Undressing Israel

This slight film from Michael Lucas is an exploration of what it means to be gay in modern Israel.  Despite being slightly arch in its central conceit that the audience will be shocked by the idea that Israel is a modern country, welcoming to gay people, there are some interesting moments and the people featured come across as well adjusted individuals.

The two men getting married, surrounded by their family, were my favourites but there was also the couple parenting two boys, an Arab- Israeli journalist, and a host of talking heads all explaining that it was a wonderful country in which to be gay.  The film director Eytam Fox was interviewed and he is always worth listening to.  Most attention is given to Tel Aviv and there are many questions left unanswered by this film such as what is it like to be gay in a rural community or far away from the vibrant party scene?

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An openly gay MP hosted a Pride event in the parliament near the start of the film and talked about the progress already made but the steps still needed.  The film provides an entirely positive look at gay life in Israel which is no bad thing when most films in this arena have issues to face.

 

Days Without End

BlogDaysWithoutEndThis powerful novel by Sebastian Barry spoke to my heart, not only because it tells the story of two men in love with each other, an easy love that did not bring each other heartache or soul- searching, but because it was a story of making your way in the world with all its difficulties in such an unassuming way.  It is also a novel of identity, national as well as personal since this is America in the middle of the nineteenth century and the states are anything but united and the tribes that predated the white settlers are suffering from the move west.

Thomas McNulty and John Cole are in love.  He has arrived in America from Sligo, Ireland by way of Quebec and fits in as a soldier since that is a way of earning a living. His love, John Cole, is an American he meets under a bush.  Together they travel and earn a loving, first as dancers, dressed in female attire, and then as soldiers.  Throughout the story Thomas is fluid in the expression of his gender, something that has deeper importance as the book reaches the denouement.  What never changes is their love for each other and their determination to stay together.  This is something that is ‘understood’ by those around them if not always remarked on; it is never an issue.  This is not a coming out novel with the requisite angst!

The novel takes us to the frontier where ‘Indians’ are being forced from the land.  Whatever Thomas McNulty thinks  of this, he does his duty and in doing so becomes a surrogate parent with John Cole for Winona.  It is the power of the writing that makes you want the very best outcomes for these characters despite the harsh conditions and historical events that seem sure to tear them all apart.

This is a novel to care about and one that uses the singular voice of Thomas McNulty to speak up for people who we now call gay but who then were just people in love.  ‘Days Without End’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

The Invisible Men

This documentary by film- maker Yariv Mozer is a sad portrait of the lives of three gay men adrift in Israel. The Palestinians are there because their lives are in danger if they stay at home.  The danger comes, mostly, from their own families.  In some cases the men came out to family members but it is also the case that exposure came from perceptions about their personalities or because they were caught with boyfriends.

BlogInvisibleMenThere is a sadness to this story of men living under the radar in Tel Aviv, a city chosen because it is the most accepting of their lifestyles.  Louie is an illegal, though, and he is regularly deported back to the border even though this places him in great danger each time.  Fares enters the film when Louie is asked to help him.  His family is actively searching for him, possibly to kill him, and it falls to other gay men to rescue him.

The third person in this film is Abdou, an out and proud Arab who believes his future lies in Europe where he may be better accepted.  The gay rights group supporting the men believe this is the best route for young gay men who are not given permission to stay in Israel.

The film follows two of the three to Europe where they, individually, hope to build new lives but they can’t escape the idea that this is not the homeland they would have chosen. The rejection from their families still stings and probably always will.  One of the saddest parts of the film was when Louie looked over the valley to his home village before departing for Europe.  He dared not visit and he longed to return.

‘The Invisible Men’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Release

BlogReleaseThis new novel has gone straight to my hinterland.  In part, this is because the writer is Patrick Ness and his books are always worth reading but it is also because the story of a young gay man trying to come to terms with his family who would rather he was a person he was not.

The story takes place over the course of one day as Adam runs errands for his mother, meets his best friend (female) and boyfriend (male), helps his father set up the church for Sunday worship, completes a shift at his Saturday job and attends a get- together by the lake in the evening- an event scheduled to ‘say goodbye’ to a former boyfriend who still has a hold of his heart.

We follow Adam as his path crosses with his contemporaries who all love and respect him in a way his parents cannot.  This is at the heart of the book, since being gay is not an issue for Adam.  His minister father, his pastor- in- training brother and his mother remain hopeful that the undeniable truth will not have to be faced and, in one scene, the truth of the matter is voiced by his father who tells him how hard he has to work to love him.

There is a strand of fantasy that weaves through Adam’s story and its point is only made clear at the end of the book.

‘Release’ by Patrick Ness is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Theo and Hugo

This French film has a lot of heart but to get to it you have to pass through the first twenty minutes or so of rather hard-hitting scenes inside a Paris sex club.  The story concerns two young men who meet and who find their attraction to each other is on a different plane to the other encounters at the same club.

The problem is that their encounter has put one of them at risk and a trip to the hospital is required.  They go together and then walk through the city getting to know each other and dealing with the strong emotions arising from their encounter.  The opening was stronger than I am used to but, once through this, the film is sweet and shows the blossoming of love in a sweet way.  Adding to the power of the film is its rolling out in real-time so that we travel through the night with Hugo and Theo.

We are left at the end with the same uncertainty faced by the boys themselves but with a large feeling of hope that this is a relationship will last.  To make me feel this way after 90 minutes is quite an achievement.

Exposure

This terrific novel by Helen Dunmore reminded me so much of ‘The Railway Children’ although it is adults who take centre stage in this story of the fall- out from espionage in 50s Britain.  It is an ‘ordinary’ family that suffers when things go wrong for the husband; his wife and three children have to pick up the pieces and live with the consequences of public exposure.

Simon Callington is a man trying to escape his past but whose friendships threaten his new life with his wife and children in a comfortable corner of London.  In particular, his past association with Giles causes him trouble.  They were lovers when Simon was a student with Giles, as the older man, enjoying the patronage he can bestow.  They have moved on but the friendship continues… and when Giles presumes on this friendship it starts a chain of events that lead to disgrace.

Lily, Simon’s wife, has already made a new start in life when her mother brought her from Germany to England and safety in an earlier era.  Lily knows what it is like to start again with nothing.  She did not think this would be her fate twice in her life.

Simon, Lily and Giles all feature prominently in a novel which reminds us of 50s attitudes to outsiders.  The paranoia around cold war spying adds another dimension to the suffering of one family.  As the novel moves towards its end, I was reminded again of the connection with ‘The Railway Children’ and I hoped for that dramatic moment (from the film at least) of a father being reunited with his children.  Life is rarely so neat and tidy, though.

Acting with integrity and honour is an important theme in the book.  Simon’s past has not been shared with his wife and the effect on her and his children is central in his thinking as he faces disgrace.  Lily is the most impressive figure here, her determination to survive and to shield her son and daughters from the shame.  1950s Britain fares less well; the sense of who can and should belong in our society is one of the less admirable features of that era.

‘Exposure’ by Helen Dunmore is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

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Tate Britain is a Treasure House

In London, so off to Tate Britain to see the exhibition ‘Queer British Art: 1867- 1967’, held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passing of legislation to partially decriminalise homosexuality.  The gallery was heaving with visitors heading for the major David Hockney show; somewhat telling that a gay artist drew bigger crowds than this attempt to show how being gay influenced the art.

I had a few problems with this exhibition, the largest being that not all the artists featured were known to be gay.  The suggestion that he or she might have been is just a posh version of what the awful tabloid newspapers do when they want to ‘suggest’ a person’s sexuality.

Having grown up in the 70s when being thought to be gay by others was enough to bring around the abuse, it was a bit disappointing to see the same (but more refined) approach being used on people who are long dead and cannot speak for themselves. Lord Leighton’s work is here which seems to be enough to decide he must have been gay.  I take the point, made by the curator, that many paintings were coded to convey messages that would have been picked up by gay people but that does not mean that all the Victorian artists here were gay themselves.

The two paintings I loved rose above the rest, with only the door of Oscar Wilde’s cell from Reading Prison of equal poignancy.  Lord Leighton’s ‘Icarus and Daedalus’ and Henry Scott Tuke’s ‘The Critics’ were stunning.