Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Hung and the Restless

For many years, gay characters in films were doomed to die a gruesome death. Whether they were brutally murdered or a tree fell on them, death was the only logical methodology for dealing with the existence of a living, breathing onscreen homosexual.

There are still some people who prefer "unhappy endings." From the Sultan of Brunei to Scott Esk (a Tea Party Republican and member of the John Birch Society who is a GOP candidate for the Oklahoma House of Representatives), some still relish the idea of LGBT people being stoned to death.

Recent studies demonstrate that those who have freed themselves from the tyranny of the closet tend to lead more integrated, self-fulfilling lives. Those who are still battling their desires and trying to deny their sexual identification frequently make poor decisions that can be fraught with danger and lead to catastrophic results.

Three-way intersections of love and lust are guaranteed to cause stress and angst for those who are unsure of themselves or who don't really know what they want out of life. Two foreign films screened at the Frameline 38 Film Festival offer plenty of nudity and beefcake as they show the dramatic contrasts in how gay men choose to live their lives
  • They can be happily and openly gay, with ample opportunities for psychosexual rewards.
  • Or they can pursue closeted lifestyles marked by crushing isolation, alienation, and possibly even death at the hands of violent homophobes.
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Written and directed by Tomasz Wasilewski, Poland's first LGBT film doesn't leave any doubt about where the beef is.  Floating Skyscrapers follows the daily grind of Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk), who has spent the past 15 years in Warsaw training to become a competitive swimmer. Unfortunately, Kuba must also cope with increasingly stressful circumstances outside of the swimming pool.

Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk) has been getting casual blow jobs at
the gym from Michal (Bartosz Gelner) in Floating Skyscrapers
  • Back when he lived with his girlfriend Sylwia (Marta Nieradkiewicz) at her apartment, there were no problems with his mother, Ewa (Katarzyna Herman). However, ever since Sylwia gave up her apartment and the couple moved in with Ewa, there has been constant friction. Kuba's mother sees Sylwia as a financial and emotional drain on her life (as well as competition for her son's attention) and wants the young woman to move out.
  • Although Kuba has his tender moments with  Sylwia and doesn't hesitate to tell her that she is the love of his life, there have been strange stirrings in his groin recently. Clandestine blowjobs in the toilet stalls at the gym have led to a burgeoning friendship with an admirer named Michal (Bartosz Gelner).
  • Michal is not the most reliable of gay men. Prone to infatuation, he has been out to his mother for quite some time. His father, however, is still convinced that Michal's homosexuality is just a passing phase and refuses to have a serious discussion with his son about the real facts of life.
Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk) is trapped in a relationship with
Sylwia (Marta Nieradkiewicz) in Floating Skyscrapers

Unfortunately, contemporary Poland is still quite homophobic (Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa has stated that gay members of Poland's parliament should sit behind a wall at meetings). Even as Kuba starts to explore a side of himself he never knew existed (with a person he never imagined he could meet and fall in love with) danger lurks nearby.

Sharing joints, sex, and midnight swims with Michal has distracted Kuba from his training and his girlfriend. Sylwia's announcement that she is pregnant precipitates a crisis for all parties involved. While both mothers want their sons to abandon their bromance and face reality, the two men are novices at thinking with their hearts instead of their dicks.

Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk) and Michal (Bartosz Gelner)
start to fall in love in Floating Skyscrapers

Succumbing to his mother's angry demands ("How can you do this to ME?"), Kuba calls Michal and brusquely breaks up with him. Distraught by his Kuba's rejection, his father's inability to take him seriously, and feeling hopeless and helpless, Michal offers himself up like a sacrificial lamb to a group of local thugs who delight in bashing queers.

Wasilewski's actors committed to a five-month rehearsal period with the understanding that the filmmaker wanted his scenes of sexual intimacy to look completely natural (and not like people were "acting"). As the filmmaker notes:
"Floating Skyscrapers portrays Kuba most of all as a human being. Okay, he’s homosexual but that’s not what’s most important about him. Kuba is a son and a swimmer. He has his own dreams and he’s got a girlfriend. His homosexuality is not the most important thing (although it pushes him towards some decisions and sometimes determines his life). I shot intimate scenes between Kuba and Michal and between Sylwia and Kuba using the same film language as in all other scenes." 
Poster art for Floating Skyscrapers

Aided by Jakub Kijowski's cinematography Floating Skyscrapers reminds viewers what it is like to live in a repressive environment where gay and/or bisexual men must struggle to get in touch with their feelings. In such hateful surroundings, it's not surprising to see the hungry queer meet a violent death. But it would be nice to move past that dramatic device. Here's the trailer.

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In sharp contrast to Poland's repressive society, the relaxed confidence and freedom of gay men to engage in casual sex as depicted by Argentinean director Rodrigo Guerrero in The Third One is downright refreshing. Franco (Nicolas Armengol) and Hernán (Carlos Echeverria) have been in a relationship for eight years. While still obviously very much in love (despite teasing each other about their mothers), Franco spends a great deal of time on the computer flirting with younger men over a gay webcam chat site.

One night he starts chatting with Fede (Emiliano Dionisi), a handsome 22-year-old college student who lives with his father. Over the course of the next several evenings, Franco and Fede flirt with each other online and engage in the standard gay cruising game ("You show me yours, I'll show you mine") until Franco suggests a threeway.

At various times during their videochats, Hernán (who is less computer-oriented) can be seen coming in and out of the kitchen. Once he gives his consent, Franco extends an invitation for dinner and sex. What happens next is quite rare in gay cinema.

Franco and Hernán invite Fede over for dinner and a threeway in The Third One

After Fede arrives at their apartment, the three men sit down to dinner and spend time getting to know each other. There is no guilt, no panic, no anxiety attack.

Fede learns how Franco caught  Hernán's eye while making silly monkey faces at a friend and the couple learns how Fede's mother fell victim to severe depression and eventually committed suicide. After dinner, Fede and Hernán spend some time smoking and talking on the apartment's balcony while Franco tidies up the kitchen.

Hernán, Fede, and Franco enjoy a threeway in The Third One

Soon, the three men are kissing in the hallway. The action eventually moves upstairs to the couple's bedroom where (unlike in most porn films), their lovemaking is tender, intimate, and remarkably inclusive. After they finish, Fede spends the night.

Fede, Hernán, and Franco rest in bed in The Third One

Many years ago, while visiting the Club Baths in Coral Gables, Florida, I was surprised to notice that the videos being shown were quite different from the usual menu of porn films. Instead of heavy banging and looped cum shots, there was a great deal of tenderness, kissing between men with deep brown eyes and seductive smiles.

The Third One follow this approach, offering a highly sensual and sexual experience in which three gay men get to know each other before taking their clothes off. The happy result? A greater sense of affection, connection, trust, and genuine lovemaking than one usually finds in gay films that are more afraid of depicting intimacy than having the camera zoom in on someone's erect penis or gaping butthole.

While The Third One may be only 70 minutes long, it delivers in spades. Viewers get an immensely satisfying experience (with the promise of more to come) and will definitely finish watching the film with a smile on their faces. Here's the trailer:

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