Saturday, June 26, 2010

Forbidden Fruits

Once upon a time (and not so very long ago) gay people didn't dare to identify themselves in public, much less speak about their true desires. Can you imagine this scene actually taking place in a film adaptation of Charles Dickens' dark depiction of life in a Victorian workhouse?

As LGBT people in cities across the globe gather to celebrate Gay Pride Weekend, it's important to remember just how far we've come. Those of us who are old enough to remember how Barbara Bush supposedly left a blue candle burning in a White House window (because nobody in her husband's administration was willing to utter the word "AIDS") recognize that President Obama's apparent lack of shame in being seen "palling around with gay activists" offers a vivid reminder of how much America has changed in the past 25 years.

For those who feel that the Obama administration keeps inexcusably dragging its feet with regard to campaign promises made to LGBT supporters, I ask: Could you imagine Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan making a speech like this -- and using the White House's communications machine to broadcast the video worldwide?

As someone with a long history of political activism, Obama is not telling people to shut up and hide. Instead, he's echoing the sentiment expressed by Stephen Sondheim in his 1964 flop, Anyone Can Whistle.

What is it about "the other" that drives men wild? It is the fear that a sexual taboo will lose its capacity to shock? That someone's tastes might be different from the assumed norm? Or that someone, somewhere, somehow will have a good time?

In 1972, when Some Like It Hot was adapted for the musical stage by Peter Stone, Bob Merrill, and Jule Styne, one of the hit songs from Sugar became "The Beauty That Drives Men Mad." Here are the original stars (Robert Morse and Tony Roberts) performing the number at a benefit in Carnegie Hall:

As is to be expected, several films shown at the Frameline 34 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival dealt with the issue of cultural and sexual taboos. Four of them approached the subject from new and refreshing angles.

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Many years ago, a friend of mine who had been building himself quite a track record as a slut looked me in the eye and said "Of course, I don't do that stuff anymore because I'm married now." His idea of monogamy apparently referred to regular threeways featuring him, his lover, and whatever trick sparked their fancy on a Saturday night.

Fidelity is an iffy topic within many gay relationships, especially when both partners have a history of sexual promiscuity. Quentin Lee's 10-minute short, Little Love, examines what happens when close friends get too friendly.
  • Andy (Michael Massei) is a successful executive with a beautiful home in Los Angeles. Probably in his mid-forties, he is financially secure and relishes his ability to enjoy the finer things in life.
  • Rafael (Derek Efrain Villanueva) is Andy's younger lover, who is beginning to wonder if his life has been taken over by Andy's needs. Handsome, sexy, and occasionally insecure, Rafael finds himself emotionally vulnerable when Andy is out of town on business trips.
  • Markus (Travis Oakden) is a professional colleague of Andy's who is new to Los Angeles. After the two men hit it off, they became close friends as Andy welcomed Markus into his social circle.
  • Roberto (Alfredo Madura) is one of Rafael's close friends, the stereotypical gay bitch who feels a need to do some truth telling.
Derek Efrain Villaneuva and Travis Oakden

One night, while Andy is away on a business trip, Markus and Rafael return to Andy's home happily inebriated after a cozy dinner at a restaurant. Insisting that Markus is too drunk to drive home, Rafael suggests that Markus spend the night. A poolside seduction quickly leads to the bedroom where the two men spend a tender night in each other's arms. Rafael opens up about some of his insecurities and Markus encourages him to move forward with his plans to go to college at Columbia University in New York.

Several weeks later, when Markus arrives for another party at Andy's house, he is met at the door by a visibly angry host who feels that Markus has betrayed him. As Markus prepares to leave, Roberto steps outside to tell Markus that he was the one who told Andy about Rafael's infidelity.

While Little Love doesn't tell a story that is particularly new, the narrative is well framed by Quentin Lee (whose feature film, The People I've Slept With, scored strongly with audiences at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival earlier this year). Should anyone be surprised that, when Andy's away, his lover and best friend will play? I think not. Here's the trailer:

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Written and directed by Michael Mew, Peking Turkey shows what happens when Chris (Mark Louie), a Chinese-Canadian man living in Montreal, brings his boyfriend Pierre (Bruno Baronet) home to Vancouver for Christmas to meet his family and inform his parents that the two men plan to get married.

Much of the film's charm comes from its multiculturalism (the cast performs in English, French, and Chinese). This version even has German subtitles. Enjoy!

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Some straight men are so cocksure of themselves that they remain oblivious to the faultiness of their logic. Marco Berger's Plan B is an Argentinian film in which an extremely macho culture allows straight men to cuddle, exchange gifts, and sleep together without giving much thought to the inherent sexuality of the situation.

Lucas Ferraro and Manuel Vignau

When the scruffy slackerish Bruno (Manuel Vignau) gets dumped by his girlfriend Laura (Mercedes Quinteros), he vows to get her back by any means necessary-- even though she has already found herself a new boyfriend. Laura has dropped a few hints that Pablo (Lucas Ferraro) might be bisexual but, as far as Bruno is concerned, all's fair in love and self-love.

When Bruno describes his plan to his friend Javier (Ariel Nunez de Croce), it all sounds perfectly logical. At first, things seem to be going better than he could have hoped for. Bruno finds an excuse to bump into Pablo at the gym, where he starts a conversation about a popular television drama (similar to Lost) that turns out to be Pablo's favorite.

One thing leads to another and, because Laura refuses to watch Pablo's favorite television show, Bruno gets invited over to Pablo's apartment where they can watch the show together. As time passes and the two men continue to smoke dope and watch television, they start bonding in ways they never imagined. Then things veer off in an unexpected direction.

Pablo (Lucas Ferraro) and Bruno (Manuel Vignau)

At a party one night, a woman who knows both men starts teasing them about how close they have become. Eager to play along with the idea, Bruno starts acting as if he and Pablo are lovers. When the woman dares them to make out in front of her, a tentative kiss starts to open up deeper feelings. Soon Bruno finds himself telling his new best friend that he doesn't want to share Pablo with anyone.

What I really like about Berger's film is that it takes its own sweet time allowing Bruno and Pablo to discover how they feel about each other. Unlike many gay films, where the sex would come first (followed by a lot of emotional distress), Plan B allows both men to fall in love with each other very slowly -- coming to see each other not as sexual objects, but as the person with whom they feel they can share the greatest amount of emotional intimacy on a day-to-day basis.

Plan B's laid-back approach to male bonding may be helped by the fact that none of the characters seems to have a job. When there's little else to do but smoke dope, go to the gym, watch television, and sleep in each other's arms, brotherly love seems like the most natural result. Here's the trailer:

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For many gay men, the ultimate fantasy involves sex between identical twins. Milo and Elijah Peters (two identical twins whose videos have become a gold mine for Bel Ami Studios) proudly describe their relationship as follows: "My brother is my boyfriend and I am his boyfriend. He is my life blood. He is my only love."

While the Peters twins have delighted porn fans around the world, the fact that they are two identical twins in a loving sexual relationship was enough to send writer Thomas Rogers off the deep end in an article he wrote for entitled Gay Porn's Most Shocking Taboo. What really seems to have upset Rogers more than anything else is not the fact that the Peters twins make porn. It's the fact that they celebrate their love so shamelessly.

While a loving sexual relationship between half brothers might not generate quite the same kind of publicity as if they were identical twins, a new Brazilian movie written and directed by Aluisio Abranches is so beautifully plotted and lovingly filmed that it easily qualifies as the best gay incest movie of the year (even if its two stars are only half brothers).

From Beginning To End also depicts the most wholesome love story you are ever likely to see on the silver screen. As Abranches explains:
"I had very loving parents. I grew up with two sisters, but no brother. I grew up trying to understand why we all had this fear about homosexuality. I thought I would understand that with age, but this is not always the case. I understand that everyone does not see things the same way I do. Perhaps having dealt with the subject in this way makes the film more provocative.

I wanted to talk about homosexuality as a loving (and not as a different) form of love.
So I decided to tell this story of love between two brothers who deal with these two subjects. I have not treated the subject of the film as if it were a taboo (homosexuality nowadays is no longer considered a taboo, even though there is still intolerance). The fact that Francisco and Thomás are brothers makes it impossible for two men to procreate (and thus avoids allusions to the legend that people from the same blood that can create monsters)."
Francisco (Lucas Cotrim) and Thomás (Gabriel Kaufmann)

As the film opens, we see two male adolescents doing what most kids their age do -- teasing each other. At the ripe old age of 11, Francisco (Lucas Cotrim) obviously has the upper hand as he threatens to kill his six-year-old brother's teddy bear. Thomás (Gabriel Kaufmann) is screaming to get his stuffed doll back and resenting his brother's unfair advantage.

Cut to the two boys taking their evening bath together and being admonished by the family maid, Rosa (Louise Cardoso), for making such a mess in the bathroom. While the two boys have the same mother (Júlia Lemmertz), they have different fathers. Francisco's father, Pedro (Jean Pierre Noher) still lives in Argentina while Thomás's father, Alexandre (Fábio Assunção) is an academic who now lives with the boys and their mother in Brazil.

Fábio Assunção, Gabriel Kaufmann, and Lucas Cotrim

Although the boys may fight during the day, their closeness does not cause any concern for their mother, who is a physician. Julietta tells Francisco that if he ever has questions about things in life that he doesn't understand, he should feel free to ask her about anything. The tenderness and spontaneity between the two brothers seems perfectly natural to her (even when they fall asleep in the same bed with Francisco's arm protectively wrapped around his kid brother).

Small gestures, however, show that the two boys are growing closer than usual. One night, when Alexandre attempts to punish his son for bad behavior, Francisco steps between them and announces that he will assume any responsibility for disciplining his stepbrother. During a Christmas visit to Pedro's family in Argentina, the effusive Thomás innocently kisses Francisco on both cheeks in front of all the relatives.

Time passes. After Pedro and Julietta die, the boys reappear as adults mourning the death of their mother. By this point, the 25-year-old Francisco (João Gabriel Vasconcellos) has become a doctor. At 20, Thomás (Rafael Cardoso) is training to become a competitive swimmer.

Alexandre has moved out, leaving the two young men to live alone in the house where they grew up. Returning home from their mother's funeral, the two stepbrothers finally consummate a love that has been building for years.

Francisco (João Gabriel Vasconcellos) and Thomás (Rafael Cardoso)

While intensely sensual and erotic, their lovemaking is neither seductive nor exploitative. The passion that erupts between the two brothers is a natural and genuine extension of all their years of physical contact. The following teaser offers plenty of eye candy:

Once their relationship turns sexual, the love between the two brothers continues to deepen. No one seems to have a problem with their public displays of intimacy. In one beautiful shot, Francisco and Thomás are seen rising from the blue waters of a popular beach with the ghost of their mother happily between them. But then the swim coach who has been working with Thomás delivers a piece of news that could shatter his domestic bliss.

Thomás (Rafael Cardoso) and Francisco (João Gabriel Vasconcellos)

Thomás has been invited to train in Moscow with Brazil's Olympic swim team. Although the offer presents the opportunity of a lifetime, it also means that the two men will be separated for the first time in their lives. Francisco insists that his younger brother accept the invitation and swears they will find ways to keep their love alive over a distance of nearly 7,000 miles.

Francisco (João Gabriel Vasconcellos) and Thomás (Rafael Cardoso)

Although Francisco tries to socialize and meet people, when he brings a young woman (Mausi Martínez) home from a nightclub, she points to his wedding ring and asks if spending the night together is really what he wishes to do. What follows is one of the hunkiest Skype sessions you'll ever see as the younger brother's big pecs fill with emotion and longing for Francisco (who, alas, is halfway around the world). As Abranches notes:
"It was very difficult to find investors for the film. Although most have said the problem was incest (my shrink said that technically it's not incest because the two brothers cannot procreate), I truly believe that homosexuality leads to further rejection and frightening. I often quote George Bernard Shaw when I talk about my film: 'You see things and ask 'why?' but I dream of things that do not exist and I ask 'Why not?'."
Francisco (João Gabriel Vasconcellos) and Thomás (Rafael Cardoso)

From Beginning To End takes audiences on a magnificent emotional journey. Filled with love, thrillingl to watch, and emotionally fulfilling in ways not often found in modern cinema, it is an indie gem of the first order. Here's the trailer: