Tag Archives: Kitoks Kinas

Heavy Girls/ Dicke Mädchen (Axel Ranisch, Germany, 2012)

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Sven (Heiko Pinkowski) a harried, overweight, middle-aged bank employee lives in a small apartment in a block of flats with his mother Edeltraut (Ruth Bicklehaupt) who is very dear in spite of her Alzheimer’s. Whilst he’s away at work, he gets help from Daniel (Peter Trabner), a carer. One day, Daniel is washing the windows on the balcony outside and Edeltraut forgets he’s there, locks him out, and goes for a wander. Six hours later, the son return to find Daniel freezing and the elderly mum gone. They search high and low but they can’t find her. Sven bonds with Daniel but asks him to go home as it’s very late and there’s nothing further to be done. When Daniel returns home his wife promptly kicks him out because she thinks he’s been with another woman and he goes back to Sven’s where the mother has since returned. Daniel and Sven, at Edeltraut’s urging and with her blessing become close and later fall in love.

The film is full of tender, funny, glorious scenes rarely seen in cinema: Daniel, a romantic adolescent at heart in spite of his age and girth, trying to find some sexual privacy from his mother and rapturously dancing naked to Ravel. He looks like a middle-aged Dumbo and is just as sweet. The mother peeks through the keyhole of course, and fondly: there’s total love and intimacy between them. In another scene, after they’ve become a couple, Daniel’s young son comes to play at Sven’s and the focus is on Sven’s displeasure at the son’s rudeness, a refusal to simply melt away and disappear when children appear on the scene, that many gay people will recognize (and they’re all in his house! His indignation is funny but also palpable and true).

Sven and Daniel are made for each other. They laugh at the same things, understand each other. They delight in the other’s craziness. There’s a marvelous scene where they all sing and dance in the living room, drink to excess, have a glorious time, each applauding the outrageousness of the other, the mother joyful at it all. That night she dies. They’ve given her the perfect send-off —  a life ending presumably as its been lived, with love and laughter; and she’s given them the platform through which their relationship can develop.

I love this film even though it looks like it was shot with a handheld camera of not-very-high resolution by people who didn’t understand the fundamentals of light: the image is thin and  scenes get into shade all of a sudden and for no reason. Yet, in spite of its look, emotionally each scene plays well and holds true. I also didn’t understand the ending: Sven kicks Daniel out because of all of the problems with his son and goes to Australia, which is meant to signify a new start and a new life. But will Sven ever find someone who he can be so easy, so himself so amused and loved as with Daniel? It presumably took him fifty years to find Daniel. Why didn’t they just work it out? We want them to. And think of how rare it is today to ‘want’ something for characters (other than a slap and a quick end).

A tender, loving look at the travails of not good-looking, not-rich, no-longer young people that is sweet, funny, tender and has some beautiful and daring performances. Very much worth a look.

José Arroyo

Seen at Kitoks Kinas, Vilnius, July 30th.

Brotherhood/ Broderskab (Nicolo Donato, Denmark, 2009)

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Thure Lindhardt stars as Lars, an officer from a well-to-do and well-connected family who is effectively discharged from the military for making a pass at two sub-ordinates. At loose ends and disaffected, he joins a neo-Nazi skinhead group. He rises quickly through the ranks, finds fraternity there but falls in love with Jimmy (David Dencik), another former military man but from a lower class. Jimmy reciprocates Lars’ feelings and they enjoy a brief idyll before they’re discovered and all hell breaks loose.

It’s a melodramatic story, one with no way out for its protagonists, and very depressing to see. Why someone like Lars would join a neo-Nazi skinhead group rather than just dance his tits off at a skinhead night in some club and pick someone up on his way out is not made clear. In fact the film seems barely conscious of the place of the figure of the skinhead in gay erotic subcultures, much less that there might be anti-Nazi left-wing gay skinhead associations (what’s fetishized is the look — thin men, head shaved, Doc Martin boots under rolled-up tight jeans – and a ritualized violence in sex that can verge on the extreme: Cazzo films made the production of such films addressed to a gay market its specialism in porn).

David Dencik as Jimmy is very good: one can understand his wrench in giving up his ‘family’ for Lars. There’s a wonderful appearance also by Nicolas Bro, who some might remember from The Killing, as ‘Fatty’ the leader of the neo-Nazi gang. But the camera really focuses on Thure Lindhardt; he’s the reason to see the film; and not only because his superb performance in Keep the Lights On (Ira Sachs, USA, 2012) remains so memorable. Here, he comes across as goofy, calculating and un-theatrically masculine; that combination of ordinary and extraordinary that stars are said to have. The film has a wonderful scene where he’s in the shower, steam rising form his body, mouth open, gaze on Jimmy steady, longing  palpable, that is as wonderful an evocation of desire as I’ve seen on film.

I also liked that the film doesn’t condemn the skin-head gang outright. One does get a sense of the anxieties, fears and all kinds of social exclusions and oppressions that drive them to form such a ‘family’. However, it’s a film of very partial pleasures; there are too many things in the story that don’t quite make sense; the film has some beautiful shots but the direction and pacing of those shots sometimes feels purposeless; and overall, and in spite of my anticipation, I found the film a bit of a trial to sit through:  it’s not sexy enough to make up for its relative lack of insight.

José Arroyo

Seen at Kitoks Kinas, Vilnius, July 29th 2013

 

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American Vagabond (Susanna Helke and Mary Morgan, Denmark/Finland/ USA, 2013)

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A feature documentary about a young man, James Temple, barely 18, life made impossible by his family for being gay, who runs away to San Francisco in the hope of finding a gay paradise. Instead he finds hunger, homelessness, and a desperate if short-lived descent into prostitution. The America we see in all kinds of films today is no longer that of the ‘American Dream’. You have to be brave in this America but that’s because it’s no longer free and it’s no longer just. What’s wrong with a family who prefers to see their child hungry, cold, homeless, abused and sold so that they can uphold their ‘Christian’ principles? What’s wrong with a country that puts a nice teenage boy in jail for three years and permanently stains him as a pedophile because he slept with another teenage boy who was under two years younger? What’s worse is that once the boy is put in jail, that family becomes his main source of support. One comes out of this film in a rage against that family, that system of injustice, this shocking, new and barbaric America. Russia is brutalising its gay youth officially; America no less efficiently for being unofficial. In ‘The Swimmers’ a short story written for The Saturday Evening Post ( 19th of October 1929),  F. Scott Fitzgerald writes, ‘France was a land, England was a people, but America, having about it still that quality of the idea…was a willingness of the heart.’ This makes one ask where is that willingness of the heart now in America? Or has that heart withered so  its only willingness is for hurting its young, its poor and its weak? The film is crude, unsophisticated and lacks texture: but it sure does the job.

José Arroyo

Seen at Kitoks Kinas, Vilnius, July 29th, 2013

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The Country Teacher/ Venkovský ucitel (Bohdan Sláma, Czech Republic, 2008)

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Petr (Pavel Liska), young, shy, gifted, arrives in a rural village from Prague to teach science. How will he fit in? Why has he left Prague? The film has a lovely feel for nature and for rural life; people take each other milk in bottles as gifts, calving becomes a metaphor for people’s relationships, some people are allowed to make love naturally, almost openly, in haystacks; others aren’t. The narrative  is designed around three sets of structuring tensions: the city vs the country; one urban, ambitious, controlling mother vs one who farms, gets by, and is understanding without being a pushover; and two sets of sons, a highly educated and sensitive gay boy who moves to the countryside and an equally sensitive boy with learning difficulties who wants to move to Prague and win back his girlfriend. The film looks beautiful and makes one long to experience the Czech countryside. It also succeeds in showing, with insight and delicacy, multiple ways of being and various ways of life that still exist, co-exist, and happily, today. As the tagline to the film’s poster says, ‘Everybody needs someone’; the film is quite moving in showing how this somebody one needs might not necessarily be who one thought, expected or initially desired.  I also loved the performance of Zuzana Bydzovská as Marie. She looks like Katharine Hepburn, exudes the rueful worldliness of Jeanne Moreau but can ride a tractor like nobody’s business. The film’s main fault is in its climax which I found self-abasing to the point of self-hatred and which almost ruined this lovely film for me.

José Arroyo

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Seen at Kitoks Kinas, Vilnius, July 26th, 2013

Labyrinth of Passion (A note on) (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain, 1982)

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The film is over thirty years old now, still potent, and now seems a lot darker than it used to, with the incest and the rapes taking on a different significance in the light of Almodóvar’s subsequent work. I first saw it in the mid-1980s at a packed midnight screening at the Alphaville cinema in Madrid where the audience itself made the event seem a party for and a celebration of what the film represented (a new way of being in a new Spain) and of themselves (a postmodern coalition of dissident youth cultures, gay and straight, with a shared view of the past and shared hopes for the future). The audience knew all the lines and uttered them before the characters in the film did, with the appearances of Fabio de Miguel as Fanny McNamara being greeted with particular enthusiasm (he remains a highlight, his very presence a witty and forceful protest against domineering institutions and homogenizing ideology).

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This 25th of July, over thirty years later, it was the opening film at Kitoks Kinas, the LGBT film festival in Vilnius, introduced by His Excellency Don Miguel Arias Estévez in front a whole host of dignitaries (Ambassadors from The Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Denmark etc.). Lithuania is going through a transition not unlike what Spain went through in the 1980s. The right to a Gay Pride March through Vilnius City Centre was against the wishes of the City’s Mayor, had to be fought all the way through to the Supreme Court, and was won only just before the march itself, which took place in the face of vociferous right-wing opposition. It was an honour to be there and to participate. The Spanish Ambassador gave a witty and elegant introduction to the film explaining why it had been chosen to open the LGBT film festival in Vilnius and what it had meant to his generation in Spain.

Labyrinth of Passion was never a masterpiece. It is technically rough and the shoe-string budget (reported then at 20 million pesetas) is everywhere evident. However, it’s still cheeky, corrosive, queer punk at its best. Worth seeing for many reasons not least Fabio McNamara, early appearances from mainstays of Spanish-speaking film and TV such as Immanol Arias and Cecilia Roth and Antonio Banderas’ very first appearance on film, already fearless as an actor and clearly a star from the get-go, as a gay Muslim terrorist with pictures of the Ayatollah on his wall and an unerring sense of smell.

The scene with the sniffing of the nail polish, and the one where Almodóvar himself directs Fanny in a fotonovela where Fanny is pleasured by having his heart and his guts drilled, are still hilarious (and we get to see Almodóvar and McNamara in a rare, crudely camp performance of ‘Satanasa’ as well). And of course, all of Almodóvar’s themes (sexual identity, gender, uncontrollable desires, consumer culture, various kinds of violations, etc) are already present, some in scenes that recur and get better executed in later films (for example, the chase to the airport that we later see in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown but many others as well).

 

Seeing the film again all these years later made me reflect on camp humour, and how the film’s deployment of it now seems so culturally specific. The film went over well but not brilliantly in Vilnius and I suspect it’s because some of the humour is simply untranslatable. One of the things that fascinates me about camp is that the structure of its operations seems to be transnational, you find it almost everywhere, certainly everywhere I’ve been to. But its specific manifestations are often highly coded, work on various levels simultaneously and only manifest to a few, those in the know. The reference points to La Movida, the pop and underground culture of the era, even the narrative woven by Hola (Hello magazine) throughout the 1960s about the tragedy of the Shah of Iran having to divorce Soraya, the woman he loved, because she couldn’t bear him children, the basis for the film’s story, all of these sets of knowledges that enhance one’s appreciation of the film, I don’t find to be essential.

However, much of the camp humour in Labyrinth of Passion comes not only from situation, which is relatively easy to get, in spite of missing specific references, but from dialogue. Almodóvar is simply brilliant at everyday quotidian dialogue. I sometimes felt that I could close my eyes when seeing his films and hear my aunts.  But in this film more than others, those phrases work on multiple levels: who says them, the intonation with which they’re spoken, whether a line is inflected at beginning or end; all bring different meanings, draw on different sets of knowledges, set the perfect pitch and the optimum timing for the punch-line: the Vilnius audience only got the visual. Might this now be true of all audiences except the generation of Spaniards who grew up around the moment of the transition?

It’s worth remembering that the film was made a year after Colonel Tejero’s armed intervention in the Spanish Cortes, the coup that failed; that only a few years earlier, Almodóvar would have been arrested for such representations had they been possible; that in 1982 there was no guarantee that there would not be a political reversal (much as the situation now in the aftermath of the Arab Spring).  To dare to make a film as nasty, as queer, as funny as this one in that context: no Spanish artist of the last four decades has been braver or more true to himself. Few have grown, developed and improved as much as he did since Labyrinth also. The film works best as a document of its time. Yet, the wit, the daring, the corrosive critique, the in-your-face queerness of it all still thrills, still shocks, still makes it worth seeing at any time.

José Arroyo