Full coverage of the Seattle Gay and Lesbian film festival can be found here.
After Tuesday’s films seemed to heteronormalize queer sexuality, I was a little worried when two of Wednesday’s three films seemed to be about a further normalization. Instead, I got two of my favorite fiction films so far, and a fascinating documentary.
The documentary Purple Skies dissected the state of homosexuality in India, focusing on lesbian activism. India still has laws that make consensual homosexual sex in the privacy of one’s own home illegal. What makes it harder for lesbians in India is that women are still treated more as property than as people with rights. Some parents believe this gives them a right to lock up their adult daughters for being a lesbian and challenge that in courts. Police will do raids on homes with lesbian refugees. Yet, activists continue rallying, and Pride marches on. The dichotomy of the culture is scary and fascinating.
Director Sridhar Rangayan loads Purple Skies with stylish flourish, and manages to keep the documentary positive. Even when their Supreme Court re-outlaws homosexual sex, Rangayan doesn’t dwell on the understandable disappointment, noting the positive changes that happened with this battle compared to other battles. The colorful and overall positive tone is a welcome reprieve from this past weekend’s severely (and justifiably) emotional subjects. On the other hand, Rangayan tackles a lot of different aspects in Indian Lesbian activism, and comes dangerously close to having a lack of focus. Purple Skies jumps radically from topic to topic, never diving in depth into any one subject. She barely keeps the reins on the film, creating a nebulous, though slightly shallow, analysis of the subject at hand. Though, on the plus side, this multi-topic approach makes Purple Skies an essential primer on Indian lesbian activism.
Following Purple Skies was the midpoint centerpiece film, Appropriate Behavior, a dry comedy about modern queer sexuality in the big city. Writer/Director Desiree Akhavan also stars as Shirin, an Iranian bisexual woman who just broke up with her most recent girlfriend. As she navigates her way through the rebound process, moments in the present remind her of scenes from her past relationship (which happen chronologically). In a way, it’s Slumdog Millionaire as filtered through Girls, Broad City, or Curb Your Enthusiasm depending on the situation.
That is to say that Appropriate Behavior is utterly hilarious. Shirin is a closeted bisexual, fearful of coming out to her parents. Her segmented attitude toward life contrasts with her girlfriend, Maxine, who is an out and proud activist. When they meet, they bond over the statement “I like hating stuff too,” marking the beginning of a tempestuous relationship. The observations of cultural oddities and clashes make Appropriate Behavior as vicious as it is sweet, and as smart as it is touching. Most refreshing is how well Akhavan fleshed out her side characters, including her family, ex, and even her rebound hookups. Through her real yet flawed characters, Akhavan consistently finds the humor in everyday life.
Riding on that high, the final film of the night was the Swedish genderqueer drama, Something Must Break. Feeling like a descendant of both the Cinema Du Look and Gregg Araki, and a sibling to Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways, Something Must Break is a stylish punk-ish coming of age and first relationship about a genderqueer youth. Sebastian enjoys dressing against gender norms, including with tights, heels, and pearls. With long, partially red, hair, he presents himself to the world as something between boy and girl, flexing between the two constructs when he needs to. After hitting on the wrong guy in a bathroom, he is rescued from a beating by Andreas, a guy who claims to be hetero yet falls in love with Sebastian. They spend the movie pushing and pulling against each other as Andreas deals with his feelings about Sebastian and about Andreas’ genderqueer and/or transgender qualities.
Writer Director Ester Martin-Bergsmark fills the film with explicit provocations, but the provocations are all familiar to those who don’t quite fit into society for whatever reason. Instead of being about a white middle-class gay/lesbian coming out, this is aimed at the kids who never fit into any of the given storylines of being gay or straight. Even if the gender issues aren’t necessarily what you’re responding to, it could be a metaphor for compromising a section of yourself in order to be acceptable to the object of your affection. The choice of Saga Becker to play Sebastian, who later thinks about becoming Ellie, is interesting in that Martin-Bergsmark includes an explicit sex scene, pointedly showing that Sebastian is extremely well hung. During this scene, it is hard to ignore his unit. When Sebastian is waffling about becoming Ellie, its hard not to think of that unit, especially when Andreas screams at him to finally get a vagina.
The rebellious/punk nature of Something Must Break will push away people who don’t see why anybody has to push against society. Why can’t Sebastian just be more like everybody else? There’s enough emotion in Something Must Break to rope in more accepting audiences, but it will most resonate with the people who felt like outcasts from the outcasts. It’s an accomplished work, and it’s the best fiction film of the festival so far.
Film Schedule 10/16
05:00 – Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy – Concerning the comedian from Ugly Betty.
07:00 – Trans Program: 52 Tuesdays – Filmed, Boyhood-style, over the course of 52 consecutive Tuesdays as a mother transitions into a man, 52 Tuesdays documents the physical and the emotional changes that occur over the course of the year.
Gay Male Program: Chance Encounters Shorts – A series of shorts centered around chance encounters.
09:15 – Gay Male Program: A Reunion – A road trip among male friends, it seems like a US version of Y Tu Mama Tambien. Filmmakers in attendance
Trans Program: Drunktown’s Finest – A variety of stories centered around a Native American culture, including that of a two-sexed person.