Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

08 April 2015

More 2014 Gay Movies Now on DVD

I posted recently about Pride, Hide Your Smiling Faces, Love Is Strange, and Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?. But I live in cold, cold New Hampshire, and movies with predominantly gay characters and predominantly gay storylines don't really play in theatres up here. (The Imitation Game is obviously the exception – a faux-gay movie without any gay people in it.) Anyway, I am catching up! And there were lots of great gay movies last year.

The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho) is just the sweetest thing. This is a film about a blind boy who is falling in love with a boy he meets and befriends at school and it couldn't be more cute. It also feels really honest and simple. This is not a complicated story with lots of histrionics or big fights or wild tears. The Way He Looks isn't a film about coming out, either. The main character, Leo, doesn't struggle with his sexuality or try to fight it. He has bigger, more complicated problems (namely a mother who barely trusts him to be at home by himself).

Instead of a coming-out narrative, Leo's story is a tale of how he goes about telling the person that he loves that he loves him. This isn't particularly groundbreaking, and it is, perhaps just as cliché as a coming-out narrative, but it feels fresh here – maybe because so often when a character is queer our attention is aimed at whether or not he or she will admit this to him- or herself or, indeed, to the audience. Daniel Ribeiro's movie doesn't spend any time on this at all. Instead we see both boys try to deal with their own embarrassment and fear – all due to the question of whether or not the other will love him back. It is sweet, charming, and gentle. And it is all just so simple. I adored this.

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Less successful is Stefan Haupt's half-doc-half-fiction film Der Kreis (The Circle), about the first gay men to have a registered partnership in Switzerland. The film is about these two men, how they meet, and the (actually not that terrible) difficulties of living in Switzerland in the 1950s and 1960s.

This isn't to say that life isn't hard for the men; of course it is. But as the film is careful to point out, Switzerland never does have a Paragraph 175 the way that Germany does, and so Zürich becomes a kind of queer mecca where gays and lesbians from Germany can come to get away for the weekend. If they can't live totally open lives in Switzerland, they can at least party. The eponymous Der Kreis is a trilingual gay literary journal, but also a secret club of queer men and women.

Der Kreis switches back and forth between interviewing the (real) Ernst Ostertag and Röbi Rapp, who were the first gay couple to have a Swiss registered partnership and a fictional re-creation of their youth in the 1950s, when they met and fell in love. This latter stuff is performed by actors (most beautifully by Matthias Hungerbühler). The back-and-forth thing doesn't totally work, in all honesty. Having the old men there with us, chatting with us, has the effect of causing the 1950s sequences ringing false or at least overly theatrical where they might have instead seemed realistic. The back-and-forth form also gets in the way of a real psychological investigation into who these characters are. The portrayals seem flattened by the real people in front of us.

The film is complicated by a few side-plots: there is, perhaps, a gay serial killer who is, perhaps, also a rent-boy; there is a crackdown on gay-themed publications; there is a police restriction on social gatherings and parties; The Circle itself folds and is replaced by other gay-themed journals; at one point Ernst cheats on Röbi with Felix, another member of the circle, and then Ernst suggests a kind of threesome or maybe even a permanent throuple.

But none of these side-plots goes anywhere, really, and they hang there at loose ends. They are easily (much too easily) sown up by the old men in the present-day sequences, who report the resolutions of these problems in matter-of-fact ways. It makes the focus, here, on plot, and on the getting to where we are now, rather than on the struggles these young men underwent in 1950s Switzerland.
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And then there is Life Partners, a romantic comedy by Susanna Fogel. Life Partners is about two young women, one straight (Gillian Jacobs) and one gay (Leighton Meester), who are best friends. All is good and well, and they are getting along perfectly, living, in fact, like girlfriends. But then straight girl decides she likes one of the guys she starts dating (Adam Brody), and things get serious between them. Things get serious so quickly that things between the girls get a little awkward.

This is the premise of the movie, and I realize that it isn't much; it is a rom-com, after all. But, Life Partners is a rom-com that I thought was really funny. The girls' lesbian circle is a crackup, and much of what the film addresses feels familiar to me. These awkward things do happen when one friend in a couple becomes really attached to his or her significant other. It is hard to keep all of this straight: is he my friend? does he like me as much as I like him? does he wish I weren't gay? do I wish he were gay? does he love me as much as I love him? I have thought much of this at various times in my own life, and that isn't even to say how complicated it is for, say a straight guy whose best friend is a gay guy, or a straight girl whose best friend is a gay guy. Love and sexual desire get very confused in these relationships because we really depend on one another for almost everything.

In any case, Life Partners addresses these quandaries humorously, and the whole thing is quite delightful.

For my previous Gay-Movies-from-2014 post, go here.

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