Tattoo

This 2015 film from Brazil tells the story of a young man entering the world of a 70s alternative theatre group.  The regime is repressive and hostile to groups that mock it in whatever medium.  Our young man, Fininha,  is in the army/police and is introduced to the actors through his girlfriend’s brother who is the group’s most flamboyant member.  Having never seen a show like it, 18 year old Fininha is intrigued and then immersed in the world of gay activists.  Clecio is the leader who takes the young soldier under his wing and a sexual relationship develops.

Back at barracks, Fininha is mocked for being an outsider and at home his relationship is fallign apart, not helped by the expectations on all young men in the society of the time.  When he decides to throw in his lot with the anarchist group, he gets a tattoo to show his love for Clecio.

The regime hits back at a group that mocks it by sending in the soldiers and the sense of an inevitable collision builds.

Irandhir Santos plays Clecio and Jesuita Barbosa plays the young Fininha in a film that is provocative as well as evocative of an era when to be gay was to be political.

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Remembering the Man

I think I have covered the story of Timothy Conigrave and John Caleo story from every angle having read the book, watched the film and read the play script (oh, so not very angle as I have not seen the play performed).  All three took the title, ‘Holding the Man’ but this moving documentary, with a slightly different title, is worth watching for the additional voices of their friends who retell their story with such love and care.

The other works (play, book, film) show what a loving relationship the two men had from school onwards.  The pain of their separation was also evident but less clear was the fact that they were part of a supportive group of friends who not only accepted them but did not think to question why the two of them were together.  The unconditional nature of this friendship complemented the story of Tim and John’s love.

The virus that killed John was just one of the battles faced by the two men.  They also fought homophobia and bigotry during their sixteen years together.  At one time they were forbidden to see each other by parents anxious to ignore a sexuality they did not understand or like.

Film makers Nickolas Bird and Eleanor Sharpe have made a film that tells this story using old photographs and film footage.  Tim Conigrave recorded his experiences for an AIDS education project and good use is made of it here.

‘Remembering the Man’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Still Walking

This 2008 film by Japanese director Kore-eda is a study of a family that is fractured by the loss of the favoured son.  The effect on the other son and daughter as they live up to parental expectations.  The film takes us through 24 hours of a visit by the other son and his family to the family home so that they can pay their respects at the grave of the dead son.  The fact that his wife has a young boy from her previous marriage adds an extra dimension in terms of who has a place within the family.

The father and mother of the dead son have daily arguments and the daughter’s husband and children add energy to the household that would be missing otherwise, even if the mother does express relief when they have left for home.  The step-son is a calmer prospect and observes everything with a reserve that earns him the nickname ‘the unsmiling prince’.

It is a hot summer day when they gather and the walk to the grave through the heat suggests this is a ritual that must be observed.  The dead son is a presence in the film.  The father, a retired doctor adjusting to a post work state, cannot see why anyone would have any profession outside medicine.  His surviving son has work problems of his own but cannot seek advice from his father who he believes does not understand him.

Throughout the film, the characters navigate their way past the difficult and the unspoken.  It is the strength of the film that we move towards the end without any of these problems solved.

Black Butler: the film

Next in my exploration of the world of ‘Black Butler’ was the live action film version released in 2014.  There are differences from the manga but the parallel world (part Victorian or Edwardian) is still here and the central characters of butler and his master are in place.  Yet, the biggest surprise was that the master was not Ciel Phantomhive but Earl Kiyohara Genpu and, wait for it, he was a she!

The master served by the butler is a girl at the start of the film and, like the manga, she is involved in fighting the underworld but, once rescued from the hands of villains in the film’s opening scene, she appears as a boy.  For the rest of the film s/he is the master served by the butler.  Central to this film is the need to revenge the death of his/her parents and discover which forces are behind attempts to destroy him/her.

The action sequences are good showing the super human skill of the butler as he deals with all comers.  The master- servant relationship also works well as the power play between the two provides hints that this story is not yet over.  Hiro Mizushima plays Sebastian and Ayame Gouriki plays his master.

I haven’t reached the purist stage yet so the departure from the story line of the manga did not worry me.

Yin + Yang

This film about film is an interesting exploration of gender in Chinese cinema by director Stanley Kwan Kam-pang.  The sub-title, ‘Gender in Chinese Cinema’ sets us up for a documentary of interviews and film clips around gender fluidity in films by Chinese directors.

Many of the films are ones I am familiar with such as ‘Farewell My Concubine’ and ‘Vive L’amour’ but there were others that have now been added to the list of films to hunt down.  Interestingly, many of the directors and actors deny any connection between their work and the idea of being gay, and even deny the work having gay themes.  Leslie Cheung answers questions about so frequently being cast in effeminate roles as recognising in himself a certain degree of vulnerability.

Kwan presents the film in ‘chapters’ starting with his own experiences as a child, being taken to the male bath houses by his father and ending with his interview with his mother when he asks her if it concerns her that she has a gay son.  Between, we see images of male bonding from martial arts films and others and images of masculinity in both men and women.  The Chinese Opera is a rich resource for crossing gender norms and this is explored, yet it seems, in the late 90s at least, that Hong Kong and Taiwan were more open to expressions of homosexuality than mainland China.  It may have changed!

It comes across as something of a period piece itself, now, but the documentary, narrated by Tony Rayns, is worth watching for the signs that things are shifting in cinema.

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Ocean Waves

I was reminded of this anime feature from Japan after watching ‘Your Name’.  They may not be in the same league in terms of quality but the story is an interesting one.  It is told in flashback.  Taku sees a woman at the train station and remembers how she came into his life.  We see the story unfold starting at the point where Rikako joined his High School, transferring from Tokyo.

She is bright but arrogant and finds it hard to fit in.  Taku, along with his friend Yutaka, is fascinated by her but not sure how to take her.  She seems content to use her new found friends when it suits her, borrowing money when she needs it and failing to pay it back, for instance, and she thinks nothing of phoning Taku to rescue her from an old boyfriend when her date turns sour but seems not to recognise that he has feelings for her.

The film was the work of younger Studio Ghibli animators and it is best seen as a work of emerging artists.  It is an interesting work, nevertheless.

Your Name

This excellent 2016 anime from Japan makes you think about identity and gender.  The concept of a boy and a girl changing places is one that has been explored in other films but this one has an extra dimension of time and chronology to add to the mix.  The high school boy from Tokyo and the girl of the same age from rural Japan swap places unwillingly and realise that this new life is bringing around changes in their personalities as well as their fortunes.

There is a lot of fun to be had from the gender swap concept but the film is less interested in gender difference and more interested in personality.  This makes it a more perceptive film.  Their friends notice the differences in their manners before they do.  In agreeing to communicate with each other, they set up a very modern solution to the problem: mobile phones are used to record diary entries.  When back in their own bodies, they can see what ‘they’ might have done the day before.  This is best shown when the boy goes on a date his other self set up for him.

Then the swapping stops!  To lose the central idea of the film about two thirds through is a brave choice as the story develops into one of a young man pursuing a young woman who knows him like nobody else.  This task seems impossible when his research in news media tells him it would be a waste of time.

I watched the version with sub-titles so that I could hear the Japanese language, even though I don’t understand it.  I could not cope with American voices taking over, acting like a cultural gravy over the whole affair.

Mokoto Shinkai directed the film.  Ryunosuke Kamiki played the young man and Mone Kamishiraishi played the young woman.

‘Your Name’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?