Archive for the ‘Queer Cinema’ Category

Repression and Desire

Firebird

Director: Peeter Rebane

Cast: Tom Prior, Nicholas Woodeson, Diana Pozharskaya, Oleg Zagorodnii, Jake Henderson

This Film is available on the DIFF Website to be viewed and has not had a cinematic release yet https://www.durbanfilmfest.com/collection/features/

Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

This film is in English with no subtitles.

Young Estonian director Peeter Rebane’s heart-warming 2021 film Firebird is a must see at this year’s Durban International Film Festival to be viewed online.

Firebird focuses on the forbidden and touching love story between Sergey wonderfully played by the gorgeous British actor Tom Prior (The Theory of Everything) and Roman played by Ukrainian actor Oleg Zagorodnii set during the cold war in a Soviet Airforce Base just before the impending Soviet invasion of Afghanistan placing the timeline of the film set in the early 1980’s.

Beautifully filmed, Firebird refers to the Stravinsky ballet of the same name and centres on a young private soldier Sergey in the Soviet military who falls in love with his hopelessly dashing lieutenant and aircraft pilot Roman. 

In the midst of this extremely macho world of the Soviet military is this lyrical and beautiful love story that unfolds unexpectedly which director Peeter Rebane treats with sensitivity and grace, without demeaning desire while highlighting the extreme repression that both men were living under whereby any form of suspected homosexual activity was punishable by 5 years in a Soviet labour camp.

Roman is forced to completely hide his sexuality, while Sergey’s true sexuality blossoms as he leaves the military as he pursues a career in the dramatic arts, while studying lines for Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.

The fact that both actors are so utterly convincing and easy to watch, makes Firebird excellent viewing, a film very similar to the BAFTA nominated South African 2020 film Moffie directed by Oliver Hermanus. Rebane also draws much inspiration from the Oscar winning Ang Lee film Brokeback Mountain which caused quite a stir upon its first release in 2005.

Repression and desire are intermingled as Roman and Sergey attempt to hide their love for each other not only from the spying military but also from an extremely conservative Soviet society in which men must marry women and reproduce to increase the population of the Soviet Union.

Homosexuality is still banned in Russia but the daring bravado of Estonian director Peeter Rebane’s beautiful and fascinating portrayal of forbidden love both before and during a heteronormative relationship is both informative and exquisite. Roman marries Luisa played by Diana Pozharskaya and even has a child with her, while continuing to keep in touch with the flamboyant thespian Sergey who finds unadulterated acceptance within the Soviet theatre and ballet community.

Rebane’s film is melancholic without being morbid, sensual without being contrived, held together by two decent performances by Prior and Zagorodnii.

Firebird gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is highly recommended for those viewers that enjoyed Brokeback Mountain and Moffie. A fascinating tale of a true story adapted to film.

The Disciplined Dancer

The White Crow

Director: Ralph Fiennes

Cast: Oleg Ivenko, Ralph Fiennes, Louis Hofmann, Adele Exarchopoulos, Raphael Personnaz, Chulpan Khamatova, Zach Avery

Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient, Schindler’s List) directs this elegant ballet biopic of acclaimed Russian male dancer Rudolph Nureyev who defected to France in 1961.

Oleg Ivenko plays the volatile but supremely talented ballet dancer Nureyev who dreams only of dancing in the West. This opportunity arises when the Kirov ballet company does a tour to Paris in London in 1961. While in Paris, Nureyev desperately tries to escape the surveillance of the repressive soviet regime who jealously watch the Kirov’s Ballet’s every move.

The Leningrad Ballet company comes out of a bleak soviet society under the rule of Krushev to the glamour of Paris in the early 1960’s where a handful of Soviet ballet dancers led by the audacious Nureyev socializes with French ballerina’s and intellectuals led by Clara Saint, wonderfully played by Adele Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Colour).

With a screenplay by Oscar nominated screenwriter David Hare (The Hours, The Reader) based upon Julie Kavanaugh’s book Rudolf Nureyev: A Life, The White Crow is mostly subtitled with dialogue in Russian and French and is strictly for ballet fans.

The White Crow could have been edited slightly and while the transformation plot is elegantly told, the acting by the mostly Russian and French cast is extremely good and the tension in the film is heightened during the dramatic defection that Rudolf Nureyev does at a Paris airport filmed in extreme close up with Fiennes behind the camera taking control of the diplomatic action brilliantly.

There are some exquisite ballet sequences in The White Crow but what I loved about this film was its depiction of the transformation of Rudolf Nureyev from a shy Soviet peasant boy into one of the most audacious and beautifully talented male ballet dancers of the 20th century, a role that Oleg Ivenko pulls off beautifully highlighting his artistic volatility, his discipline as a dancer and his unyielding ambition, in which he had to sacrifice his country and family to achieve international stardom, something Nureyev was determined to achieve.

The White Crow subtly hints at Nureyev’s homosexuality but in an effortlessly way especially his love affair with East German dancer Teja Kremke played with stark beauty by German actor Louis Hofmann (Red Sparrow). French rising star Raphael Personnaz (Anna Karenina) also stars as one of the French male ballet dancers Pierre Lacotte who plays a crucial role in Nureyev’s defection to the West.

If you love ballet and would like to learn more about the early life of Rudolf Nureyev then this film is highly recommended. The White Crow gets a film rating of 8.5 out of 10 will appeal to a niche audience. An elegant biopic without any of the usual Hollywood flashiness.

The Flamboyant Pianist

Rocketman

Director: Dexter Fletcher

Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Charlie Rowe, Tate Donovan, Steve Mackintosh, Tom Bennett

Eddie the Eagle director Dexter Fletcher reunites with his star Taron Egerton in the Elton John Musical fantasy drama Rocketman with Egerton taking on the daunting task of playing a still living musical icon, Sir Elton John.

Rocketman chronicles the early life and rise to stardom of Elton John, his abandonment issues that he had with his father, his overpowering sense of worthlessness that he felt at the hands of his dominating mother, wonderfully played against type by Bryce Dallas Howard (The Help, Jurassic World).

All these issues, coupled with his unique piano playing abilities proved that he is a talented musician destined for superstardom. However that stardom which Elton John achieved came at a price, as he has terrible addiction issues with drugs and alcohol which director Dexter Fletcher chooses to emphasize.

Essentially Rocketman focuses on addiction and interweaves Elton John’s personal journey with that of musical fantasy a different approach to director Brian Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody which stuck to a chronological account of Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury and his interactions with his band. Bohemian Rhapsody is a far superior film than Rocketman especially saved by an Oscar winning performance by Rami Malek.

Rocketman has some good performance and Taron Egerton does a good job of portraying a living musical legend Elton John a flamboyant showman, a glamorous pianist with a penchant for outrageous outfits who is not only struggling with his addiction issues but with his homosexuality in the form of his toxic love affair with former manager John Reid played by Richard Madden (Cinderella). It is really Billy Elliott star Jamie Bell’s sympathetic performance as Elton John’s best friend and song writer Bernie Taupin who supports Elton through thick and thin, which gives the film some insightful emotional depth.

Notable cameo’s include Vanity Fair star Charlie Rowe as Ray Williams and Tate Donovan as Californian music organizer Doug Weston. Rocketman features flamboyant costumes, foot tapping music and a great performance by Taron Egerton and will definitely appeal to audiences that enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody.

Rocketman is a musical drama that focuses more on the perils of excess and the struggles with addiction than on Elton John’s fantastic musical abilities and is not a biopic but an imaginative musical fantasy which gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10.

Boxing and Drag Shows

Alaska is a Drag

No Film Poster available at time of publication

Director: Shaz Bennett

Cast: Martin L. Washington Jr, Maya Washington, Matt Dallas, Christopher O’Shea, Jason Scott Lee, Margaret Cho, Nia Peeples, John Fleck, Kevin Daniels

As seen at DIFF 2018 – https://durbanfilmfest.co.za/

Spoiler Alert Valid for Date of Commercial Release if applicable

Director Shaz Bennett takes cinematic Indie Hip to a new level in the cleverly poignant coming of age drama Alaska is a Drag featuring a standout performance by Martin L. Washington Jr as Leo an aspiring drag queen who has ambitions of leaving isolated Alaska where he is packing and gutting fish for a living and looking after his sister Tristen played by Maya Washington.

When the heavy drinking boxer Declan arrives in town and also starts working at the fish cannery, there is immediate attraction but as director Shaz Bennett explores so deftly that often affection between men can quickly evolve into violence.

Leo ditches his drag ambitions which are clearly influenced by such pop diva’s as Grace Jones and Eartha Kitt and takes up the extremely masculine sport of boxing where he also fights his repressive former friend Kyle played by Christopher O’Shea.

Heavily influenced by Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, Alaska is a Drag was a treat to watch at the 39th Durban International Film Festival  https://durbanfilmfest.co.za/ and would surely be a hit at many Queer film festivals both in South Africa and abroad.

Audiences should watch out for Fashion Police’s Margaret Cho as the surly bar tender who decides to host a drag competition with hilarious results.

For all its quirky characters and a beautifully poignant ending, Alaska is a Drag is a complex yet amusing film about beautiful people with dazzling dreams stuck in a small town community. Highly recommended viewing.

Alaska is a Drag gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is original, hilarious and gorgeously shot. A cinematic treat.

 

The Nonchalance of Youth

Call Me by Your Name

Director:  Luca Guadagnino

Cast: Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victorie du Bois

Andre Aciman’s sensuous 1988 debut novel Call Me by Your Name is skilfully adapted into a superb screenplay by James Ivory of Merchant Ivory fame and beautifully brought to the big screen by Italian director Luca Guadagnino.

Call Me by Your Name centres on the erotic summer romance of Elio, a young Jewish Italian boy discovering the essence of his sexuality and his parents American house guest, a 24 year old American classics student Oliver wonderfully played by Armie Hammer (The Man from Uncle) in possibly his best on screen role yet, who is staying with the family in the summer of 1983 as a cultural exchange.

It is the break out performance of star Timothee Chalamet as the restless Elio which is the cinematic revelation and as he deftly centres the film in all its beauty skillfully conveying the nonchalance of youth and his perpetual desire for self-discovery.

Elio’s parents Mr Perlman played by Michael Stuhlbarg (The Shape of Water) and Annella played by Amira Casar who are a liberal and fairly affluent Italian couple who allow their only son, young Elio all the indulgences of youth.

Director Luca Guadagnino sumptuously captures the Italian country summer creating a gorgeous landscape for Elio and Oliver to indulge in an intimate and erotic affair which is tenderly portrayed without moral judgement or vulgarity, a beautiful depiction of sexual discovery and emotional resonance made poignant by the brevity of their idyllic romance.

In a particularly insightful scene between Elio and his compassionate father, Mr Perlman utters the significant line: “Nature has a cunning way of finding our weakest spot.”

Timothee Chalamet captures all the confusion and emotional insecurity of his various sexual encounters with a luminosity seldom seen in cinema today. Chalamet is indeed a star to watch out for. The luxuriant and lingering tone of the film transports audiences into a languid Italian summer, a beautiful sensuous stupor which they will find difficult to relinquish even as the closing credits appear on the screen.

Call Me by Your Name is beautifully acted particularly by its two male leads and superbly shot, making the film a mesmerizing cinematic experience. There are very few films being produced like this today and Luca Guadagnino captures that visual rarity of a first love on screen with a tenderness and beauty which is reminiscent of the Roman statue from antiquity emerging from Lake Garda.

Audiences that enjoyed the early Merchant Ivory films like Maurice and A Room with a View will love Call Me by Your Name.

This evocative film gets a rating of 9.5 out of 10 and is one of the most exquisite films I have seen aided by an equally brilliant soundtrack.

 

 

 

 

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