of (sexual) passion, naturalness and poetry. Available on Netflix and on DVD.

Abdellatif Kechiche, Blue is the Warmest Colour, 2013 © Alamode Film
4. Call Me by Your Name

Luca Guadagnino’s film is like a gently swelling flow of passions: Very cautiously a liaison develops between 17-year-old Elio, who is spending the summer in his parents’ Italian villa, and invited American house guest Oliver. The heat, the idleness of summer and an intimate struggle: With boundless sensuality, “Call Me by Your Name” tells of the summerlove that develops between the pubescent boy and the twenty-something. The actors are magnificent throughout, particularly Timothée Chalamet as Elio. Screenplay writer James Ivory won an Oscar for his adaptation of the novel of the same name. The high point of the film is the father-son discussion towards the end. The touching tale can still be seen in a few German cinemas, for instance at Hafenkino Open Air on 11 August 2018, 8.45 pm. Otherwise available on DVD.

Luca Guadagnino, Call me by your Name, 2017 © Sony Pictures

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

by Luca Guadagnino

5. Laurence Anyways

Literature teacher Laurence is stuck in the wrong body. And that’s precisely what he explains his long-term girlfriend Fred on his 35th birthday after a few quarrels, going on to say that from now on he will dress as a woman, but wants to stay with her because she is the love of his life. Xavier Dolan’s relationship drama spans a 12-year period in which the couple lurches between optimism and despair, between convention and boundary exploration, as their relationship is put to the test.

“Laurence Anyways” was only the third film by the then 24-year-old director, who has been lauded as a wunderkind of cinema. And not without reason: The film is a strident, loud, emotional tour de force, aesthetically choreographed with virtual perfection throughout. Very few filmmakers are able to merge image and music so skillfully to create such an intense mélange. Dolan’s film is available on DVD and on the Amazon Prime Sundance Now Channel, and until September 30, 2018 it can be found in the Arte Mediathek

6. Dicke Mädchen

For some years now German “mumblecore” has been the injection of fresh life that German film needed. Its likable, “low-fi” films in which the actors improvise, and which are based on a screenplay amounting to just a few pages if that, were first made by directors like Nico Sommer, Tom Lass and Axel Ranisch with miniscule budgets.

Ranisch’s “Dicke Mädchen” (Heavy Girls), the director often stated tongue-in-cheek, supposedly only cost EUR 517.32. In the film, Sven, who lives with his mother suffering from dementia and even shares a bed with her, and nurse Daniel discover their feelings for one another. Heiko Pinkowski, Peter Trabner and Ranisch’s grandmother Ruth Bickelhaupt shine in this tenderly whimsical coming-out story full of situational comedy. In this film, emotion counts for more than technical perfection. Rarely has a burgeoning gay love story been told from such a fresh angle. “Dicke Mädchen” is available on DVD.

Axel Ranisch, Dicke Mädchen, 2012 © missingFilms
7. Milk

Harvey Milk wrote history as the first American politician who openly declared his homosexuality. Gus van Sant’s biopic focuses on the period between 1970 and 1978 when, after moving from New York to San Francisco, the civil rights activist began fighting for the rights of homosexuals and decided to stand as a candidate for the city council. “Milk” is the impressive portrait of one courageous man, and at the same time a portrait of a generation that struggled for the rights and equality of gays and lesbians. Sean Penn won the Oscar for Best Actor for an intense and unquestionably deserving performance of the civil rights activist, who was shot together with former city councilor George Moscone in the city hall in 1978. With its all-star cast though, including Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch and James Franco, the film is an impressive display of acting overall. Available on Netflix and on DVD.

Gus van Sant, Milk, 2008 © SND
8. XXY

Fifteen-year-old Alex was born with both male and female genitalia, but has so far lived as a girl with the support of hormones. Social animosity has caused her parents to move from Argentina to Uruguay, but they again find themselves facing scorn. While a surgical procedure is being discussed with a doctor and family friend, Alex and the doctor’s son Álvaro grow closer. Lucia Puenzo portrays the social and personal challenges of intersexuality, thus addressing a topic that has long been hushed up– and she does so in a region where machismo remains widespread. “XXY” is a story about self-determination and convention, an empathetic and sensitive statement on breaking what remains a taboo. Available on DVD and on the Amazon Prime Sundance Now Channel.

Lucía Puenzo, XXY, 2007 © Pyramide Distribution