Film

The Best Things In Queer Cinema In 2013

That terrible Tropfest winner was just a blip on an otherwise positive year.

By now, we’ve all had a chance to watch — or blissfully ignore — the Australian short film Bamboozled that inexplicably won the top prize at Tropfest a week ago. Thankfully, for all the talk of Matt Hardie’s transgender comedy being an international disgrace, 2013 has seen some remarkable moments in LGBT cinema.

It feels like a lifetime ago that the New Queer Cinema movement was confronting arthouse audiences with bold, daring takes on queer topics through films as diverse as Swoon (1992), Todd Haynes’ Poison (1991), Gregg Araki’s The Living End (1992), Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho (1991) and The Watermelon Woman (1996). It even feels like the days of Brokeback Mountain (2005), Milk (2008) and Monster (2003) reaping big box office are far behind us, too. Nevertheless, they’re out there and LGBT readers would be smart to seek them out. Even when I haven’t particularly liked them — like Dallas Buyers Club (out on February 13) or Kill Your Darlings (which received a limited release last month) — they’ve made for interesting discussion pieces.

Xavier Dolan

It’s positively sickening how talented and successful (and good-looking) Québécois filmmaker Xavier Dolan is at only 24 years-old. Over just four directorial features, he’s already worked as director, writer, producer, actor, editor and costume designer, and he even does the voice of Jacob in the French-language Twilight dubs.

2013 saw the release of his three-hour transgender epic Laurence Anyways, and his thriller Tom At The Farm played the Venice and Toronto film festivals. The latter won’t be officially released until next year, but the former is now available on DVD and is one of the very best films of 2013. It follows Laurence (a transgender woman) and Fred (her girlfriend) as they traverse the landscape of gender reassignment together. Its opulent, New Wave glamour is typified by this stunning sequence set to Visage’s ‘Fade To Grey’.

James Franco

Love him or hate him, James Franco’s one-man mission to make the world a gayer place continued full throttle in 2013. Sal, his biopic about gay actor Sal Mineo, might have been dreadful, nor was I a fan of his pseudo-meta documentary Interior. Leather Bar., which screened at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival in March. But This Is The End confronted bro-dude audiences with their rampant homophobia, while Kink, which he produced, was an entertaining look at the fringe world of BDSM fetish pornography. You’ll learn something new, at least.

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Cannes Film Festival

In May, Abdellatif Kechiche’s three-hour French drama, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, won the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Despite the attention-grabbing graphic sex scenes between the extraordinary Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux — not to mention the very unsubtle way it equates lesbian lovemaking to eating a bowl of sloppy spaghetti and oysters — it’s the squabbling between Kechiche and Seydoux that’s made all the news lately. For all its issues, the film is powerful and exciting, and was the first gay-themed film to win the Palme d’Or. It’s out in Australian cinemas in February.

Also screening at Cannes this year was the provocative Stranger By The Lake, directed by Alain Guiraudie — a slowburn thriller set in a French cruising ground where the clean-cut Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) begins a dangerous affair with moustachioed Michel (Christophe Paou). Recalling the bold works of Tom Kalin and André Téchiné, it will make audiences question their own motivations and boundaries.

Post-gay?

Have we finally started to see movies where homosexuality is prominent and yet entirely blasé? The aforementioned This Is The End presented a world in which homosexuality is prominent, and where homophobes are openly criticised by big celebrities like Seth Rogen. For a film targeted at teenage boys, that’s important.

On the other hand, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring reflected the ‘so what?’ attitude many of today’s young people have towards sexuality, by having a gay character casually out himself with nonchalance. Lastly, the Judi Dench Oscar vehicle Philomena (which opens in cinemas on Boxing Day) may not be the first place you’d expect to find gay content, but the reaction from the elderly Philomena Lee when greeted with the news of her long-lost son’s homosexuality is refreshing.

Truth is stranger than fiction

Documentaries have always been a good hunting ground for gay subject matter, as they’re less burdened by typical Hollywood attitudes of what is and isn’t mass-marketable. The Times Of Harvey Milk (1984), Paris Is Burning (1990), In Bed With Madonna (1991) and The Celluloid Closet (1995) are all brilliant and have proved influential.

2013 saw the international releases of God Loves Uganda and Call Me Kuchu, both about the efforts to promote homophobia in Africa, and I Am Divine, a look at the career of the John Waters muse and world’s most brilliant 300lb drag queen. Meanwhile, in February, the vital and affecting How To Survive A Plague received an Academy Award nomination for ‘Best Documentary’.

Festive international

Gay cinema always finds a much easier time getting seen at festivals, so those interested in it should always research the schedule of any visiting fest. Some really great films that travelled the circuit this year included Lucy Mulloy’s Cuban ‘boat people’ drama, Una Noche (USA), Malgorzata Szumowska’s In the Name Of (Poland), Tomasz Wasilewski’s Floating Skyscrapers (Poland), Yen Tan’s Pit Stop (USA), Lee Galea’s Monster Pies (Australia), and Michael Mayer’s Out In The Dark (Israel/Palestine). They might be hard to find in Australia, but are must-sees if you can track them down.

Stacie Passon’s delicately handled Concussion (USA) was a real highlight. Subverting the idea that sex and guilt go hand-in-hand, this film about a married woman who embarks on a mid-life career change into prostitution was a bruising and powerful attempt at presenting a very modern concept of sexuality. It also featured a stellar performance by Deadwood’s Robin Weigart that year-end awards bodies seem to be sadly ignoring.

The Language Of Love

It’s fitting to end with this, an Australian short film examining a young crush at an all boy’s school that is the antithesis of everything Tropfest’s Bamboozled is. “I’m in love with my best friend” is a sentiment that many young gay men and women can relate to and will bring back memories of those high school days debating back and forth whether to tell their crush about themselves. If Bamboozled soured you to Australian film, then The Language Of Love might just bring you back around again.

Glenn Dunks is a freelance writer and film critic from Melbourne, and currently based in New York City. His work has been seen online (Onya Magazine, Quickflix), in print (The Big Issue, Metro Magazine, Intellect Books Ltd’s World Film Locations: Melbourne), as well as heard on Joy 94.9.