Sunday, May 23, 2021

Lawrence Ferber | Birthday Time || Jan Dalchow and Lars Daniel Krutzkoff Jacobsen | Fremragende Timer (Precious Moments) || Jonathan Wald | What Grown-Ups Know || Christian Tafdrup | En forelskelse (Awakening) || Lasse Nielsen (director) Fødselsdagen (Happy Birthday)

crossing the divide

Lawrence Ferber (screenwriter and director) Birthday Time / 2000 [18.33 minutes]

Jan Dalchow and Lars Daniel Krutzkoff Jacobsen (screenwriters and directors) Fremragende Timer (Precious Moments) / 2003  [17 minutes]

Jonathan Wald (screenwriter and director) What Grown-Ups Know / 2004 [30 minutes]

Christian Tafdrup (screenwriter, from an idea by Jonatan Spang, and director) En forelskelse (Awakening) / 2008 [39 minutes]

Lasse Nielsen and Bent Petersen (screenplay), Lasse Nielsen (director) Fødselsdagen (Happy Birthday) / 2013 [24 minutes] 

Over the past several years I have been on the lookout for films which might reveal whether or not the process of young gay and lesbian people “coming out” was truly easier that it had been for my now agèd generation. Obviously, the young people in films made after 1990, for example, have a large advantage in simply knowing that there are other LGBTQ people out there, even if they have never met them. And, in general, cultures have grown more open to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and—far more slowly—transgender individuals and their expressions of love.

      Yet, over all, it appears that most contemporary filmmakers perceive the process of a young man of age 16 or 17 coming to terms with a minority sexual bent to be as difficult an undertaking as it has been decades earlier, and sometimes as in Olivier Lallart’s 2019 French film  PD (Fag) or US director Scott Sullivan’s 2020 short Red, things had grown even more difficult for young LGBTQ people simply because they were more easily identified by their peers and open about their sexual differences. Even young people who had not yet come to terms with their sexuality were more likely to be defined as “different” by their fellow dominant normative peers. Conversely, if I may have been perceived as queer while growing up I was never described as a “fag” and completely cut off from my fellow classmates; my differences may have caused me to shy away from them since I did not find many of their social activities compatible with my interests, but I was never completely shunned. And I enjoyably shared their company when it came to activities such as playing in the band, singing in the chorus, debating, and performing in dramas.

       In my generation, moreover, there was a kind of shell of innocence that, if one did not quite yet identify as being gay, freed one from commitment to or relationship with an unwilling or self-hating closeted individual such as we see in Red and numerous other post-80s “coming out” films. By the time I actually “came out” in college, long after others seeking a gay high school sexual partner, I found dozens already in waiting, so my experience may not be typical. And I also recognize given the hormonal changes of adolescence, particularly in today’s highly sexualized environment, to keep one’s sexual urges on hold.

       That does not mean, moreover, that I didn’t fantasize about others in my formative years; perhaps I was the gay boy so closeted that others where frustratedly thwarted by my behavior. I can imagine one such instance. And I know for certain that I was the cause of frustration to a couple of heterosexual girls, something that isn’t fully represented in film but might be a fascinating topic of ancillary importance to LGBTQ filmmakers: “how does the rejection of a gay boy or lesbian truly effect their straight counterparts who have fallen in love without knowing about their “other’s” sexual urges.” What does loving a gay man and woman mean for a heterosexual girl or boy when she or he discovers the truth? Surely hurt and anger cannot be the only emotional scars. Does such a relationship ever result in an investigation of a straight person’s own sexuality? It can’t be that only gay men and women feel the necessity of pondering those issues.

       Nonetheless, I have noticed some evidence that the whole process of “coming out” in queer cinema is becoming in some instances a non-issue; and perhaps the “B” pattern of “coming out” films—boy falls in love with boy/girl falls in love with girl as they struggle to come to terms with the fact within themselves and in relationship to their peers and family—will soon transmogrify into something quite different. Increasingly, for example, I have noticed a great number of short and even feature films dealing with individuals who find the process less a personal problem or even a concern with those of their own generation, than it is a frightening standoff between them and their parents and older relatives, perhaps another variation of the genre—a phenomenon I shall soon have to explore since the resultant pain this causes is still quite significant. And their companions, unlike those of the previous generations, are far less tolerant about those who determine in connection with their families to remain in the closet.

       At the same time, however, I have also noticed there have been a number of recent gay short films released in which, if there are any problems at all, it has less to do with sexual difference than it has with other desires and impediments unrelated of the LGBTQ identity. Perhaps the generational problem I note above might almost be seen to also be an extracurricular concern, despite its significant effect upon the individual’s sexual transition. But in several of these new films there seems to be utterly no major impediment regarding sexual identification and desire.

      I have already written about a few of these films, some examples being US director Brian Tognatti’s Just Ask Him (2020); Icelandic director Runar Þór Sigurbjörnsson’s Hann (Him) (2018); Dutch director Jiels Bourgonje’s Turn It Around (2017); US director Ly Tran’s Rose Canyon (2017); and earlier, the comic “coming out” farce by French filmmaker Françoise Decaux-Thomelet, Enceinte ou lesbienne? (Pregnant or Lesbian?) (1996). One might describe these films as simply a matter of coming to recognize the new openness, sometimes resolved with a simple change of a pronoun in describing one’s desires.

     Arguably, there is even a sub-genre already developing around these films that proposes that “coming out” is nothing of great significance with a little help of the older generation. In at least five works I’ve observed young men of ages from 14 to17 who have been perfectly ready and willing to jump into the sack with someone of the same sex, but can evidently find only mature men who are ready to kiss and make proper love to them as opposed to simply shyly exploring their bodily territories; these youngsters are clearly beyond the touching-feeling-masturbatory exercises played out in school toilets, bedroom sleepovers with friends, or gropes in their classmates’ autos. US director Lawrence Ferber’s Birthday Time (2000), Norwegian directors Jan Dalchow and Lars Daniel Krutzkoff Jacobsen’s Fremragende Timer (Precious Moments) (2003), Australian director Jonathan Wald’s What Grown-Ups Know (2004), Danish director Christian Tafdrup’s En forelskelse (Awakening) (2008), and Danish director Lasse Nielsen’s Happy Birthday (2013) all concern young boys absolutely ready to make the leap into total gay sexual pleasure the moment they turn of legal age or are accepted by older men as lovers.

     If these films present new difficulties and barriers to be dealt with, at least they have little to do with the confusion of sexual identity and the individual’s inability to accept his burgeoning desires. If in our time of cultural hysteria concerning all things to do with pedophilia clinical psychologists have been chary of and even punished for exploring the idea that on many occasions it is the younger underage individual who encourages the elder to enter into sex, LGBTQ filmmakers have repeatedly suggested that this was precisely what happens, their characters having few second thoughts about engaging in sex with older men.

     Sometimes far more difficult for a young person suddenly discovering that he or she is sexually and emotionally drawn to members of the same gender, particularly in small towns but even sometimes in larger schools, is that there is no one immediately to turn to for either support or, even more importantly, for sexual exploration. Some cannot even find another gay person of their same age. In a class of about 140 students, I am convinced to this day there was not another gay person among my peers. Is it any wonder then that often individuals look to older people who they might identify as possibly being homosexual to help them not only to comprehend what their feelings mean or if they might arouse such feelings in others, but to understand how to fully engage in same-sex situations. It may seem a strange question, but it’s an inevitable one when there are no models: what do you do in to show your love in gay sex? As a commentator in Nic Sheehan’s 1985 documentary No Sad Songs noted, as a gay man you come to learn what many straight men never do, that you have an anus. Exploring gay sex with an older boy, the young hero of David Moreton’s Edge of Seventeen (1998) is pleasantly shocked to find himself being “rimmed” during one of his first gay sex encounters. The kiss that many of the boys seek in the movies I discuss below is a code word for anything and everything else a gay man or lesbian might do in the process of making love. The kiss is just a token, a knowable representation for whatever else might happen. 


a kiss is never just a kiss

Lawrence Ferber (screenwriter and director) Birthday Time / 2000 [18.33 minutes]

Birthday Time begins in the high school men’s room where two boys, Christopher (nicknamed Toffer) (Cory Grant) and his friend Jonathan (Mark Pacitti), are crowded into a toilet stall, exploring one another’s bodies. When Christopher attempts to meet the boy’s lips in a kiss, the other turns away, at that very moment another boy entering the room allowing the friend to escape. Toffer looks off in disappointment. On his way out school, a young man kissing his girlfriend calls the boy “fag” as he passes, so obviously Toffer has not attempted to hide his sexual identity.

      On his way home from school he stares longingly into the local gay bar Flapjax, catching the watchful eye of the older bar tender. Clearly the boy is not of age sexually in New York (the legal age is 17)* or to enable him to consume alcohol (the legal age is 21). Again he is eager, but utterly disappointed.

       Back at home we discover his mother in their back patio. Evidently on Sunday he’ll be celebrating his 18th birthday, and his mother asks if Jonathan’s coming to birthday celebration to which he replies: “I don’t think we’re going to be friends anymore.”  

       Despite this boy’s own acceptance of his sexuality, it is clear that his schoolmates do not share his open viewpoints, giggling even over the fact that he reads in his evening drama class from Oscar Wilde’s Salomé; and it’s clear from the speed with which he reads his lines that he is nervous in openly displaying himself as a gay boy in front of his peers.

       That evening he again stares into the gay bar, observing a couple in the midst of a kiss. Spotting only the young bartender at the bar, Toffer bends down and speeds through the room into the bathroom, where he encounters an older man pissing back to his back. The man gradually extends his hand to grab the boy’s ass, and startled, Toffer spins around, that man equally startled by how young his prey is. Claiming he’s drunk, the elder apologizes, but it appears he might still go through with a kiss, except that the older bartender suddenly appears and forces the boy to leave the premises. “Get puberty and come on back,” lisps the barman.

       This time when Toffer returns home, he discovers his mother packing. She’s gotten a freelance job in Pittsburgh and she has to leave until Sunday. She asks if he remembers a boy from New Jersey, Scott, Toffer describing him, somewhat dismissingly as a “jock.” “Yeah, but he’s and nice kid,” she insists. In any event she has asked his father to look after Toffer until she returns, her son protesting that at almost 18 years of age he doesn’t need a guardian. She is not up for an argument. Before she leaves she introduces him to Scott’s father Tom (Simon Woolley), from New Zealand— the same man he had previously encountered in the Flapjax bathroom.

       Tom seems somewhat appalled when he recognizes the boy he has been asked to look after, but Toffer now has other designs.

                When they are alone, the elder again apologizes, claiming he was drunk and, after pondering what Toffer might have been doing there, suggests he avoid “those kind of places until he’s out of school,” presumably meaning to wait until he graduates, another of the several age and time limits imposed by adults upon youths.

      Now that, as Tom declares they have everything out in the air and cleared, the boy interrupts him to ask a personal question. Just as quickly getting embarrassed by what he’s about to say, he backs away, as Tom encourages him to speak freely. The question: “What is buttfuck like?”

       “Go do your homework,” responds Tom.

       But that is just the first of sexual declarations, innuendos, and seductions that the boy has planned for his Saturday stay-in during which he determined to discover what being gay truly means, spying on Tom as he showers, leaving the door open several inches as he himself showers so that Tom might watch him (a treat of which, we observe, Tom takes advantage), and essentially torturing the poor closeted father of his supposed jock friend Scott.

      At one point Toffer sits on the couch with Tom as he unwraps and eats a banana inching closer and closer to his guardian in the process. Tom attempts again to talk with him, trying to explain that although he “likes to play around a bit,” Toffer has no business being in a place like Flapjax.

     Toffer, in turn, summarizes his problem: although he’s played around a bit, nothing serious, he’s almost 18 and hasn’t yet been kissed. Reminding Tom that in the bar he was about to kiss him, he lays out his terms: “I want my kiss god dammit!”

         When Tom refuses he calls him “a closet queen.”

          “Stop it!”

          “Then kiss me!

          “I can’t”

          “Then have a drink.”

And so it continues throughout the day as the boy attempts to break down all of Tom’s defenses.

     When Tom wonders whether the boy going out at all, Toffer answers: I”m going to get my kiss from you or I’m twirling straight back to Flapjax without any underwear on.”

      You might almost describe what takes place after as a kind of sexual showdown, as each of them is seen, as the clock ticks on, looking at themselves in the mirror, Tom checking out his greying temples and Toffer his facial features before the boy kisses himself intensely in the mirror, presumably as practice for what is he will be facing by sundown.

       Tom finally dares to enter the boy’s room. They share small talk until Toffer wonders whether or not he should grow his hair longer or keep it short, inviting Tom to feel it. When he again refrains, Toffer challenges him: “You sure you don’t want to feel my hair...or have a drink?”

        After more chatter, Toffer gets right down to the issue: “Am I not your type or something? Am I too young or too gay or something? Why won’t anybody kiss me?”

        Tom answers seemingly with wisdom: “You should get your first kiss from someone who loves you. Do it right.”

         “He won’t kiss me, and you won’t kiss me either.” After a pause, he continues, “I’m ugly, I mean I’m so fuckin’ gay and I’m going to be 18 and even retarded people who can’t read get kissed. I went in there because I wanted to get kissed.”**

         Tom answers, “Count on me, you don’t just want a kiss Toff.” He strokes his hair, and we know what’s in store, particularly when Tom declares that it’s not the boy’s birthday yet, and Toffer sets the clock ahead.

          When his mother arrives home the next morning, her son is still in bed, Tom evidently  having left, she knocks on her boy’s door wishing him a happy birthday. Get dressed, she demands, “Don’t you want your present?”


         Christopher lays back in his bed with a large smile on his face, making it clear that a kiss is never just a kiss.

*Although this film clearly appears to have been shot in New York where the legal age of consent is 17, meaning that the character would be 16 about to turn of age, somewhat explicably, but perhaps simply to quell any criticism of a 16 year-old-boy behaving as Christopher does, the movie establishes that the boy is 17, turning on 18, which he and others describe as the age of consent. In more than half of the US states the legal age is 16.

**It’s interesting that the desire to be kissed, which quite obviously stands for a whole set of other sexual possibilities, is also the great desire of the character Ben in Adam Salky’s 2005 film, Dare, perhaps another example of a young man coming to terms with his homosexuality in a much less painful way than the standard plot of the “coming out” movie generally requires. He too wants to simply kiss someone before he graduates from high school.

Los Angeles, May 22, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (May 2021).


consenting when you can’t

Jan Dalchow and Lars Daniel Krutzkoff Jacobsen (screenwriters and directors) Fremragende Timer (Precious Moments) / 2003  [17 minutes]

Based on a true situation in Norway, Fremragende Timer (Precious Moments) concerns a young 15 year-old boy, Olav (Tord Vandvik Haugen), a little less than two months shy of his 16th birthday. Olav lives in a nicely furnished group home (a Norwegian teen orphanage) in an apartment with two other boys his age, in a small Norwegian town.

     The film begins with Olav showering, another boy brushing his teeth, and a third roughhousing, pretending to hump the towel-clad Olav when he gets out of the shower, obviously suggesting that these boys, if not gay, are quite sexually aware. Olav, it appears, is on his way to a date, and greets the rather dour house mother, Susanne (Toril Martinussen) on his way out.     

      He crosses through a large field where he hears a mewling kitten, and finding it, picks it up to comfort it before proceeding to his destination.

    What we don’t know is that this charmingly innocent boy is responding to a personal advertisement placed in the local newspaper purposing a sexual encounter with a 30-year old man.

     Per (Even Rasmussen) awaits in his local Quality Inn motel room for the boy, who has written him that he is of age. The age designated for sexual consenting homosexual sex with an older male not in a position of trust and authority in Norway is 16—an issue, it appears, for some anxious young Scandinavian boys. In Denmark the age is 15, and even a 14 year-old boy in Lasse Nielsen’s short film Happy Birthday (2013) could hardly bear to wait the few weeks until he turned 15 enabling him to have sex with his hunky older neighbor.

      In any event, Olav and Per meet up, have enjoyable sex, and after, almost like delighted schoolboys discovering their sexuality, begin to play games, Per stalking the room under a blanket searching out the boy who keeps delightfully coming closer and withdrawing. 

       At that very moment two policemen show up, finding both of them frolicking naked together.

      The man can barely comprehend what has just happened, as the boy is quickly forced to dress to be taken away by Susanne, who we later discover, has followed him to the hotel, spotting him going into the room and reporting it to the police.

      Per is handcuffed and taken away in the police car, later to be found guilty of child abuse, despite the fact that it was Olav who made the initial contact and claimed to be old enough to consent.

      Evidently the real “Per” was found guilty and imprisoned, something directors Jan Dalchow and Lars Daniel Krutzkoff Jacobsen found troubling. Krutzkoff Jacobsen is quoted: “I’m not saying everything that happened was all that ’precious,’ but I can’t help wondering what the hue and cry is all about” since the boy was only 56 days shy of being of age and that he had initiated the sexual encounter.

     What’s more, had he been living in Nielsen’s Scandinavian sister country Denmark, the boy would have been of consenting age. The film, accordingly, brings into question some of the difficulties and, one has to admit, the absurd arbitrariness of determining legal sexual age for young men and women between 14-18.

     Clearly, given the terms established in the film, there was nothing that occurred in that room between the two males that might be described as abusive or criminal except for the societally imposed determination of age, which, in fact, may represent the true criminality of the situation. I don’t know what a sentence of child abuse means in Norway, but for a US citizen is results in a life-long punishment that often keeps those involved, no matter of what age, from living in most neighborhoods or visiting any institution or place in which children gather. And in far too many cases it means being outcast from the society for the rest of one’s life.*

     The film version I saw was only in Norwegian, a language with which, given the limited use of dialogue in this film, I am somewhat fluent. But there is a version apparently with English language subtitles. The title, incidentally, comes from a work by Norwegian author Jens Bjørneboe, whose character in his controversial novel Powderhouse describes an experience of having sex with an underage boy as representing “precious moments.”

     If nothing else, this is a provocative short work worth watching. 

*  I might just remind the reader that in the US, legal age limited by relationship (the older male not serving in a position of trust and authority) varies from state to state from 16 to 18 years of age, with numerous variants allowing for sexual relationships with males and females who share their age groups. In California, the state in which I live, for example, the crime of "unlawful sexual intercourse" defines any act of sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 18 who is not the spouse of the person. There are no exceptions; all sexual activity with a person under the age of 18 (and not their spouse) is a criminal offense. So if a 15-year-old willingly has sex with a 17-year-old, both have committed a crime, although it is only a misdemeanor. Harsher sentences are doled out for individuals who significantly differ in age.

     The age of consent in Iowa, the state in which I grew up, is 16, with a close-in-age exemption for those aged 14 and 15, who may engage in sexual acts with partners less than 4 years older.

     In the state where I went to university, Wisconsin, the age of consent is 18 and there is no close-in-age exception. There is, however, a marital exception which allows a person to have sex with a minor 16 or older if they are married to the minor. If the minor is below 16 both sexual intercourse and any sexual contact are a felony; sexual intercourse with a minor 16-17 by a perpetrator who is not married to the minor is a Class A misdemeanor. At 17 I would have committed a Class A misdemeanor for having sex with someone of my own age, a crime of which I am certain I was unknowingly guilty during my Freshman year or, even worse for having sex with a couple of my teachers, putting them in jeopardy as well.

     In the District of Columbia, where Howard I lived for fourteen years, the age of consent  is 16 with a close-in-age exemption for those within four years of age

     In thirty-one states the age of consent is 16, in six states it is 17, and in thirteen states it is 18.

Los Angeles, May 7, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (May 2021).


a territory for which even grown-ups have no words

Jonathan Wald (screenwriter and director) What Grown-Ups Know / 2004 [30 minutes]

Perhaps the most complex of the five movies upon which I’m focusing is Jonathan Wald’s What Grown-Ups Know. In this film the young boy, Roy (Stephen James King), is quite obviously aware of, if not at all experienced about, his gay sexual orientation. Traveling with his mother, Elizabeth (Susie Lindeman) after they have just escaped without paying from a cheap motel, they make a pit stop at a public restroom, he scouting out the men’s room about to engage in sex with an older man in a cubicle before she, impatient to know what’s holding him up, intervenes by pounding on the men’s room door.

      Their next stop is what is called in Australia a “caravan park,” the rooms consisting of older trailers which obviously attract patrons who plan to stay on for a few weeks or months. At such places, accordingly, a deposit is required, which Elizabeth and Roy clearly cannot provide. His mother, frustrated by the situation, is about to turn and run again, but Roy, worn out by their endless travels and recognizing the mananger as the same one he encountered at the truck stop bathroom, has a better idea. He puts himself up as a deposit, promising to remain at the camp while his mother looks for jobs; obviously, she won’t try to run off without paying without her son.

      Roy apparently also has other plans in store, and can hardly wait the next morning to try to seduce the caravan hotel manager, whose name we later discover is Maurice (Daniel Roberts). That first morning he lies in bed naked waiting for the manager to come clear their unit, but his act of seduction doesn’t pay off, as the manager retires until he dresses.

       By the second day his mother has found a freakish job as a female Santa, Roy once more trying to hurry her off to work so that he might try his luck once again with Maurice. This time he strips down to his swimming suit standing by the side of a lake in which, so he is told by the manager, it is too dangerous to swim, perhaps a metaphor for the relationship he is trying to develop between them. As the two talk further, moreover, it is clear Maurice is onto his sexual invitations, but like Tom in Birthday Time is wary of taking the boy into his bed; and finally, there is simply a great amount of work to be done.

      There is also the problem of the mother. Elizabeth suspects what may be going on and forbids her son to go near the man she claims may be a “pervert.” And, although, her demands are easy to ignore, in her implorations and near-sexual control of her son, despite her childlike behavior, she is a powerful force on his life. More importantly, it is clear that she is dying of cancer. We gradually discover that the horrible blonde wig she is wearing is an attempt to cover up her baldness, a result of chemotherapy. In fact, the reason she has left Roy’s father—to whom the boy keeps insisting they return—has to do with the man’s rejection, physically and mentally, of his wife after her cancer diagnosis. Having stolen his car, he has canceled her credit cards. Despite the boy’s pleas that they go back home, she cannot return to a man who longer will help her survive or support  her mentally while she is dying.

     In his gentle ministrations, her son has become her symbolic husband, who she treats almost like a sexual partner on the run.

     It is the demands of both the maternal and, because of his sexual desire and absence of his own father, the paternal that is tearing apart what is left of Roy’s childhood. As he admits to Maurice, despite his actual age which is perhaps somewhere between 16 and 18, he is now too “old” for school.

     When Roy sneaks into the office drawers of the manager, he discovers photos of the man with a child, obviously Maurice’s son. And a later conversation subtly reveals, if you can read between the lines, that Maurice’s wife also long ago left him probably having discovered his closeted homosexuality while apparently accusing him—wrongly so Maurice asserts to Roy without naming the crime of which she has named—of child abuse.

     The pulls on both Maurice and Roy, accordingly, are just too strong for either of them to overcome, and they ultimately do find themselves in bed together, Maurice shocked to discover it is the boy’s first time. Yet he is clearly a gentle teacher, and Roy is suddenly joyful about the possibility of staying on with him.

      But it is just at this moment that his mother—having been too sick to report to her job for a couple of days and after having offered her wedding ring as a deposit that might free her son from performing that role—insists they move on. When Roy adamantly resists, she begins packing and lugging her heavy suitcase to the car herself, declaring she will leave him at the caravan as payment. 

      Yet even Maurice has attempted to explain to Roy that he cannot replace his father and that he should move on with his mother. And the boy has no choice but to accept his mother’s vagabond proposals.

      If you previously thought you comprehended just how difficult it is for a teenage boy to sexually “come out,” you need now to recalculate. Roy’s heart and mind may be absolutely willing, but the patterns his mother has imposed upon his life makes it a nearly impossible task. For him there is no possibility of “normality,” not even a possible “different” one. He might as well be a child prostitute on the streets. And, in fact, that is almost the role he has attempted to play at this last stand. Where they go from here is unimaginable territory for which even grown-ups have no words.

Los Angeles, May 23, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review May 2021).

i know how you feel

Christian Tafdrup (screenwriter, from an idea by Jonatan Spang, and director) En forelskelse (Awakening) / 2008 [39 minutes]

Christian Tafdrup’s En forelskelse (Awakening) creates an even more difficult situation for a young man who, after discovering his sexuality, is quite ready to enjoy its new possibilities. That is primarily because the man who accidentally reveals the young teenage boy Carsten’s (Allan Hyde) same-sex desires is his girlfriend’s father Stig (Lars Brygmann).

      From the evidence of the film’s narrative you would never know that Carsten is not a happy heterosexual making out with his girlfriend Melissa (Jule Grundtvig Wester). In the first scene of the film the two high schoolers have just come from a costume party, he dressed as Aladdin, she, oddly enough, as Hitler—which may say something about her rather domineering relationship with him—Carsten presumably dropping her off at her home. Melissa suggests he meet her parents, but the boy is rather embarrassed for his outfit. But nonetheless the clearly open-minded Stig and Birgitte not only invite him in, but encourage to stay overnight with his girlfriend in her bed. High school sex is obviously not a problem with this liberal couple, but the fact that the kids can hear the parents in the next room having sex poses some uncomfortableness for the youths.

      The next morning, when Carsten rises early he encounters Stig, who serves him breakfast and taking him into another room offers him a sweater to wear over his open Aladdin blazer on his way home. Spotting two stuffed ducks in the room, Carsten asks about their presence whereupon Stig describes the joys of duck-hunting which he sees primarily as a way of commuing nature and enjoying some quiet time alone. But we sense something else going on between the two that we cannot quite explain, but which even Melissa perceives when she later suggests that his parents liked him and have invited him and her to their summer house.

       Melissa apparently has no desire to take up their offer, but Carsten clearly wants to get together with Stig again and subtly manipulates his girlfriend into perceiving that it might give them a much needed time to be together alone, without the pressures of their high school activities and friends.

        Once more Carsten is greeted with friendliness, and Stig invites anyone who wants to join him on a duck hunting foray the next morning. The women immediately bow out, but one can see that Stig is ready to take him up on the offer, until Melissa refuses for him. Yet the next morning, the boy rises early and seeing Stig packing up the car, carefully removes himself from his girlfriend’s embrace to join the father. They journey pleasantly to the spot, not saying anything of great importance, Stig realizing. as they park, that he may have left his duck-call device back at the house, but finally finding it in the glove compartment; the very next instant he suddenly plants a kiss on Carsten’s cheek.

        Carsten sits stock-still without registering either protest or even amazement, as Stig repeats the kiss, this time head on, before apologizing for the clearly inappropriate action. Still in some shock, the boy watches Stig take his gun and kit out of the car and begin to walk off. Finally he too leaves the car to follow Melissa’s father, who suddenly realizing the consequences of what has just happened suggests they call off the hunt, as they return home with vague explanations of what has happened. 

    Nothing is said, but that night as Carsten helps Stig by drying the dishes he is washing, the boy whispers an apology, as if somehow he were the one who had done something inexplicable. And perhaps he has, in his own thinking, for not having responded in like. What is clear is that he no way found the kisses unobjectionable.

       A few days later as the boy and his girlfriend sit together, she again repeats how much apparently his parents like him and it is obvious that he, in turn, enjoys their company. At first, he concurs. But when she repeats it once more he briefly loses his temper, wondering why she need reiterate the fact. Surprised by his reaction, she pulls away, as he apologizes, wondering when, given her busy racquet-ball schedule, they can be together alone again. She lists a schedule of activity that will keep them apart for several days.

      Even knowing that she will not be home, the next day Carsten stands before her parent’s doorway. He is about to turn and leave when Stig finally appears. He asks the question he already knows about Melissa being home, but has another excuse ready by returning her father’s sweater. Finally Stig invites him in, and the two begin a totally meaningless conversation about how the two teenagers make the perfect couple. Almost mid-sentence, finally Carsten breaks down into tears, expressing what perhaps he has never even carefully thought out, let alone previously spoken:

                     I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t understand.

     Stig hugs him close in an attempt to calm him, repeating that he know what he feels. And yes, in a short while the two find their hands slipping down into each other’s pants, both attempting to salve their frustrations with a moment of grabbed love.

      Before they can continue they hear the entry of Melissa and her mother, returned home since the court was overbooked, Melissa’s racquetball contest cancelled. The men quickly tuck in their shirts and re-buckle their belts, as Carsten is led up to Melissa’s room. As expected they kiss, but she senses something is amiss when he breaks away, finally admitting that he has “met someone” who he’s been with.

      As expected, she asks: “Who is she?”

      But his answer is so honest that even the viewer is a bit startled: “It’s not a she. It’s a guy.”

      Furiously she commands him to leave, and after putting on his shoes, he does so, returning to the living room to whisper to Stig that he and his daughter have broken up. Stig is obviously shaken  by the news, but when Carsten asks him if the two of them might get together again, he responds as we know he would and must: they can never again meet, there is now no way to see one another ever. Seeing him out, Stig opens the door, as Carsten begins to leave, once more apologizing but nonetheless stating that it had been a pleasure to know him. Stig agrees that that knowing him has been special, briefly hugging him before the boy leaves with regret.

      It is interesting that because Stig remains locked in a lie, living a closeted life, it is Carsten who must suffer. If Stig also suffers—as we know he does—it is of his own making. Carsten will quite obviously meet someone else. But the adults such as Tom, Per, and Maurice of these films, just as Stig, have no recourse to another such beautiful interlude with the youths who in their straightforwardness have broken the chain of living hidden lives.

      We know nothing of Carsten’s home situation, but in all of the previous three narratives, the boys were also missing fathers, perhaps finding aspects of them in the men with whom they sought out sex. In any event, the elder males could not offer them anything more than the first kiss and the other sexual activities that resulted. They were merely the sought-out agents of the younger boys’ successful coming out.

Los Angeles, May 23, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (May 2021).


getting what he wanted

Lasse Nielsen and Bent Petersen (screenplay), Lasse Nielsen (director) Fødselsdagen (Happy Birthday) / 2013 [24 minutes]

Danish cineaste Lasse Nielsen’s 2013 Happy Birthday is, like Birthday Time a comedy also concerning a boy soon to come into the age of legal sexual consent, in this case a 14 year-old Thomas (Mathias Hartmann Nicalsen) about to turn 15, which is the age of consent in Denmark. But as I mention above, like Olav he is highly impatient for the magic event, particularly since he is sexually excited by his hunky next-door neighbor (Jos Gylling), whom he often observes lounging shirtless in the neighboring yard.

      Fully recognizing that he is gay, Thomas has just signed up for the website “Boyfriend” and, stating that he is 18 seeking a older male friend, hooks up with a user named Gentle Man, who mentions that he is soon to have his 35th birthday party. With youthful anticipation, Thomas writes back “Am I invited?” with the Gentle Man suggesting that perhaps they should first meet.

       The next day they make an appointment to meet up at the “Ruins,” evidently a gay gathering spot in a park. Thomas bicycles up to the designated location only to find his handsome neighbor waiting on a bench. Recognized by the neighbor who asks him what he’s doing in such a spot, the boy responds that he’s looking for his dog. When he turns the question back upon his neighbor, the man reports that he is waiting for someone.

       With hardly a pause, Thomas sits down beside him, gradually moving closer and closer until his hand is touching the other man’s, who stands the instant they touch, suggesting that the kid should be getting along home to see if his dog might have returned, in response to which Thomas resolutely gets on his bicycle and hurries off, frustrated that the secret “meeting” has not ended the way he hoped it might.

       He dares not answer the next communication from the Gentle Man, but noticing the next day that his neighbor is driving away, he illegally enters the man’s house, checking out his large library, noticing in the hall a photograph of his neighbor with his arm around another man—whom we now come to realize was his former companion, who died we can only guess of AIDS—before he comes upon the dinner table nicely set for a small party where he sits down, pretends to pour himself a drink, and toasts birthday greetings to his imaginary friend, before entering the man’s bedroom, lifting up a pair of shorts, sniffing them, and tucking under his own shirt. For the boy it is like an imaginary fairyland which he may someday—in his mind far too long in the future—be able to experience.

   Back on the “Boyfriend” sight, Thomas again queries whether his friend his home; he responds that he is, but is not writing to him because he has lied about his age. The boy apologizes but notes that we will soon be 15, but the Gentle Man immediately cuts off further communications. Presumably, he might be arrested even if he was seen have been encouraging the underaged boy to engage in a relationship. 

      Thomas tries again: “Can’t we just be friends?” And after a few moments his neighbor writes back: “All right. Friends.” Thomas slyly smiles.

      In the very next scene we see Thomas with his bicycle in his own backyard, his beloved neighbor calling to him over the fence. The boy’s mother has evidently told him that Thomas’ birthday is on Saturday, the boy responding, my mother will be away so I’m not having a party. The friend suggests he come to his place in party dress, maybe a tie. 8:00. You can almost feel the boy’s racing heart as a large grin transforms his face, he uttering the Danish word for thanks, “Tak.”

      We see Thomas after his shower singing joyfully before putting on a white shirt, a cute hat, and in his imagination a tie properly knotted as he knocks upon the neighbor’s door, and a second later with a tie properly knotted against a naked chest. He actually shows up with a tie whose knot he could not complete. The neighbor gracefully greets him and ties it for him, the boy basking in in touch of the hands attending his neck.

     Thomas is invited to sit were he did all alone so many days earlier, and this time he toasts  a glass actually filled with wine to his neighbor’s birthday greetings. A gift waits next to his plate. The man thanks him for coming, and the boy thanks him for the invitation. There’s no need to show anything further. No sex necessary in this instance. The boy has come of age and whatever now happens, he is ready. And what is in that box also doesn’t matter, for this boy has gotten everything he wanted.

Los Angeles, May 23, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (May 2021).

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