Saturday, July 03, 2010

Film Shorts Review: Boys on Film 2

Directors: Till Kleinert, Håkon Liu, Mathieu Salmon, Soman Chainani, Julián Hernández, Craig Boreham, Trevor Anderson, Arthur Halpern, Tim Hunter

Peccadillo Pictures DVD

Reviewed by Max Fincher

Boys on Film 2: In Too Deep is the second instalment of a three-volume series released by Pecadillo that showcases international short filmmakers’ work.The nine films in this collection are by turns erotic, funny, imaginative, artistic and tender. The directors have either won awards at short film festivals or have been shortlisted for such.

Many of the films explore how the boundaries of relationships are tested between men. The opening film, the superb Cowboy, directed by Till Kleinert, explores bi-sexuality. An estate agent, scouting out a remote farm as a possible investment, meets a taciturn, limber boy. The boy tells him he has slept with all the girls in the village and is kept a prisoner by the farm’s owners. They have sex, in a scene that is powerfully erotic as the estate agent realizes he desires the boy more than his girlfriend. However, the following morning, a nasty surprise lies in wait in the form of a rabbit trap, and the combine harvester the boy has been repairing. Kleinert does an excellent job of establishing a foreboding atmosphere of menace, through images of the derelict farm at sunset and a soundtrack of deep-toned synth chords.

Both Working it Out and Love Bite also show how relationships are tested, but making us laugh in the process. While working out at the gym, Marcus and Peter encounter a hunk called Jeremy. In a very funny scene, Marcus takes out his jealous frustration by pounding the cross-trainer when Peter, friendly and open to a threesome, chats to Jeremy. Meanwhile, Love Bite plays ironically with the conventional coming-out moment between two teenagers. Instead of Noah admitting that he would like to suck his school chum Gus in the way Gus suspects, Noah sucks him in quite a different way.

Similarly, Kali Ma, Weekend in the Countryside and Lucky Blue all explore teenage sexuality and love, but in very different moods. Kali Ma made me laugh out loud in its story of a protective, food-loving Indian mother who goes on the warpath to take revenge on her son’s homophobic tormentor. With a literal tour-de-force performance by Khamini Khanna involving a pepper spray, a felt tip pen and her sari, the boys ultimately become friends under the terrifying command to ‘eat!’ by Mum. Weekend in the Countryside explores how friendship between boys can be mistaken and turn nasty. Pierre and Marc go on a weekend holiday to Marc’s father’s home in the countryside. When Marc tries it on with Pierre (a beautiful girlish-looking boy) and is turned down, Pierre is traumatized by his three Alsatian dogs in the grounds. Pierre leaves with the parting shot by Marc that he is a ‘faggot’. Håkon Liu’s Lucky Blue offers us a promising, tender vision of teenage self-discovery between two boys, one of whom, Olle, expresses his longing through karaoke. Set on a campsite in Sweden, there is a touching gentle feel to this film, epitomized by the fluttering, caged canary, Lucky Blue, that escapes into freedom.

Isolated and remote spaces where desire and sexuality can be explored are a theme of this collection. Bramadero, by Julian Hernández, is set inside a skyscraper under construction in Mexico City. The silence of the film (there is little music and no dialogue) contrasts strikingly with the sense of a perpetual buzz of the city in the background. As the camera lovingly circulates around the sculpture-like bodies of Hassen and Jonás, they engage in a pas-de-deux of narcissistic desire and sex. Erotic, artistic, and at moments, disquieting, we experience the pleasure of sex in a public space that is imagined as an intimate, private world.

The potential to create interior, imagined spaces to achieve happiness and sexual fulfilment define the remaining two films in this collection: The Island and Futures and Derivatives. The Canadian filmmaker, Trevor Anderson, takes a homophobic email that says ‘all gays should be put on an island to give each other AIDS’, as inspiration to narrate in an ironic tone his musings about what such an island could be like. A homotopia where sex is readily available, there are endless cocktails, parties and moonflowers, and HIV positive people are elevated to the status of gods, Anderson observes that the fantasy of the island ‘has a long history’. A clever use of animation creates a colourful, optimistic paradise that turns around such bigotry. Opening up the mind to new experiences and perceptions also characterizes Futures and Derivatives. Three lawyers at a law-firm hire a temp overnight to produce a presentation to an important client in the morning. The presentation is invaded by butterflies and strange colourful, psychedelic creations that sends each partner into a dizzying new world of personal possibilities, allowing them to see themselves in a new light.

An accomplished collection that is amusing and inventive, Boys on Film 2 shows us the ability of shorts to capture powerfully mysterious, erotic and wonderful moments.

Max Fincher wrote his PhD at King’s College London, a queer reading of late eighteenth-century Gothic fiction that was published as Queering Gothic Writing in the Romantic Age by Palgrave Macmillan (2007). He has taught part-time on eighteenth-century fiction and women’s writing, at both King’s College London and Royal Holloway, and is an occasional book reviewer for the TLS. He is currently writing his first novel, tentatively titled The Pretty Gentleman, a queer historical thriller set in the Regency art world.



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