Final OUTrage at the 46th Chicago Intl Film Festival
by Sawyer J. Lahr
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Here’s one last snippet of the gay and lesbian cinema that graced the big screens at the 46th Annual Chicago International Film Festival:
Coming in first on my list of the best films by or about gay directors was Beautiful Darling by James Rasin, but James Cameron Mitchell’s tragicomedy, Rabbit Hole (USA), swung ahead in the last two days of the festival. Rabbit Hole is heavy helping of a strangely sweet cathartic grief of two straight parents played by Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart morose over the loss of their four-year-old son. Mitchell brings his best artistic devices to the table: hand-drawn existential comic book artwork and a melancholic, yet whimsical score that underlines the tragically funny moments.
Eckhart (Howie) is unafraid to be angry and fragile in the same moment while Nicole Kidman (Becca) manages to be endearing and aloof under the guise of a demure housewife. Kidman has never felt so in touch with an audience. Her usual cold distance is resolved by Mitchell’s frank directness.
Mitchell tears down walls of audience expectation and manages to avoid cliche. Rabbit Hole follows the good-can-come-from-bad theme found in Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Short Bus as well as in plays of David Lindsey-Abaire whose play is the text for this film.
Before the first Chicago screening Julie Taymor’s The Tempest (USA, Across Universe, Titus), the prolific Alan Cumming was honored as the first OUTrageous Artistic Achievement Winner. Cumming has lit up movie screens in indies and blockbusters alike, playing memorable roles in X-Men 2, Titus, The Anniversary Party. His secondary roles are always memorable, and Tempest is no exception. Taymor casts the inimitable Helen Mirren whose star power has resurged in her 60s since playing Queen Elizabeth, Sofya Tolstoy in The Last Station, the Nevada brothel madam in Love Ranch. Meryl Streep’s conserved manner would shake under Mirren’s thunderous staff as the exiled Prospera, wife of the late Duke of Milan whose Kingdom is granted to Prospera’s brother by the King of Naples. Taymor styles Shakespeare into Disney-distributed PG-13 rock and roll fantasy. She lets the words speak for themselves while still keeping them fresh with zippered period costumes.
Xavier Dolan’s Hearbeats (French Canada) has made him one the most exciting young gay directors to come of late. He is unafraid to honor directors he admires in his own work in this second feature in two years about a gay-white-male, straight-white-female duo of hopeless romantics enamored with a sexually ambiguous literature student.
Director Dolan nods to Tarantino in a French version of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang” by Dalida that plays along to the strut of Dolan’s faux-femme-fatale Marie (Monia Chokri) who promises to be an edgy millennial hipster heroine. Won Kar Wai’s slow-motion walking to an orchestra sequence are mocked here with revelry and are used to emphasize the duos competition over the affections of the rich blond Adonis, Nicolas (Niels Schneider).
Dolan will at some point have to make a movie without himself co-starring, but, meanwhile, he has a talent for comedy and is sexually brave. Also, don’t miss the director’s take on the Gus Van Sant’s stylized freeze-frame sex scenes that give pity sex a tragic irony.
The long-time French partners Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau (Adventures of Felix, My Life on Ice) direct Family Tree (France), a slower-paced family drama about a family grieving the loss of their deceased son. The family learns something that only the now deceased Charles knew, that his father Frederick has been living a double life as a gay man and a closeted father. Scared to come out after being imprisoned and persecuted by Nazis and fellow jews in the concentration camps, Frederick decided to live discreetly until now. The children at first refuse to forgive their father for doing the best he could under the circumstances, but they begin to see that every branch of the Family Tree is a little crooked.
Sasha (Germany), a naive boy of 18, thinks introducing his traditional Montenegrin family to his piano teacher and lover will go over easy. This near-death coming-out story follows a reckless young German immigrant teen as he tries to win his older teacher’s affection before he leaves for a job in Venice. Sasha is the typical youth brought to extremes by desperation, but director Dennis Todorovic never makes it too much about the teacher or a love story that it isn’t.
Director Scud (Permanence Residence, City Without Baseball) has found a distinct style with his latest project, Amphetamine (Hong Kong). Flash forwards and flash backs cause some plot uncertainty, but the hope of seeing a sensitive straight-acting swim-instructor (Kafka) and an openly gay business man (Daniel) stripping down together is worth netflixing.
The fantasy is too good to be true. The pure heavenly aesthetic of the polluted factory lined shores of Hong Kong in afternoon light trick the senses with delight. It feels like the taller confident westernized Daniel uses pity as an opportunity to get a “straight” guy in the sack. But when Daniel decides not to take a contract in Australia, their love appears to have promise.
See all of this year’s Best of the Fest films, awards, nominees at ChicagoFilmFestival.com.
Sawyer J. Lahr is Chief Editor of the forthcoming online publication, Go Over the Rainbow. He also writes a monthly film column for Mindful Metropolis, a conscious living magazine in Chicago, IL.
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