Closet Monster

This Canadian film tells the story of a young, conflicted boy discovering his sexuality and trying to survive the fall out of his parents’ split.  His talking hamster helps him through and, although that sounds like a ‘cute’ device, it actually works well in this case.

Oscar witnessed a homophobic beating when he was young.  Years later, as an eighteen year old who is about to graduate he notices a new fellow employee at his weekend place of work. Wilder seems to be worldly-wise and a hit with everyone he meets and Oscar is attracted to him but traumatised by the childhood memories.

Oscar is artistic and dreams of enrolling on a make up course in New York City.  His best friend helps him out by modelling for him and their closeness leads Oscar’s father to believe they are in a relationship.  Things become uncertain when his plans fall apart and Wilder announces his imminent departure.

Set in St.John’s, Newfoundland the film and directed by Stephen Dunn, it is an excellent exploration of the confusion felt by some youngsters when they search for their place in the world. Themes of separation, homophobia and misplaced loyalties thread through the film yet it is ultimately a joyous celebration of youth and coming through difficult times.

‘Closet Monster’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Film 74

The announcement at the weekend of the death of Barry Norman was another sad passing of someone from my early years who played a significant part in building the person I am today; my interests were formed in my teenage years and have strengthened over the years.  Barry Norman was on one of the first experts I came across who talked to me about film.

As I remember it, Film 74 was a fortnightly programme broadcast by BBC television on a Sunday night.  Each other week, the book programme ‘Read All About It’ was screened.  I liked both!

The format was simple but effective.  Norman sat in a studio and talked to the camera about the releases of the week and clips were shown.  This was enough for me.  His comments were cogent and his tastes were mainstream but the idea of someone, who knew more than I did, telling me about something I wanted to know more about was just the sort of thing I needed.

I read in his obituaries that Barry Norman presented the programme from 1972 until 1998.  The title of the series made the small adjustment with each new year.  I first became aware of it in 1974 and watched until the late 70s when I left for university.  The programme became weekly at some stage and, although I still watched occasionally, my time in front of a television diminished and I found other experts on film to turn to.

However, Film… was part of my growing up.  It was one of the first places I realised that ‘foreign films’ were worth finding out and, each New Year, his programme of his favourite films of the year was a must see.  In essence, this is what made him the very best of critics:  he talked about what he liked and why and was unapologetic about the idea that the list was personal.  One person, talking to camera- amazing television.  They should do that again.

The Little Traitor

I loved the novella by Amos Oz called ‘Panther in the Basement’.  This film is based on that book and, even though the title is a touch too ‘cute’ for my taste, it is an interesting transposition of the story to film.  The wonderful Alfred Molina is terrific as Sergeant Stephen Crabtree, the British soldier posted to Palestine during the British Mandate.  He is a man fascinated by this land of the Bible and delighted to meet a young boy who looks able to help him understand the language. They strike up a friendship which is odd since the boy, Proffy to his friends, is brought up to hate the British and declares himself a sworn enemy.

The political is personal, though, and soon Proffy is conflicted by the difference between what he has been told about the British and what he likes about Sergeant Crabtree.  The two spend time together, usually at the British mess, and Proffy helps the sergeant with Hebrew while Crabtree teaches Proffy English.

Proffy’s friendship with two friends of the same age as him is based on their sense of fighting back against the British Mandate.  They plot ways of attacking the enemy as young boys do, oblivious to the dangers involved.  Proffy sees an opportunity to use Crabtree as a source of military information to further their freedom fighting cause but things do not turn out that way and when he is followed by his friends his secret visits to the British mess are misinterpreted.

The resulting interrogation of Proffy by a Jewish group was confusing to me: who were they and on what authority did Proffy’s parents subject their son to such treatment?  A sub-plot showing their involvement in the Haganah might explain this.  In any case, Proffy is branded a traitor in his community and he questions the nature of friendship; learning  too late that Sergeant Stephen Crabtree was more of a friend than he realised at the time.  The final scene is worth waiting for since it brings a resolution not found in the book.

On balance, the book is far better than the film, even with the presence of Alfred Molina, but the location filming adds a dimension that I could not see in my mind’s eye when reading.  The sense of Jerusalem in the 1940s is brought to life.  For this reason, the film 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?

Fire at Sea

This wonderful documentary is both sweet and very sad.  By contrasting normal life in Lampedusa, an island off Sicily in Italy, with the refugee crisis, director Gianfranco Rosi has made a film that shows the human aspects of newspaper headlines.

BlogFireatSea2Two locals in particular dominate the film: a young boy through whose eyes we see ‘normal’ Lampedusan life; and a doctor who comes into contact with refugees because of his vocation.

What makes the film so powerful is the way it shows the details of island life and then the logistics of rescuing migrants; time is taken over both.  As the film progresses, the two strands support each other to make a central point that this migrant crisis is taking place among us.  People die trying to cross the Mediterranean.  Apart from one small scene where the doctor talks about his work in relation to the migrants brought ashore from their un-seaworthy boat, the two worlds do not meet so we do not find out what local people think of the crisis.  This is not the point, however, and it serves to remind us that our lives often continue oblivious to the pain of others.

BlogFireatSea

 

Heatwave

BlogApresLeSudThis film with the title ‘Apres le Sud’ in the original French is an interesting study of four people each facing a personal crisis.  The setting is the South of France in what seems to be a heatwave.  Directed by Jean- Jacques Jauffret, the 2011 film plays with time so that when things unfold we pass moments that we have already witnessed.  What makes it all the more interesting is the way the characters cross paths with each other as their personal stories unfold.

Amelie is a young woman with a holiday job at the supermarket.  She urgently needs to speak to her boyfriend, Luigi, but tracking him down is hard and when he appears, she cannot be released from her work.  He has his own issues as his father is harsh with him and he wants to return to his mother in Italy.  He is unaware that the news Amelie has for him could change his decision about leaving.

Amelie’s mother has her own concerns and leaves for another city telling her daughter she is visiting a relative overnight.   Instead, she goes to a clinic that could help with her weight problem.  Georges is the fourth character we follow.  He is a retired man who relies on public transport to go to the local supermarket.  Quite lonely, but not without reason, he listens to classical music and fights off the irritation of teenagers playing football against his garage door.

As you would expect on such a hot day, everyone moves slowly and the camera lingers over small details so that there is a documentary feel at times.

When the paths cross in a final tragic scene, earlier scenes fall into place and the layers built up by the director come together.  It is an accomplished film.  It 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.