Karim Aïnouz’s Futuro Beach
When approaching any series or carefully selected grouping of films, there is an inclination to look for trends contained therein. For regional films, it may be assessing what the political climate is like, or noting socioeconomic realities. For queer series, it’s easy to go in with the mindset that you’ll see “what it means to be queer,” since it’s common to expect there to be a more-or-less homogenized queer experience that traverses culture, particularly with regards to the “coming out” narrative. Historically this trope has been pervasive amongst queer films, understandably, necessarily, yet exasperatingly so. The heterogeneity of experience contained in this year’s NewFest, which opens at the Film Society Lincoln Center on July 24 (co-presented with Outfest), is the most hopeful and exciting aspect of modern queer cinema. This year’s collection, NewFest’s 26th, spans 20 films and three collections of shorts in a seamless display of dynamic queer cinema from around the world.
Two highlights come from Brazil, including opening-night selection, Futuro Beach (July 24). Karim Aïnouz’s heartbreaking, restrained film juxtaposes lovers Donato, a lifeguard at the titular locale, and Konrad, a Berliner biker and tourist, against the beauty of nature and the confines of a concrete jungle. Equal parts Antonioni ennui-laden melancholia and Denis’s Beau Travail, the film follows the evolving relationship of its couple through a somewhat inevitable life cycle, at each turn using the natural environment as a tactile metaphor for the mishaps of masculine emotional barriers. Donato leaves his much younger brother, family, and home to follow Konrad halfway across the world, along the way losing touch with his roots. In the film’s final third, a decade later, Aïnouz reintroduces Donato’s now-adult brother Ayrton, reigniting familial struggles against the overarching backdrop of the dissolution of Donato and Konrad’s relationship. With little dialogue, the film progresses with a creeping transcendental quality, leaving the viewer with an extended final scene that mandates reflection.
Daniel Ribeiro's The Way He Looks
The Way He Looks (July 29), also Brazilian, won this year’s prestigious Teddy Award and FIPRESCI prize at the Berlin International Film Festival and presents a decidedly lighter depiction of first love. Belle & Sebastian’s affectionately poppy twang provides the soundtrack for Leonardo, a blind teenager who spends most days lazing with BFF Giovana. When curly-haired Gabriel transfers to their school, it sets off sparks between the friends, and starts a tender young romance that has all the hope of new beginnings. Director Daniel Ribeiro successfully adapts his own award-winning short into a beautiful feature. The film won the Audience Award for Dramatic Feature at the recent Outfest in Los Angeles.
Though the two features share little in terms of tone, what makes them of a similar type is that they present people as people, not making an issue of what it means to be queer or presenting queer characters in an interminable dilemma about their sexuality. In fact, the subject is rarely broached.
Canadian provocateur Bruce LaBruce does a 180 from his unique blend of genre and softcore for a delightfully simple multigenerational love story. His film Gerontophilia (July 29) closes NewFest in an inspired fashion. Defined as the sexual preference for the elderly, gerontophilia might otherwise associate morbidity, especially coming from envelope-pusher LaBruce, but the result is an entirely accessible and endearing queer Harold and Maude May-December romance between Lake, a teenager who works at a nursing home, and Mr. Peabody, an erudite resident with a tangible thirst for life. The couple feels no remorse for their attraction, and the relationship blossoms as a beautiful learning experience for both. Again, the refreshing quality to the film remains its carefree depiction of sexuality, where what people are is more important than how they define themselves. This manifolds itself here as it brings in issues of aging and acceptance of oneself.
Bruce LaBruce's Gerontophilia
Another film in which acceptance is at the center is the Mandarin/English Lilting (July 27), starring Ben Wishaw in a devastating performance. But, like Gerontophilia, it’s not about a queer person accepting who they are; it deals instead, and more importantly, with exogenous prejudices and the need for others to come to terms with their own expectations. When his lover Kai unexpectedly dies just hours before coming out to his mother, Richard (Wishaw) must come to terms with the grief at losing his partner and the responsibility of reaching out to Kai’s mother Junn, who dislikes the very idea of him. In an act of generosity he hires a translator so Junn, who resides in a senior facility, can communicate with her British beau. Overcoming the language barrier is a touching metaphor for the roadblocks forced upon Richard and Junn, and as their relationship progresses through its share of miscommunications, mutual understanding eventually conquers all as the two make peace with one another and work to cherish the memory of the one they both loved and lost.
Other highlights in this year’s fest include The Foxy Merkins (July 25), director Madeleine Olnek’s hilarious follow-up to Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, which spoofs gay (male) cruising culture and rentboys by having two lesbian hookers “work” for rewards like Talbots gift cards. Documentaries such as Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy (July 27) and We Came to Sweat: The Legend of Starlight (July 25) shed light on what it’s like to be a famous parent and how Brooklyn’s oldest African-American gay bar faces tough times, respectively. Australia’s 52 Tuesdays (July 24) chronicles time and family as a young girl moves back in with her mother who is beginning the transition from female to male.
The collection of films in this year’s NewFest run the gamut of the queer experience while being celebratory and prospective. There’s much on which to reflect, but little to dwell.
NewFest, New York's LGBT Film Festival, runs July 24 - 29 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Madeleine Olnek's The Foxy Merkins