Monday, June 23, 2008

Frameline 32 -- Wednesday, June 25, 2008

If only.
If only we lived in a more tolerant world.
If only people weren't so mean to us.
If only this.
If only that.

Life is full of "if only" sentiments largely because too many people have been cheated out of their dreams. Three films seen on Wednesday at the Frameline 32 film festival highlighted the past insults and humiliations of their protagonists as well as pointing the way toward possibly better solutions.

As part of the restrospective honoring Michael Lumpkin's departure after 25 years at the head of Frameline, the festival included a screening of John Greyson's Lilies, first seen at the festival in 1997. A beautifully crafted Canadian film which uses a cast of prison inmates to act out a homoerotic love story ended by a tragic accident from long ago, Lilies uses the play-within-a-play device to elicit a confession from the local bishop (who ironically arrives at a Canadian prison in 1952 thinking he is going to be offering confession to someone else).

With the tables turned, viewers learn how the bishop -- who once had a crush on the younger Simone (the doomed inmate now choreographing this revengeful showdown) -- falsely accused the handsome youth of being responsible for the death of Simone's teenaged lover, Vallier. Greyson's movie thrills, entertains, titillates and challenges the viewer to follow the action's complex weave through the film, the play, and the play within a play until its shocking denouement.

With the complexity of Dangerous Liaisons, the seething resentment of Shakespeare's Hamlet, and magnificent cinematography by Daniel Jobin, Michel Marc Bouchard's screenplay (based on his play Les fleurettes), is enhanced by beautiful performances from Brent Carver as the mad Countess de Tilly, Danny Gilmore as the earnest and lovestruck Vallier, and Jason Cadieux as the incredibly sexy young Simone. The film holds up remarkably well, offering viewers a rich, dramatic catharsis for an aching, old wound.

Difficult decisions come late in life for Jack (Bob Hoskins), a British curmudgeon with a drinking problem whose wife has just died. Wallowing in self-pity and resisting the advances of former friends, Jack's giant sulk is interrupted by the appearance of Florrie, a young girl who has moved in next door and, like any child, has no interest whatsoever in Jack's silly adult standards or barriers to friendship. She's curious about the homing pigeons Jack raises and needs new friends.

Across the street from Jack lives an aging Frenchwoman (played with great sensitivity by Josiane Balasko) who is full of surprises. Stephanie drives bullet trains, loves to drop off samples of her cooking, and was once a handsome young soldier in the French army. Her romantic exploits are usually undermined by her reluctance to tell a date about her long-ago sex-change operation.

Add Jack's estranged and very angry son, a local hoodlum or two, and some gossipy neighbors who see Jack teaching Florrie how to ride a bike and assume that he is a pedophile, and you have the basic ingredients of Jan Dunn's Ruby Blue, an intimate neighborhood drama which takes its own sweet time unfolding as people meddle in the lives of others, jump to wrong conclusions, and royally fuck things up. Well crafted, if a trifle long, Dunn's film takes its time developing character and plot twists as it works its way toward redemption, forgiveness, and a happy ending. What makes the film shine is the chance to watch two mature actors at the top of their game, using their craft and intuition to tell a story with remarkable sensitivity.

Sensitivity is something that we could all use more of according to the creative team behind Stewart Wade's Tru Loved. This highly entertaining film deals with the issues regarding sexual identity and bullying that are faced by teens in school who are just trying to get from one day to the next while pushing past the prejudices of meddling parents, the influence of their raging hormones, and the presence of teachers and supposed friends who just happen to be homophobic assholes. The cast includes a variety of familiar faces including Bruce Vilanch and Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura from Star Trek). The film has received strong support from the Gay/Straight Alliance Network and, if all goes well, will soon be seen in several hundred schools throughout California.

Having moved from San Francisco to a conservative community with her two lesbian parents, Tru (short for Gertrude) is struggling to make friends in her new school. A handsome and very confused young African American member of the school's football team named Lodell (Matthew Thompson) takes a shine to her with the intent of using her as his beard. Tru (the very appealing Najarra Townsend) likes him and needs a friend, but has little patience with his closeted antics. Instead, with the help of the school's drama teacher (the always sparkling Marcia Wallace), Tru teams up with a constantly bullied young gay student (Tye Olson) to form the school's new Gay/Straight Alliance.

Lodell's homophobic Coach Wesley (Vernon Wells) and pussyhound teammate/best friend Manuel (Joseph Julian Sorai) do their Neanderthal best to make people's lives miserable. Their efforts are eventually foiled when Tru's parents (Cynda Williams and Alexandra Paul) decide to have a commitment ceremony and invite everyone they have met in their new community.

As a teaching tool, Tru Loved uses humor and youth to help foster greater understanding about sexual identity, coming out, and gaining the courage to just be yourself. I particularly love the moment when Jane Lynch turns to the supposedly closeted Alec Mapa and says "I'm your best friend so I'm going to try to say this as nicely as I can: If you were doused in kerosene and someone lit a match, you couldn't be more flaming!" The film's creators, however, missed a wonderful opportunity at the big wedding scene when the school's football coach and his pet goon crash the party. Having already had Dave Kopay tell Lodell that it's okay to be gay and play football, they could have simply had Kopay introduce himself to the football coach and, without even getting up in the coach's face, reach out to shake his hand and introduce himself. A missed opportunity, but the rest of the film is satisfying enough to be very popular on the MTV/Logo or Here! TV circuit.

Next: Thursday, June 26, 2008

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