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Screen and Screen Again
By David O'Grady
June is Gay Pride month, and there's no better way to celebrate Pride and movies together than hopping over the hill to the Castro Theatre for Frameline 29: The San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, June 16-26. The festival is the world's oldest and largest celebration of LGBT cinema, and this year's lineup includes a feature film directed by Noe Valley resident Lisset Barcellos (one of several films shown at the Victoria Theater on 16th Street).
Barcellos' movie, titled Both, is the story of thrill-seeker Rebeca Duarte, a stunt-double whose sexual ambiguity and frustration may be explained by an old family photo of a deceased brother she never knew in person--or did she?
Both, showing on June 22, promises to be an intriguing mystery. But if you can't wait until the festival to get the party started, you might want to check out the wide selection of LGBT-themed movies available at Noe Valley video stores. Here are several I'd recommend.
Three Cheers for Loving Who You Love
If you like satire dripping in day-glo, you'll enjoy But I'm a Cheerleader (1999), a bright and breezy skewering of "going straight" rehab programs and those who think they're a good idea. Natasha Lyonne plays Megan, the cheeriest of high school cheerleaders, who likes to think about girls with pom-poms while French-kissing her football player boyfriend.
Megan comes home one day to an intervention by family and friends, who pronounce her a lesbian and pack her off to True Directions, a rehab center co-run by an "ex-gay" named Mike, known to most of us as RuPaul, sans the supermodel getup. But as Megan grows to understand the desires she must leave behind, she falls for the tough-but-tender Graham, played by Clea DuVall. Will Megan renounce her love and lesbianism in time to graduate from True Directions, or will she be thrown out of the program and spurned by her cheerleading squad?
The endearing collection of "misfits" in True Directions and a beautiful love scene between Megan and Graham give this sticky confection a satisfying center. But I'm a Cheerleader should especially appeal to teenagers.
A False Marriage Is Best Served Banquet-Style
In The Wedding Banquet (1993), director Ang Lee examines the cultural, generational, and sexual-orientation gap between Wai-tung, a gay Taiwanese landlord in New York, and his old-world parents pressuring him to get married. His partner, Simon, seems to have the perfect solution: Wai-tung should marry their artist friend Wei-wei, who desperately wants a green card. But when Wai-tung's parents arrive in New York for the wedding, a modest deception turns into a major production, threatening to drive a wedge between Wai-tung and Simon.
Lee skillfully balances the pain and sacrifice of each of the characters with humor, especially during the antic rituals of a Chinese banquet. He leaves the rough edges on all the principle characters so we can see, for example, Wai-tung's tough mind for business and Wei-wei's desperation for a place in the world for herself. These touches make their capacity for growth and understanding all the more rewarding. The Wedding Banquet leaves you stuffed with hope for families of all arrangements.
Sex, Drugs, and Photography
Ally Sheedy immerses herself in the role of Lucy Berliner, a drug-dependent, lesbian photographer in the tragic romance High Art (1998).
The movie opens with Syd, played by Radha Mitchell, an assistant editor for a renowned art photography magazine, investigating a leak coming from the ceiling of her apartment. She goes upstairs to find Lucy, a once-renowned photographer, snorting drugs with Lucy's partner, Greta--played by the lovely and talented Patricia Clarkson--and a group of drug-zombied friends.
Syd falls into Lucy's sphere in the hope of helping restart Lucy's career with a cover photo for the magazine. But Lucy's creative process proves inseparable from her love, and soon Syd and Lucy are falling for each other, much to Greta's self-destructive dismay.
High Art explores the complex intersections of art and commerce, with the heart of the artist caught in the middle. Lucy's photos offer a window into her inner struggle--her commercial-friendly, highly realistic images of Syd, contrasted with her expressionistic, non-commercial pictures of Greta submerged underwater. Whether Greta's undertow will drown Lucy or Syd's love will save her gives High Art its emotional edge.
Love in the Trenches
The Israeli film Yossi and Jagger (2002) tells the touching story of a fateful day in the life of two soldiers in love. Yossi, the duty-bound commander of a remote outpost on the Israel-Lebanon border, strives to keep their love a secret, while the more flamboyant Jagger longs to leave the Israeli Defense Force and take Yossi with him. Tensions mount when two female soldiers arrive at the outpost, stirring up desire and jealousy among the squad that ultimately may out Yossi and Jagger's relationship.
Just over an hour in length, Yossi and Jagger perhaps prunes away too much of the story, but thanks to excellent casting we can see the genuine affection between the two soldiers. Given the close quarters and lack of privacy of military life, the one scene the lovers share alone--a playful romp on a snowy hillside while on reconnaissance--offers a poignant, fleeting glimpse of how their lives could be.
When Blue Turns Pink
The 1997 French movie Ma Vie en Rose ("My Life in Pink") is the story of a 7-year-old boy named Ludovic who believes he's a girl, much to the bewilderment of his loving parents and their judgmental friends. Soon Ludovic's gender-bending ways get him kicked out of school, and his role-playing with the son of his father's boss costs the family its livelihood.
How the family copes with the fallout of Ludovic's identity proves both tragic and hopeful. Told mostly from Ludovic's point of view, Ma Vie en Rose has a childlike sense of wonder that would appeal to preteens and their parents, and perhaps start an enlightened discussion about the differences--and similarities--that make us who we are.