This 2016 film from director Henry Coombes only made it into my hinterland because the part of Albert, played by co-writer David Sillars, is so engaging and entertaining. He plays an older gay man in semi- retirement who is called upon by an old friend to help her grandson with his depression. Albert, once a Jungian counsellor, now spends most of his time in his dirty apartment painting. He does not welcome distractions but agrees to help out his old friend.
Ben, the grandson who arrives for his sessions, is sweet enough but in a relationship with a boyfriend so unpleasant that you sort of get the feeling that ditching him might be all the advice he needs from Albert.
The film works only because of the central performance of Sillars who is great when conducting counselling sessions and when dancing in the gay club. He carries the film and this does weaken the whole enterprise as, when he isn’t on screen, the story is less powerful. Power to the elbow of Henry Coombes for trying, though. The film is never less than interesting!
This gentle film from director Marco Berger covers an unusual angle in a relationship. Bruno’s girlfriend ends their affair because she has met Pablo. His plan to split the couple and get revenge on Pablo does not go well for Bruno. First, when he sleeps with Laura again this does not bring about the desired result. Instead, he decides to pretend to have feelings for Pablo himself and lure him into a position where he can expose him as gay.
Bruno befriends Pablo as part of this plan B only to find that he actually does like him. The more time they spend together, the more they discover they like each other and then, of course, they reach a point of questioning their own sexuality.
The film meanders to the point where their feelings are revealed but it is the better for this slow pace. It handles well the point of disbelief when two men have to admit to themselves that what they are experiencing is love.
‘Plan B’ by Marco Berger is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This Spanish film from director Alberto Rodriguez is set as the country emerges from the Franco regime. The significance of this is seen through the background of one of the police officers investigating a murder in the marshlands of the title. A journalist following the story remembers his actions from the time of Franco and warns the officer’s partner about him. Both police officers have stories from their past that follow them around and they make every effort to keep them hidden as they follow the case.
The film itself follows the usual pattern of police officers sent to a backwater to solve a crime. The closed community, while distressed at the murders and abduction of young women, is not ready to welcome or trust outsiders. What emerges as the case is investigated is the unhappiness of families trying to make a living in the poor region of the Spanish south. Any chance to get away is seized upon, making young women, in particular, easy targets for preying men.
The strength of the film, apart from his moody quality, is its exploration of the moral ambiguity of police enforcers continuing in work having been on the payroll of oppressive regimes. The fact that it is a Franco enforcer who makes a breakthrough in the case poses difficult questions. The resolution of the case does not bring about a resolution between the two officers with the final scene leaving things open to viewer interpretation.
‘Marshland’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
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?
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.
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?
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.
There 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?