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  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (15/3/2023)

(An overview of Flare, the 37th edition of the BFI's London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival)


BFI Flare returns for a 37th edition of the London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival between 15-26 March. In all, the programme offers 58 features and 90 shorts from 41 countries, with 28 titles being premieres. Opening proceedings is Kristen Lovell and Zackary Drucker's documentary, The Stroll, which recalls the experiences of the trans women of colour who made a living on 14th Street in New York's Meatpacking District. The closing night gala is Hannes Hirsch's debut feature, Drifter, a rite of passage that follows a young man (Lorenz Hochhuth) discovering himself after his boyfriend abandons him shortly after relocating to Berlin. There is also a memorial screening of Strip Jack Naked: Nighthawks II (1991), in honour of the late British queer pioneer, Ron Peck.


BODIES.


A rediscovered piece of vintage gay porn wouldn't usually be hailed as the highlight of a Flare strand. But Wallace Potts's Le Beau Mec (1979) is no ordinary find, as its director was the last lover of Rudolf Nureyev, who choreographs this chronicle of Karl Forest's experiences from his school and army days to hustling on the streets of Paris. What's more, it was photographed by the great Nestor Almendros.


France also contributes Christophe Honoré's Winter Boy and Léa Mysius's The Five Devils. Based on the director's own experiences, the former sees teenager Paul Kircher leave grieving mother Juliette Binoche at home in order to embark upon a journey of self-discovery while staying with his older brother in Paris. Following up the much-admired Ava (2017), Mysius's sophomore outing centres on Sally Dramé, an eight year-old whose uncanny sense of smell comes in handy while dealing with racist bullies and trying to fathom the complex relationship between her swimming instructor mother (Adèle Exarchopoulos), her firefighter father (Moustapha Mbengue), and her mysterious aunt (Swala Emati).


A mother-daughter tale from the other end of the timescale is explored in Andrea Pallaoro's Monica, as Trace Lysette returns home to nurse Patricia Clarkson, the dementia-afflicted mother who had disowned her child when she had decided to transition. However, Carmen Madonia and mother Ramona Milano have a much closer bond in Luis De Filippis's Something You Said Last Night, which draws on the director's own experiences in recalling the recently fired Madonia's cabin vacation with Milano, father Joe Parro, and younger sister, Paige Evans.


Another family holiday sparks the action in Corin Sherman's Big Boys, as Isaac Krasner gradually starts to enjoy himself after initially being peeved that favourite cousin Emily Deschanel has brought new boyfriend David Johnson III on their camping trip. Life-changing liaisons also occur in Cláudia Varejão's Wolf and Dog and Lee Soh-yoon's XX + XY. Set in a religious enclave in São Miguel in the Azores, the former explores how the fates of Ana Cabral and her gay bestie, Ruben Pimenta, are changed by the return from Canada of Cristiana Branquinho. A South Korean high school provides the setting as intersex teenager Ahn Hyun-Ho finds their friendships with Kim Ji-in and Bang Woo-ram being made complicated by hormones.


Staying in Seoul, Hae-jun plays a dancer who is hoping to pay for gender affirming surgery by winning a voguing contest in Byun Sung-bin's Peafowl. But she is also duty bound to return to her rural roots to perform a ritual dance at her father's funeral. Non-binary teen Vaughan Murrae also has to find ways to fit in on joining a new school and forges an unlikely friendship with bully Dominic Lippa in Before I Change My Mind, which features a standout cameo by director Trevor Anderson, as the local theatre producer staging the musical, Mary Magdalene: Video Star.


A new career as a porn star in Los Angeles beckons for Cooper Koch in Carter Smith's Swallowed. But buddy Jose Colon has cut a deal with drug dealer Jena Malone to send him off with a few bucks in his pocket. All he needs do is ingest a condom full of drugs and make it across the border. Black Brazilian law student and women's rights activist Sol Miranda is also tempted to transgress in Júlia Murat's Rule 34, as her nocturnal activities as a camgirl draw her into a BDSM world online.


Returning to his provincial hometown while studying piano in Warsaw, Tymoteusz Bies is dismayed to see his brother and pals making trouble at the new kebab shop in Damian Kocur's Bread and Salt. But Bies has another reason for intervening in this fact-based drama, as he feels drawn to one of the shop's immigrant workers, Nadim Suleiman.


Completing the slate is a clutch of documentaries. Inna Sahakyan and Paul Cohen follow transitioning weightlifter Mel Daluzyan from Armenia to the Netherlands in Mel; Patrick Muroni profiles the members of the Oil feminist porn collective in Fierce: A Porn Revolution; Berlin's radical porn scene comes under scrutiny in Toni Karat's NARCISSISM: The Auto-Erotic Images; D. Smith meets four Black trans sex workers in Kokomo City; and actors voice the experiences of Irish people of all ages who are struggling to go public with their HIV status in Anna Rodgers and Shaun Dunne's How to Tell a Secret.


HEARTS.


North American titles dominate the Hearts line-up at Flare 37. The animated interludes have received plenty of attention ahead of the screening of Sarah Kambe Holland's Egghead & Twinkie. Sabrina Jie-A-Fa stars as the mixed-Asian lesbian who shocks her adoptive parents by coming out and hitting the road with adoring best pal Louis Tomeo to meet the DJ she has met online. Love is also in the air for Asian Canadian teenager Cardi Wong in Jason Karman's Golden Delicious. But how is he going to tell girlfriend Parmiss Sehat that he would rather lose his virginity with basketball-loving neighbour, Chris Carson?


Another neighbour makes an offer it proves impossible to refuse in Juan Felipe Zuleta's Unidentified Objects, as sex worker Sarah Hay persuades Matthew Jeffers (a reclusive gay man with dwarfism) to drive her to Canada so she can hook up with aliens from the Andromeda Galaxy. And another unexpected departure drives Todd Flaherty's Chrissy Judy, as Wyatt Fenner breaks up a drag act to join his boyfriend in Philadelphia, leaving a crestfallen Flaherty to seek his niche in New York, Provincetown, and Fire Island.


Another director takes a starring role in Michelle Ehlen's Maybe Someday, as a fortysomething non-binary photographer seeks to get over a marital breakdown by heading home and hooking up with longtime best friend Shaela Cook and gay stand-up, Charlie Steers. Going home threatens to be a much less enjoyable experience for maid of honour Abby Miller in Mandy Fabian's Jess Plus None, as not only is the wedding taking place off-the-grid in the woods, but all her successful classmates will be there, along with her ex-girlfriend.


Isolation is also a key factor in Emily Railsback's American Parent, as academic Rebecca Ridenour and wife Kristen Bush struggle with to raise a toddler during the pandemic, while anticipating financial problems because Bush's theatre job has been scrapped. Aspiring Canadian songwriter Holly Deveaux also loses her post at an urban farm, when she's accused of casual racism by owner Maxine Denis. However, the pair keep being drawn together in British Shamim Sarif's fifth feature, Polarized. By contrast, trans women Manisha Soni and Muskan face a struggle to stay together after they are evicted from their Bhopal home by a prejudiced landlord in the Ektara Collective's A Place of Our Own.


Best friends Park Hye-su and Kim Si-eun tell each other everything. But they start to drift apart when they fall for the same girl in Cho Hyun-chul's The Dream Songs. A sense of inevitability also pervades Mariana Cengel Solcanská's The Chambermaid, a period drama set during the Great War that brings lower-class Slovakian girl Dana Droppová into contact with 15 year-old Radka Cadlová, whose wealthy Austrian family resides in Prague.


The past also impinges upon Olivier Peyon's Lie With Me, which sees novelist Guillaume De Tonquebec return to his hometown for the first time in 35 years to act as brand ambassador during the 200th anniversary celebrations of the local cognac. During a book signing, he meets Victor Belmondo, who turns out to be the son of Julien De Saint Jean, with whom the aspiring author (Jérémy Gillet) had experienced first love back in 1984. Unexpected emotions also overwhelm photographer Pablo Pauly in Florent Gouëlou's Three Nights a Week, as his eight-year romance with Hafsia Herzi comes under threat when he is commissioned to chronicle the activities of an AIDS charity in a French provincial town and falls for drag queen Romain Eck.


The medina in Salé provides the setting for Maryam Touzani's The Blue Caftan, which sees meticulous Moroccan tailor Saleh Bakri surprise wife Lubna Azabal by taking on apprentice Ayoub Missioui in order to speed up the production of hand-stitched ceremonial garments. It's a case of no work and all play for the pals Bruno Giganti has invited to spend Christmas at a villa in Argentine maestro Marco Berger's Horseplay. However, while the rest respond to Giganti's macho homoerotic goading, Franco Antonio de la Puente fails to find the funny side of being pitched into the bath.


A villa reunion of a more sombre sort provides the focus of Roberta Torre's The Fabulous Ones, which sees five trans women come together to hold a séance after opening a letter from a long-murdered friend who had wanted to be buried in a green dress and not a man's suit. Completing the documentary slate are Jieun Banpark's Life Unrehearsed, about a couple of elderly Korean nurses who begin afresh in Berlin, and Marek Kozakiewicz's Silent Love, which follows 35 year-old Aga, as she leaves her lover in Germany to return to Poland to look after Milosz, the teenage brother who will be taken into care if the authorities discover that Aga is a lesbian.


MINDS.


The emphasis is on the factual in the Minds selection, with the highlight being John Hay's Willem & Frieda, which has already shown on Channel Four. Stephen Fry follows the fates of gay artist Willem Arondeus and lesbian cellist Frieda Belinfante, who defied the Nazis by forging thousands of documents to help Jews cross Europe during the drink- and drug-fuelled parties hosted by curator Willem Sandberg at his underground art bunker.


The usefulness of art is also explored in Amber Bay Bemak's 100 Ways to Cross the Border, which examines the impact of activism at the US-Mexican frontier by artists like Guillermo Gómez-Peña, who founded the famous performance troupe, La Pocha Nostra. This would make for an intriguing double bill with Wesley Gondim's Afeminadas, which examines notions of masculine femininity through the performances of five Brazilian drag queens. This would also, therefore, be a fine companion piece to Dave Rodden Shortt's The Empress of Vancouver, which celebrates the 40-year career of drag icon, Oliv Howe.


Alexandria Bombach marks another ruby jubilee in It's Only Life After All, which profiles Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of the folk rock combo, Indigo Girls. One of the kings of rock`n'roll finds himself in the spotlight in Little Richard: I Am Everything, which considers how the flamboyant showman's religion and sexuality were always in conflict. John Waters and Elton John are among the speakers, but surely someone should have sought out Paul McCartney, who has championed Richard Penniman and his influence on music for six decades.


Little Richard was 14 when two oblique Greek nouns were merged to condemn homosexuality as a sin during the preparation of the Revised Standard Version of the American Bible. Lesbian Christian Sharon Roggio enlists the help of straight woman Kathy Baldock and gay man Ed Oxford to discover impact of this elision by a committee of white male academics in 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted a Culture. White men have also dominated the senatorial scene in Pennsylvania, with all 53 returnees since the US Senate was convened in 1789. In 2022, Malcolm Kenyatta set out to end that monopoly and his bid to become the Senate's first openly gay person of colour in charted in Timothy Harris's Kenyatta: Do Not Wait Your Turn.


Writer Jewelle Gomez has spent her career kicking against the system and Madeleine Lim celebrates her vampire stories and her exploration of Afro and Indigenous themes in Jewelle: A Just Vision. Andrea Riseborough, Ashley Judd, and Christine Lahti feature in Pratibha Parmar's My Name Is Andrea, which reassesses the efforts of Andrea Dworkin to raise awareness of the impact of pornography on gender violence. Completing a literary triptych is Eva Vitija's Loving Highsmith, a portrait of novelist Patricia Highsmith that returns to her troubled childhood to discover the source of her dark subject matter.


Cineastes are going to delight in Eva Beling's Prejudice & Pride - Swedish Film Queer, which chronicles the depiction of same-sex relationships in Swedish cinema from Mauritz Stiller's The Wings (1916) to Lukas Moodyson's Show Me Love (1998) and beyond. Every country has a history like this in its vaults, but the presence of Greta Garbo and Ingmar Bergman - not to mention Harriet Andersson and Liv Ullmann - makes this account that bit more special. Let's hope someone releases it on disc, while others start work on similar projects across the globe.


Last, but by no means least, is Tommaso Colognese and Vanna Hem's Lotus Sports Club, which was filmed over five years and charts the progress of Leak and Amas, as they prepare to transition while playing for Kampong Chhnang, the Under-21s LGBTQIA+ football team founded by sixtysomething trans man, Pa Vann.


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