Sunday, October 17, 2021

Antonio Hens | En malas compañías (Doors Cut Down) || Mark V. Reyes | Last Full Show || Till Kleinert | Cowboy || Dominic Leclerc | Nightswimming || Carlos Alejandro Molina M. | Rojo (Red) || Dave Solomon | Photo Op || Vasilis Kekatos | I apostasi anamesa ston ourano ki emas (The Distance Between Us and the Sky)

plastic paradises

by Douglas Messerli

Since LGBTQ experiences generally lie outside of heteronormative definitions of sexual and social behavior to describe gay or lesbian films as sometimes representing compulsive actions is almost beside the point. Indeed, it once almost seemed to be a definition of LGBTQ sex—perceived by the medical profession and the public both as something that was a compulsive disease, something that the individuals suffering from the various psychological conditions simply could not properly control, and accordingly a cure was always proffered by the heterosexual community as being associated with methods of controlling and delimiting sexual desire.

      To mention, accordingly, that the octet films on which I write below, produced from 2005-2020, general reveal compulsions previously unrecognized by the central figures of these works might be said of hundreds of LGBTQ films. Yet there is something notable in all these cinematic shorts, the way the characters compulsions often lie outside of their previous experiences, that they occur in strange places to which they’ve previously never visited, and they reveal bizarre behavior in which they’ve never before engaged that compels me to read these films in the context of one another. The characters, in almost all cases feel like visitors to the worlds in which they suddenly discover themselves, almost like tourists who have a more common compulsion of wanting to snap photographs or to uncover tokens or mementos which might help define the eerie territory into which they’ve just entered. And while in almost every instance in these seven films the central figure is attracted to another male, there is often a third or numerous other persons, male and female, in the background—judging or evaluating the heroes’ actions and, in general, attempting to control them.

      A great many of the figures in these films are young, not yet of full age, so that both the danger and perversion of the acts involved are made even more apparent. These mostly gay figures are willing to give up almost everything to fulfill their sudden desires which help to make for the surreality of the tales these films witness. And it is no accident that two of these can be described as horror films, and the movies involved include serial pick-pocketing, breaking and entering, abduction and bondage, exposing oneself sexually in public, potential incest, and in three cases child abuse. The least transgressive of these concerns a man bartering for a way home by paying with drugs and stolen goods who is finally granted his wish only if he sits for hours head on hugging the body of the motorcyclist, his preference I might add. Although I would argue that almost all the characters involved are loveable or at least redeemable, none of them might be described as a member in good standing in society, unless you want to count the various cops and guards scattered through these works whose actions have little effect on those they might seek to restrict and restrain.

      It’s not that the figures of these short films do not recognize that they are seeking merely plastic paradises that are delusional and unobtainable, but that they simply have no choice in the matter: they were born queer.


 toilet conquests

Antonio Hens (screenwriter and director) En malas compañías (Doors Cut Down) / 2000 [18 minutes]

The first film that I discuss in this context, Spanish director Antonio Hens’ Doors Cut Down, is the only comic work discussed in this context, although it takes us on a series of journey’s that are just as compulsive, hallucinatory, and absurd, representing a ridiculous paradise as the other six more serious-minded works.

     The young Spanish high school student Guillermo (Israel Rodriguez) is certainly a different species of a teen fag from almost anyone born before 1970, the kind of gay kid we all wish we might have been, gleefully picking up all the boys without suffering any sense of the queerness or oddity of it.

      Guillermo trades his everyday looks for his thin frame, his charming smile, and a savvy sense of knowing how to get more than any traditional male macho beauty of any high school football team (in this case we’re speaking soccer).

      This kid has also traded in his English language lessons for a degree in shopping for mall bathroom sex, picking up men young and old as he pleases while helping to realize that all they have to do is shut up, pull down their pants’ and let him perform fellatio or, once he gets the kick of it, turn him around and fuck his ass. He has all the cockiness certainly that it took me decades to discover with regard to how use the john for a more complex kind of relief. There, if you’re good at it, you can really let go as this boy reminds us.

     We observe him in only a couple of his toilet stall conquests. As even the adolescent wonders, “I don’t know why men pick me up. It might be the way I look back when they look at me.” Our young Romeo doesn’t just sweep his eyes down in a bashful tease, but stares back directly into the  lust view of the elder. 

       Ernesto (Antonio Álamo) is a young 20-something who, as Guillermo describes, is a real asshole in attempting to find someone with whom to fall in love in a men’s room. The boy clues him, reminding him with regard to police and security guards he fears, that their role is merely observational.

       If at home, he lives with a typical homophobic father, the boy knows the man is too horrified of his son’s exaggerated behavior to actually share it with his mother, let alone others. When the couple hire him an English tutor to help him pass his abandoned school studies, Guillermo tries to break the ice by removing his shirt and asking the handsome young bookworm to tell him how to say all the dirty words in English; and when even that doesn’t do the trick, he gets quite specific, demanding to know how to say “Fuck me up the ass.”      

     When the tutor proceeds to do so, opening the boy up for all such future activities. The only problem is that, having forgotten his keys, Guillermo’s father reenters their apartment to hear the the creak of the bedsprings and his son’s painful groans, opening up the bedroom door to witness “the horror, the horror” of his son joyfully taking it up the ass. Silence pervades their home for a long while after. “Nonetheless,” he reports, “I passed my English test.”

        Meanwhile, one day in his mall sprees the boy encounters the handsome 21 year-old mechanic Asier (Pablo Puyol) who used to attend his school, who impresses all the girls by taking apart and reassembling motorcycles, a contemporary equivalent of what where I grew up we used to call “greasers” because of the vast amounts of Vaseline they applied to their hair and for their mechanical abilities, but which Howard growing up in Baltimore knew as “drapes,” a word I didn’t believe until John Waters brought it back into the language in his 1990 film Cry-Baby, a rebel, the opposite of a square. Whether called greasers or drapes their wore a uniform, in our days, of a white crew-neck T-shirts and denims, and long carefully combed back hair, all of them looking to my eager eyes like Marlon Brando and James Dean, guys terrified me and with whom I knew I can never have anything to do.

       Our young hero, who has a theory that if you stare at the back of a guy’s head long enough they have to turn around and see you, does his magic, Asier turning to find the cute kid licking a banana ice cream cone, and within minutes they’re visiting the mall bathroom truly enjoying a taste test. Unfortunately, the mall security guards must have gotten bored or been told by someone to keep the young chickens away from the hawks, and go pounding on the stall doors, arresting both the mechanic and the well-oiled machine he was enjoying straddling. Once out of the bathroom, Asier goes on the run, while Guillermo is brought down to police central where his parents are called and told not only what he was doing but that it wasn’t his first time. 

       When the worried parents trot him off to a psychotherapist of the year 2000 he praises the boy for “accepting himself and meeting other gay men,” and scolds Guillermo’s parents for being the ones the ones who need therapy. “My father went beserk,” Guillermo calmly reports in the narrative voice over. “It was the first time I felt proud of myself.”

       That’s a simple line that might be missed in all the other action of the film, yet it is of vast importance. I might never heard such words in the entire history of LGBTQ cinema before the year of the new millennium.


        Guillermo forgives Asier for bolting, and two become a couple, kissing in front of the school before setting off on the mechanic’s bike like any love-possessed straight couple in the dozens of high-school based films of the 1950s and 1960s.     

       Occasionally, they still haunt the mall, teasing the guards by openly kissing in front of them, the boy evidently having come of legal age. But still the kid’s curious if the bathrooms are still filled with the same queer boys, and they take a look only to discover that all the stall doors have been cut down on top and cut up at bottom. In the stalls with which I was familiar the authorities simply tore off the doors of every other stall, presuming no one would want to do anything sexual being so exposed, but a lot of guys found it preferable, using the glory hole while being able to observe the others greedily eye them as they passed. No one went to have sex in a public bathroom who was afraid of public sex.

       Asier and Guillermo leave the men’s room with a bit of nostalgia for the old days, but happy in their relationship—until the boy catching a cute guy walking in the direction of the men’s room asks Asier to wait for him for a moment as he goes on the chase.

       Hens’ comedy is no less driven by uncontrollable urges which force the individual into uncharted territory than the others. Perhaps it is simply that the adolescent of Doors Cut Down more fully enjoys his manias—something that in the past queers were simply not permitted.

 Los Angeles, October 17, 2021 

       

the moviegoer

 Mark V. Reyes (screenwriter and director) Last Full Show / 2005 [19 minutes]

Philippines director Mark V. Reyes’ debut film was Last Full Show (2005) in which a wealthy young high school student, Crispin (Francis Villanueva) asks his driver, Bert (Nanding Josef), one evening to stop on his way home and wait while he takes in a movie at a local theater.

      This theater, however, does not simply show movies but caters to gay clients, younger and older who join up in sex in the auditorium proper and in the bathrooms—a sort of grander version of the several gay porno movies that used to exist on New York’s West Side near 42nd street, mostly now all closed for decades due to AIDS.

      This particular movie house, in some senses, is more like a gay bar than a porn theater, showing regular films, mostly in English to a crowd most of whom know one another and are regulars, couples often pairing off into regular duos, probably for most of them the only place where they can go to have gay sex outside of a cheap motel. And here are also the old-timers like Gardo (Sugus Legaspi), a man in his mid-to-late 30s and his friend, the younger Jess (Jeremy Aguado) who introduced him years previous to the niceties of movie palace sex. These days the friends stand mostly behind the seats commenting on the goings-on before them almost like guides to the world with its own rituals and codes of behavior. 

    Despite the “No minors” restriction, our young hero seems to have no difficulty with the ticket seller (Mae Paner) in getting in, and the commenting duo note the arrival of the young “twink” who almost the moment he sits in the center of the theater is joined by an older man, his shirt already lifted as if ready for immediate sexual activity. Crispin quickly moves a few seats off, and Jess suggests that perhaps Gardo should try “a dance” just to see if he is what the boy is looking for.

      Gardo takes him up on the dare, and in a few moments the two are kissing, Jess the next day joking with his friend about what a dirty old man he is attempts for find out how big or small the boy’s dick was.

      But there is something different already between Gardo and the boy, and when they accidentally meet up before the movie in the bathroom the next evening, they again join up in sex, following it night after night. His friend is soon warning him to remember that such relationships are a felony. But Gardo’s relationship with the kid has become a kind of compulsion, and he is not about to stop meeting up every night with the boy whose name to this point is never mentioned.

       Soon after, when the movie breaks down, Gardo suggests the boy join him at his favorite soup house, where they dine on the restaurant’s specials, he asking about the boy’s schoolwork, advising him to study hard, while the younger asks Gardo about work.

       What we see is what often happens in such May-September pairings, or used to even in the old days when gay bars did not strictly restrict underage men. The boy, whose who apparently businessman father obviously does not spend much time with his son since there appears to be no  restrictions put upon Crispin’s coming and goings. And Gardo offers him not only a seeming introduction into gay sexuality, but serves as a kind of surrogate elder. The boy clearly enjoys their night out finding the food a little “odd” but comments on the surroundings—a place where they are not embarrassed about being seen together—as something truly enjoyable. The boy is spotted in the restaurant, however, by his other caretaker, the driver, who clearly knows what is going on and does not approve. The two ride on a small street gurney to the place where Bert waits in the car introducing Crispin to a new adventure.

       The next time we see the two together it is simply for a date, with no movie involved, when the boy presents Gardo with a present, evidently an “antique” necklace, a gift which we recognize by the way he wears and holds it over the next several frames, that has truly touched the older man.

       But as he cherishes the necklace, so we observe Crispin in his room pinning up yet another movie ticket to his wall filled with hundreds of them in all colors—far more than he might gathered over the nights of movie-going with Gardo. To emphasize this, the camera begins with a “close up” of the tickets, quickly pulling back to reveal an even larger space than we might have first imagined.


      The next evening, Gardo is a bit late for the movie, as Crispin sits within waiting, looking at his watch in consternation. In line, Gardo discovers a man behind him, Bert the driver, who begins to talk suggesting that the “antique” which he proudly displays on his chest, might not be the “real thing” these days. By the time they reach the window, Bert demands a ticket for two, taking Gardo aside to suggest that he dares the other to go in. “You see, it’s time to finish the dance. Let’s see who will get hurt the most.”   


      Perhaps we have been so fearful of how Gardo might be treating the boy that we have missed the fact that the boy has turned his habit into an addiction, with Bert having each time when it continues to long to break off the “romance.”

       This is the last full movie, at least for a while, for the teenager, who returns to the car looking sad and disappointed, maybe even a bit tearful as he tells Bert, “I just want to go home please.”

        Bert answers with his usually perfunctory “Yes sir,” but for the first time in the film addresses him by his name, “Crispin.”

       The reality hits us, probably mostly movie goers closer in age to Gardo, with a slight punch. It is the elder who is most deeply hurt, for he knows that it is likely that another such boy might ever again enter his life. Next time, as he joked to Jess in the very first scene, he will simply be watching the movie.

 Los Angeles, October 15, 2021

 

autumn rituals

Till Kleinert (screenwriter and director) Cowboy / 2008 [35 minutes]

If I had to chose one of the films in this longer essay as representing the most outstanding aspects of LGBTQ filmmaking, it would be German director Till Kleinert’s chilling horror and love film, Cowboy (2008). In this work the writer/director combines the terrifying wit of someone like US writer Shirley Jackson with the fabulist surrealness of writers such as the Algerian-French poet, storyteller, and novelist Mohammed Dib and the US-Moroccan author Paul Bowles before him.

      The plot begins with a rather typical outsider blundering into forbidden territory that might be almost humorous until it no longer is possible to even crack a smile. A German real estate agent, Christian (Oliver Scherz) on the prowl for new land and properties is visiting a backroad farmland with field after field gone empty of crops and a large, sprawling farm compound that is so derelict that to sell it the buildings might have to be torn down. He drives in his expensive borrowed car down the dirt roads and up into the property itself without encountering a soul. Exiting the car, he gentle wipes away the dust. The quietude of the place itself is somewhat unsettling, and there are a few unpleasant visions for a city man, a rabbit caught within the claws of a large metal trap, bits of old farm machinery rusting in the overgrown grass. Christian takes photos of the outbuildings and major farmhouse as any realtor might, walking down another lane where suddenly he hears the sound of hammering.

     Glimmering in sunlight suddenly stands a huge early 20th-century combine atop of which works a shirtless young man, probably in his late teens, whose pants are nearly falling from his thin frame. Blond haired he shimmers in the sun like a god, the camera, even if we can’t be sure of the eyes of our bespectacled intruder, focusing in on the beauty.

 

     The seemingly taciturn boy, which the film somewhat inexplicably has named “Cowboy” (Pit Bukowski) responds very slowly to his questions about who owns the property and whether or not they might be interested in selling the land and buildings; but it’s apparent that, as the young man assures him, they’re all away and they probably wouldn’t be interested in any event.

     When Christian finally gets him to come a bit closer he gets nothing much else expect the permission to explore the place. He wanders a bit inside a darkened room before almost reflexively aiming his camera out a window to take a picture of the young Adonis, who noticing the glint of the camera in the sun poses for the shot.

     The boy soon calls him out to help him lift down and move a large machine part, which, after removing his suit coat, Christian accomplishes but not without a bit of heavy breathing. The young mechanic replaces it with a harrower, starts the engine up and moves the mammoth machine slowly forward while Christian sits in his car, the open door smoking a cigarette while watching with pleasure the success of the boy’s work. 

    Eventually, Cowboy joins him, asking if he has a have a cig and then, as he leans his sweaty torso toward him, if he might have a light. With warning, the boy asks if Christian has a girl, a question that the realtor openly rebuffs, to which the boy affably admits that he fucked every girl in town. Christian opens his billfold and hands him a photograph from within of his own girlfriend, to which the boy nods in proper deference. So presumably these mean have both now established their heterosexuality.

      But a moment later, Cowboy signals his desire to join him in the car to listen to the radio, the realtor realizing just how isolated and out of touch this kid is. Where even, we pause to imagine, is the “nearest town?”

      As Christian steps out of the car for a moment, the boy suddenly slides into the driver’s seat and speeds off with the car, the businessman cursing his stupidity, and now forced to sit it out in the middle of nowhere to see if the car might ever be returned to him.

      Eventually Cowboy drives by into the pullup, congratulating Christian on the machine; but almost as quickly the realtor pulls the boy out of the front seat jumps in and drives off. A bit later on the road he telephones his girlfriend explaining that he has been delayed but will probably be back soon. His girlfriend (performed by the voice of Isabelle Höpfner) senses something is amiss and asks him about it. But Christian cannot quite explain, expressing that he has never experienced anything quite like this and is a bit terrified, we perceive, of its consequences.

     We don’t hear the end of his muddled conversation, but we soon see that in the dark he has returned to the lonely farm, and is soon knocking at the door, Cowboy arriving to let him in as he demands the picture of his girlfriend back. It is quite clearly a rouse, and Cowboy recognizes it as being just that, suggesting he can’t remember where he put it while, at almost the very same moment, pulling it out of a drawer and playing a game of cat and mouse with it as Christian chases  him around the room, up and down chairs and tables—that is until Christian suddenly grabs the boy pulls his toward him and kisses him, Cowboy soon following, while both strip off their clothing, the boy laying down upon a bed on his back and lifting his legs and positioning his ass into position as Christian seriously fucks him. Unlike so very many 21st century LGBTQ sex scenes, this one if absolutely honest and sexy, without even an erect penis in sight.


      It is as if these two have been waiting all their lives to violently crash into each other’s bodies, gay men without every have imagined such desire. Rain pours from the skies, on cue, outside the rude room in which now Cowboy brings Christian a plate of plain home cooked meat and potatoes, probably rabbit—“women cook for me, I be the father of their children,” Cowboy mutters—while Christian unknowingly blathers on about how lucky the boy is to be where he is. When the two return to more tender touches, he notices a black ring around the boy’s ankle, Cowboy pulling back when he attempts to touch it.

     Later, the boy admits that once he attempted to leave the farm to explore other towns nearby, towns that didn’t much interest him. “I think they feared that I might never come back. They punished me so that I would never dare to leave again.” Obviously, they have been holding him on a chain since that occasion in his early youth. In gentler ministrations nothing much else is spoken except for Cowboy to mention, almost as in passing, “I don’t think my people will be happy if you’re here tomorrow.” 

     That may be the understatement of all cinema dialogue. When Christian readies to leave the next morning, he spots Cowboy standing upon the tall weeds a ways in the distance. He moves towards him, presumably to say goodbye, but suddenly Cowboy has apparently lowered himself to the ground as Christian moves forward his foot suddenly stung by the sharp metal jaw of a rabbit trap, as he too falls to the ground seeing the boy a feet in front of him. 

      Turning back to a sound in the distance, he witnesses the combine, its interlocking metal teeth perfectly functioning as it moves toward him at the very moment that he observes face and face also peering at him through the weeds, the group standing in the large circle in interlocked arms to prevent him from escaping as the combine moves inevitably forward.

      Somehow Christian frees his foot from the trap but, in deep pain, can only drag himself, sometimes in a prone position, forward a few feet at a time. The realtor tries to run, but is held back by pain and the deflating circle of the mad-face community to which Cowboy is a slave. 

       Eventually, the boy throws a stone at the combine driver, knocking him out as the combine veers suddenly toward the community members, blood squirting through the air where apparently it has hit upon the flesh of one or two of them.

       Distracted, they run from the machine, as Cowboy breaks loose from his own chain and leaps upon it to drive it after them, Christian making a break to his car which looks, to all appearance, as if it has been stripped, tires laying nearby. But apparently it still functions, and he speeds off down the road finally discovering Cowboy beside the road, his entire body streaked with blood.

       Christian pauses, clearly suggesting that he cannot dare to let this mad community back into his life, but, after hesitating, unlocking the door, as Cowboy joins him in the next seat, the two driving off we pray to the safety of urban life.

       We can only wonder, however, how Cowboy might adapt to his new environment, and Christian to his old world from which he has apparently complete loosed himself. Perhaps the two will survive only as a pair.

       Cowboy won the esteemed Iris Prize for an LGBTQ movie in 2008. 

Los Angeles, October 15, 2021

 


nightmare of pleasures

 Dominic Leclerc (screenwriter and director) Nightswimming / 2009 [14 minutes]

In British director Dominic Leclerc’s haunting Nightswimming all three of the film’s central figures, Luke (Harry Eden) and Ellen (Linzey Cocker)—runaway children who break through the back door of a now closed-down Victorian swimming pool (filmed at the former Manchester Swimming Baths, now in commercial use)—and the night guard Martin (Tim Dantay) encounter each other only to discover that within the strange world of labyrinthian showers, odd-shaped rooms and an emerald-like glimmering pool, to say nothing of the sickly pea-green office in which each night Martin usually sits alone, that they are strangely compelled to behave in ways that even they will never comprehend.

      From the moment Martin meets up with the intruders, who caught red-handed are strangely met with acceptance and permission to spend the night if they only do not destroy anything else. Indeed, Martin seems immediately to comprehend their plight, that of two would-be lovers, having escaped the confines of their heteronormative homes are still totally unable to break free of its traditional values.

      Ellen, in particular, is still quite conventional and terrified of the implications of truly having escaped with her young Romeo just for the adventure of it. The more she tries to pretend to be a tough kid of the streets, the more she makes it apparent that the ways she has been taught to behave have truly entrenched themselves in her consciousness.

      Finally able to have complete sexual freedom, she allows Luke only to kiss her, still refusing sex with him—as she has apparently for their entire relationship to date. The young sex-driven boy also still displays the chevalier manners of his bourgeois upbringing, assuring her that he will not sexually force her despite the fact that he, to put it simply in his adolescent language, is clearly “hornier than hell.”

      Both of them are also fascinated and terrified of Martin’s seemingly ever present observation of them. Suddenly they have been thrown into world where they are objects of voyeurism, of interest for the very behavior that they have previously had to hide away from their families. In this vast night water world you might even imagine a sinister network of cameras hooked up to Martin’s unpleasant warren to offer him the opportunity to observe their every move.

     This is, however, still a Victorian world and no such modern devices are in existence—or even necessary given the cat-walk structures of the building and the fact that Martin completely knows his way around the watery funhouse that allows him entry and views that they cannot even know exist.

     Ellen, more freaked out by the situation than Luke who is perhaps even a little intrigued and excited by the sexual possibilities, simply wants her boyfriend to hug and protect her, while he like a traditional male hunter faces what Martin immediately hinted it would be,  “a sleepless night.”

     Indeed early on he asks her to join him in an exploring trip, where once more they encounter Martin who gently asks them how long they’ve been on the road—apparently for only one or a few nights—and almost gives them permission to take advantage of the large pool.

     Once again Ellen returns with Harry to the main camp, an odd-shaped room that appears to be tucked under a staircase where they have spread their knapsack, blankets, and few other belongings, where finally she falls asleep.

     But Luke is immediately up and once more on the hunt, again encountering at half past three Martin in a locker room. The two smoke, Martin bending down inexplicably to work on an ancient air ventilator cover, asking about the boy’s relationship with Ellen. “She’s not really my girlfriend; we just hang out together,” replies Luke in the first of three “betrayals” by the trio of figures, an explanation that strangely permits his availability to other possibilities.

      Before any of those “possibilities” might even be mentioned let alone acted upon, however, we observe Martin’s breakdown, as he suddenly mutters, “This is stupid. I was just making sure you were all right. I’m married.” In this second “betrayal”—a kind of coward’s coverup—we finally perceive that if the two children might be confused by the feelings welling up within them, that Martin is far more psychologically disoriented. Somewhat like Christian in Till Kleinert’s Cowboy, he has been totally unprepared for the sexual feelings that he suddenly has for a young male. Nervously pulling on the vent as he makes this mini-confession, he seriously cuts himself, Luke, dressed only in his skivvies, taking on the role of nurse in bandaging Martin’s hand.

     A moment later, in a scene that most definitely requires full on-screen nudity, Luke is seen showering with Martin nearby standing with his back to the naked boy facing the wall as if terrified of witnessing the boy’s well-developed pectorals, penis, and well-shaped ass. 

      He turns slowly as Luke, now draped in a full towel moves into his space, as he, gradually moving toward the boy, reaches out his hand to touch and caress his face, the two slowly moving their heads together in what becomes a deep embrace, while Luke begins to unzip the man’s pants ready to pull out his penis. If the children are still conditioned by their upbringing, so too is Martin still a man of Victorian sexual values as he pulls away unable, just like Ellen, to engage is what he so desires.

      As if to further entice the terrified man, Luke drops his towel displaying his entire body, Martin by this time moving even further back, shakingly trying to explain his actions: “I just wanted to hold you. Get dressed!”

       Cruel as only children can be who cannot understand their own feelings which they turn against others when rejected, Luke now calls Martin “nance” and “faggot,” the elder responding in macho fashion by grabbing the boy and threatening to beat him. Indeed there might have been violence accept for the fact that unknown to them Ellen has sneaked in to watch the entire scene understandably upset and even more confused by what she has witnessed, and in fleeing knocks over an object.

       In what has now grown into almost a soap-opera of misconceived confessions, Ellen now comes to Martin to insist that she’s “not jealous. He says he loves me, the piece of shit. Well, if he thinks I’ll cry over him, fuck him.” In this third betrayal of love, the young girl confuses obviously a moment of sexual lust with a sexual relationship, now pretending to be the street tough girl by denying the love she really feels for Luke while miscomprehending the true possible consequences of lover’s sexual come-on to another man.

      In fact, it is doubtful that these sleepwalking figures will fully recall and assimilate what they have experienced in this wet nightmare.

      Besides the sun is up, and the two interlopers into Martin’s silent world are prepared to leave, Ellen asking, as if nothing of importance has transpired, if he will let them stay again some time, to go “skinny dipping.”

     Martin, looking into their innocent faces can only answer, “Maybe.”

     She leaves, as Luke turns to Martin for a moment, both humming vague apologies, with Luke closing the conversation by saying “I think I’m in love”—presumably with the now seemingly older girl he’s been traveling with. After the kids have left, Martin strips and dives into the pool to cleanse his body and, one presumes, his memories of the nightmare of pleasure with which he struggled.

     Remember this film for the next time some homophobe argues that all LGBTQ cinema is an attempt to covert young people to homosexuality. 

Los Angeles, September 16, 2021

 

seeing red

Carlos Alejandro Molina M. (screenwriter and director) Rojo (Red) / 2013 [16.12 minutes]

If familial rejection, peer censure, fear of AIDS, and simple lack of information about behavior and sexual methods were not enough to scare off a young person seeking out his or her first sexual encounter these days, the very fear of whom one might connect up with given the known dangers of on-like computer predators is enough the terrorize a young boy impatiently seeking for his first sexual encounter, made even worse for a young adolescent growing up as I did in a more rural than urban part of a country; even middle-sized populated towns, as Jesse’s Venezuelan community seems to be, might not readily seem to offer a visible queer of one’s own age, and in small towns the odds seem near to impossible.

      Jesse (Noél Duarte), like many boys his age, spends hours on the internet and  as a hidden gay boy, uses much of his time to enter chat rooms mostly devoted to “boylove,” since he recognizes that as a boy seeking love he’s more likely to find it in the arms of an older man.

      Being savvy, however, even when he’s communicated with someone for a while as he has with the individual with whom we see him connecting up, he is careful about invitations to meet up, particularly if he’s never before seen the individual. Yet we can also sense his loneliness, the many dark hours we spends in front of the computer, the long showers, and the quietude of the home he shares evidently with his now widowed elderly father (Rafael Ibarra). Clearly, Jesse was a late= born child in his parents’ life and the father, with the look of a bearded, gray-haired, stern-faced gentleman that looks more like the portrait of the great grandfather that hangs in the hallway than a middle-aged dad, seems equally reticent to verbally communicate with his son.

      Upon the elder’s arrival in what appears to be the house den or office, Jesse closes down his conversation and clicks off several layers of porno and chat-room sites before facing the front page of his computer, his father not even bothering to ask what he might have been viewing.

      And, in fact, a little unwelcome intrusion in his son’s life may be called for, since the boy has just reluctantly agreed to meet up the next morning with his on-line contact, protecting himself only by insisting that they meet in the central square of the town at 9:00 AM, and that they will recognize one another through the fact that both will both be wearing the color rojo, red.

       Jesse might have been clued into his correspondent’s age when he asks the boy if he wants money, Jesse quickly responding, “I’m a boy, not a whore.” But he is clearly so anxious to find someone to actually share a few hours in real life that he overlooks the evidence that the person to whom he is writing is apparently someone willing to pay for sex or even the company for a few hours of a young man.


      If the idea of wearing a color full of life and symbolizing love and daring naturally appeals to the adolescent setting out to meet one of his first potential sexual encounters, Venezuelan writer/director Carlos Alejandro Molina M. allows it to also provide a much-needed comic interlude in his otherwise rather grim fable. The boy dons his bright red Polo-like shirt—so far the only color except for dark brown, blacks, and greens and the bright white of the screen—with almost a ritual joyfulness only to discover that nearly everyone in the square this morning, several strollers, a toddler, a whole group of obviously leftist protestors, and even a dog is draped in red. Jesse engagingly smiles at the ludicrousness of it all as he settles down unto a bench mostly hiding his red identifier under a black outer jacket. A heavy-set man with a red T-shirt is sprawled out in the sun on the grass, obviously not his contact. 

      But a somewhat handsome man in his late 20s or early 30s with sunglasses sits nearby in a red pullover. Jesse hopefully pulls up a bit of his coat to reveal his “rose” so to speak. But suddenly his phone rings, the message declaring it is his father, who was scheduled to be away that morning, calling. Clearly the man is just checking up on his son’s whereabouts, as the son slouches down to again eye the red-shirted middle aged man who now stands and walks toward him and then past him into the arms of a waiting woman. 

     What Jesse has not noticed is a man lurking over his shoulder dressed in a heavy brown outer coat. It is his father, whom after a few moments of assimilation to the meaning of it all, the accompanies to the family auto. If we might imagine that perhaps the gentleman had simply suspected and tracked down his troublesome son, we note as he puts his hands upon the steering wheel that under his jacket is a sweater of red.

       It is clear, if nothing else, that these two wayfarers will now have a great deal to talk about for some time to come. How they will ultimately accommodate the realities of each just uncovered is surely the subject of some other such excellent short film.

 Los Angeles, October 17, 2021

        

until death do us part

Dave Solomon (screenwriter and director) Photo Op / 2015 [9 minutes]

An attractive and seemingly affable, yet obviously shy young Brooklyn photographer Jacob (Randy Harrison of Queer as Folk) shows up at the cafe which has recently become his regular spot. We know from the gathering of random clips he’s taken in the past that spaced every few moments throughout these early frames of US director Dave Solomon’s 2015 film that the other patron in the breakfast spot is Jonathan (Aaron Lazar) photos of whom, hand in hand with his lover/husband Jesse (Lucas Steele) Jacob has evidently snapped at a safe distance many a time.

     We quickly perceive that the reason why Jacob is not regularly haunting this place is that he is strongly attracted to Jonathan, but too shy apparently to tell him so.

      This morning, however, as he watches Jonathan reading the morning paper and soon after lowering his head into a brooding, perhaps even despairing position, he dares to snap a photo close up, the opportunity simply being too powerful for him to rationally resist it.

      As Jonathan immediately stands to leave, for the first time Jacob actually speaks to him, apologizing several times for intruding upon his privacy and even suggesting that he’s seen him around the neighborhood, wondering if they mightn’t get together for coffee sometime.

    Jonathan smiles politely and forgivingly but at the same time displaying his wedding ring to indicate that he’s not available, clearly recognizing the invitation as a kind of sexual come-on. He leaves, Jacob trudging back with his Canon camera back to his apartment.

    We also have gleaned the reason for Jonathan’s profound sadness. Evidently a man has gone missing in Brooklyn, his lover Jesse. And we become somewhat suspicious of Jacob’s motives since he too asks for and briefly peruses the morning paper and surely, having photographed the two together in several instances, knowing that it is Jonathan’s friend who as disappeared.

      The minute Jacob enters his rather Spartan quarters, he switches on a blaringly loud piece of music, cuts out the new article about the missing Brooklyn man, and pins it to a wall of what appear to be numerous other photos and articles about Jonathan and the missing Jesse. And before we can even assimilate the strange shrine we have just witnessed, the camera pans left to the floor where we see a body bound in masking tape and rope, the man’s eyes covered over by a cloth tied around his head. Jacob releases the eye-covering but nothing else as we see the man, obviously the missing Jesse, suffering in pain on the floor.

        Jacob bends down and despite the muffled cries of his prisoner pulls off the man’s ring, putting it upon his own finger, presumably affirming to himself at least that he is now married to Jonathan.

        We have no idea whether or not he’s been feeding Jesse, permitting him toilet breaks, or even temporarily relieving his pain; and we have utterly no idea whether Jacob intends to permit him to live or what else he might have in mind. For he, already beyond those realities, exists in a madness which obviously consists of somehow replacing Jesse in Jonathan’s sexual attentions. And on this particular day he has, if nothing else, broken the verbal ice and actually spoken to his future lover.


      After stealing the victim’s ring, Jacob snaps his picture, seeing it apparently as another photo op.

Los Angeles, October 17, 2021   


the bartering bride

Vasilis Kekatos (screenwriter and director) I apostasi anamesa ston ourano ki emas (The Distance Between Us and the Sky) / 2019 [9 minutes]

If there was ever a film that began more strangely—even odder perhaps because it does not suddenly drop us into an unexpectedly violent or perverse situation—I don’t recall. Greek director Vasilis Kekatos’ beautifully filmed The Distance Between Us and the Sky begins with a motorcyclist and an itinerant attempting to raise the money for the bus ride home discussing the latter’s origami creations of what he describes as “love birds” which he’s ready to sell to raise money for the trip.

      The seller of these handmade treasures, a gay man from Athens (Nikos Zeginoglou), is stuck apparently in a Greek outpost, Kypseli in the Ionian Islands, at a gas station, connecting up with someone of the internet for when he returns to the city. Showing him his dick, the guy on the internet suggests he won’t find such lovely meat in Kypseli, to which the other jokes, “Man, I’m not in Kypseli often enough to know what dicks are around.”

      Spotting the cyclist (Ioko Ioannis Kotidis), he asks if he can spare 20 euros for his bus trip home. When the man seems hesitant, he begs for at least some for which he’ll raise the rest. Finally turned down outright, he tries to sell some cigarettes for a low price. The man turns away again saying he doesn’t smoke that brand.

      Not to be deterred he moves closer to his prey, almost whispering the words, “Pot. Weed. Hash.” The cyclist, turning back asks “Why are you slinging?”

       “Are you a cop?”

       “What if I am?” the black-leathered beauty asks as the two move closer to one another.

       “What if some innocent passerby came across it?”

       The dialogue suddenly gets crazier as he makes up some story about finding it, the junkie becoming addicted, that he found it, putting it under a stone. A tombstone that says “All Cops Are Bastards.”

        Clearly what began as a seeming request for cash has become a sort of strange game, a challenge to keep the other one off balance and, most importantly, in one place long enough to intrigue and charm him without cracking his macho armor. A dangerous game.

     Finally, the cyclist, smiling, moves away once again, the other pulling him back with the unexpected, tender. and almost effeminate switch to offering up  his origami “love birds,” the “pocket parrots, I mention above. This time the cyclist is intrigued and bites, asking how much. The seemingly desperate rider returns to his original offer: 22.50 euros. Unexpectedly, he agrees to purchase one, but the seller refuses, he must take them both or none. Since they are love birds the other will wither way with his friend.

      As the cyclist trudges away, the other calls to him again, “so you’re going?” “Yes,” the other responds. Then you have no choice but to blow us up? he pouts, a strange metaphor to say the least, but somehow making sense as he pulls out cigarette and again moves toward his friend, this time the camera pulling back to reveal the service station, a simulation surely of the memorable Esso station of the last scene in Jacques Demy’s romantic fantasy, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) where that film’s love birds meet for the very last time, after their love has long ago withererd away due to societal and cultural demands.



    The two move up close together, the cyclist asking if he has a light and other lighting the cigarette, as in an almost comical reference to Humphrey Bogart’s lighting of Ingrid Bergman’s  cigarette in Casablanca, the cyclist puts the now lit flame end first into his mouth as the other moves in close to a kiss as he pulls it out of the other boy’s mouth in order to turn it around, the cyclist suggesting it  would be a shame if the love birds burned up. The other replies: “Don’t worry they’ll fly away.” “Where to?” “Buy them, you’ll see,” answers the salesman, pulling back and tearing up because the smoke has gotten into his eyes.


    The two move up close together, the cyclist asking if he has a light and other lighting the cigarette, as in an almost comical reference to Humphrey Bogart’s lighting of Ingrid Bergman’s  cigarette in Casablanca, the cyclist puts the now lit flame end first into his mouth as the other moves in close to a kiss as he pulls it out of the other boy’s mouth in order to turn it around, the cyclist suggesting it  would be a shame if the love birds burned up. The other replies: “Don’t worry they’ll fly away.” “Where to?” “Buy them, you’ll see,” answers the salesman, pulling back and tearing up because the smoke has gotten into his eyes.

      In a manner of seconds, this film has posted two romantic cinema references and one musical to make certain that we comprehend that what is really being sold and bartered here is not drugs or even paper birds, but human flesh, a desire that these two treat, albeit somewhat satirically, as seriously as hookers meeting up with their johns.

        The cyclist looks up to something just out of sight. “Could they fly that high?”

       “Up to that street sign. they could even fly up to the moon.”

       “To the moon, huh?” he looks ups to the moon in a moment of wonderment. “How much?”

       “A thousand euros.”

       “A thousand euros? Come on, man!”

       “Make it 500 euros, and you can keep the love birds.”  

       “What happened to 22.50?”

       “You’re killing me man.”

       “You know what, you seem like a nice guy, all right 22.50 it is.”

       It turns out, however, that the cyclist has no money. He suggests the other simply hop on his bike and he’ll take him back to Athens.

       Still our bargaining friend can’t resist. “Screw that, I don’t do bikes.”

       When asked why not, he admits he’s simply afraid.

       “Come on, you can hold on to me?

       “And sit in the backseat? ...What if I fall and crack my head open?”

       “What do you suggest then?”

       “You take the backseat and I ride in the front.”


       The camera catches them riding off in just such a position of complete surrender into love, a song reiterating just those words.

        The Distance Between Us and the Sky deservedly won both the best Short Queer film and Short Film Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019.       

Los Angeles, October 18, 2021

Reprinted from World Cinema Review (October 2021).

 

 


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