Saturday, 15 December 2007

Sonja (Germany, 2006)

Director: Kirsi M. Liimatainen.

Principal cast: Sabrina Kruschwitz, Julia Kaufmann, Nadja Engel, Christian Kirste.

Growing up is never easy, especially if you feel alienated from most of your peers. For some people friendships from their childhood and/or adolescence will continue unhindered also in their adult lives while for others it may never work out that way. Puberty brings about a few changes – in one’s perception of what’s cool and what’s not, what matters and what doesn’t, but especially it changes one’s perception of the surrounding people. Slowly but steadily they become sexual beings and one’s own sexual awakening inevitably leads to a reassessment of one’s hitherto so relatively uncomplicated friendships. „Alpha” males start having fights over girls and cheerleader types have their own quarrels over guys. This is perceived by most societies as the „normal” adolescent behaviour and it is also expected that you start to take an active interest in the opposite sex when you reach a certain age. But what do you do when you fall in love with someone of your own sex on top of having your general teenage confusion about everything else? What do you do when the person you are madly in love with has been your best friend since the early grades in school? Kirsi Liimatainen’s first long feature film „Sonja” tries to deal with the complexity of not just leaving the childhood world behind and entering adult life but also a teenager’s growing realisation of not having the „mainstream” sexuality in a world full of patterns to be followed and expectations to live up to.

Sonja, our 16 year-old protagonist, lives with her divorced mother in one of those parts of Berlin which many Germans call „Trabantenstädte” – endless grey blocks of flats built by the former government of „workers and peasants”. The blocks look dreary and so do the people living in them. Ordinary grey people in ordinary grey blocks with ordinary grey (more in mood than in colour, though) GDR-era wallpaper. The local lads seem to be preoccupied with cars and dating girls while the local girls mostly seem to be reading magazines about finding a boyfriend and evaluating the options at hand. Sonja is no exception as such. She hangs out with the other girls and even has an „official” boyfriend, Anton. Nor is there anything strange or rebellious about her clothes or hairstyle. Just an ordinary girl who doesn’t stand out in any particular way. But there is something wrong. She doesn’t understand what it is and why, but nothing feels right. She much prefers the company of her best friend Julia and finds her having to spend time with Anton suffocating. She isn’t very interested in the magazines’ tips. And she doesn’t find it all that exciting to sneak into guys’ rooms after curfew at a local sports camp. She constantly quarrels with her mother and hardly ever replies when other people approach her (which isn’t that uncharacteristic for a moody teenager, of course) but then she blossoms up when she is in Julia’s company. All of Sonja’s body language indicates that she is drawn to her and that she sees in Julia a lot more than one would in just a friend. Girls being traditionally allowed a greater intimacy with each other in Western culture won’t encounter many scornful looks or ugly remarks walking hand in hand publicly or having slumber parties. One can say that Sonja takes advantage of that in a way because Julia doesn’t find it strange that her best female friend sleeps in the same bed as she at the sports camp while drawing imaginary circles on her naked back, calls her the most beautiful girl in the world in the shower and is generally very straightforward and consequent in her flirting with Julia. One night she even reads love poetry to her. And although Julia is fairly responsive to Sonja’s attention, there is always this invisible line which Sonja doesn’t dare to cross. At the same time, Julia constantly flirts with guys and even occasionally snogs them in front of Sonja who, unsurprisingly, feels very jealous but is unable to do anything about that. This, naturally, only adds to her frustration and confusion.

At one point, Sonja is sent to the Baltic Sea coast to visit her father. She is supposed to go there together with Julia, but plans suddenly change. Julia has just lost her virginity and has no interest in deserting her new-found boyfriend. Sonja will have to face her father’s family alone. Before leaving, she had split up with Anton. All they had ever tried was kissing and now that Julia has taken the step from being a girl to becoming a woman (at least, in the traditional sense), she feels that she has been left behind in more than one way. She is also very confused about her feelings for Julia and how „appropriate” they are. Maybe her emotions will change if she gives herself to a man? She makes an awkward attempt at „awakening” heterosexuality inside her by letting herself be seduced by a neighbour. Inevitably, this experience only confirms what she hasn’t dared to acknowledge until now – that she is in love with Julia and that she is lesbian.

„Sonja” is based on Kirsi Liimatainen’s own experiences growing up in her native Finland and her first love, unreciprocated like Sonja’s. She also grew up surrounded by dreary housing and fairly ordinary people, where „a man is a man and a woman is a woman” as Sonja’s father postulates at one point at the dinner table. It can be very difficult (if not to say, rather dangerous for one’s health) to come out as a gay man or a lesbian woman in such an environment, but the fact is that one can more often than not leave this environment and seek a broader-minded community elsewhere. One’s coming-out process towards the outside world is very important, but what’s even more important is being able to come out to oneself. The road that leads to the understanding and subsequently acceptance of one’s own sexuality is not a motorway, it’s rather like a narrow path in a thick forest where you have to fight your way through the unhospitable bushes and intimidating branches hanging low from the cold and unforgiving trees. And the unfortunate truth is that for the most part you have to walk that path on your own. Sonja’s feelings of not fitting in and being alone with her confusion are far from being unique in any way. They say that road to hell is built on best intentions – the intentions of one's parents, friends and the society one lives in. And their intentions are usually "to straighten you out" which will only make your path through that forest even harder to walk. Alas, this still applies to most parents, „friends” and societies on this planet. At least, that seems to be the case.

„Sonja” is a warm film about a cold world. It is also a rather slow and thoughtful film. A great part of the dialogue is in fact body language which shouldn’t really surprise anyone since the director is Finnish and the settings are German. The acting is very convincing and realistic, although I believe that for the most part it comes from the fact that the actors don’t really have „to act”. Portraying an „ordinary” German girl shouldn’t be very difficult for somebody who herself can be described as an „ordinary” German girl. And the same goes for the other characters in the film. In fact, they seem so ordinary that it feels like you’ve met them yourself sometime just passing through those dreary blocks of flats in East Berlin or anywhere else in Europe. In this respect, it reminds me of another German film, „Nachbarinnen” („Neighbours”). The beauty of them both lies not in grand settings or a riveting drama, but the simplicity of the complicated. Enough said.

Here you can watch the film's trailer from Picture This!

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Go Go G-Boys! (Taiwan, 2006)

Director: Jong-Jong Yu.

Principal cast: Tae Sattawat, Yu Fa Yang, Tang Jan Gang.

Asian films are generally difficult for me to review since I’m not very familiar with Asian culture. In this case I’m also slightly puzzled. Had this film been made in the West, I probably wouldn’t even review it as I would just file it under „Crap”. However, this film seems to be very popular among gay youngsters in Asia and I can also definitely see why. To begin with, it’s a comedy. If you’re Asian and want to see anything gay-related which is also produced in Asia, in most cases you’ll have to settle for a drama. And Asian dramas are not a laughing matter, although in some cases you would think they were. Secondly, this film openly displays very camp and often barely dressed twinks who occasionally sing, dance or simply parade around in swimming trunks. I don’t think any of the Asian countries have produced many „eye candy” films targeting the male gay audience. And for that alone „Go Go G-Boys!” must be given some credit. I find it very encouraging for the whole region that such films are produced at all. I must also admit that this film gives a rare insight (if only roughly) into the Taiwanese gay subculture of today. And that’s always worth something.

The plot (if we can call it that) evolves around a gay beauty contest called simply G-Boy (yes, in English) and its contestants (whom even the blindest people wouldn’t confuse with straight blokes). While most of them are gay, two join for other reasons. A-Hong’s life is in jeopardy because his girlfriend has worked up a significant debt with the local mob which they strangely enough demand from him, so he joins hoping to win the prize – 10 million Taiwanese dollars (roughly 200,000 EUR). His best mate A-Shin (who is gay) camps him up and also joins the competition. Needless to say, A-Shin has been madly in love with A-Hong since their childhood together and is willing to do anything to help his friend. The other „fake” is Jay, an undercover cop whose worldview seems to have been inspired mostly by action films and anime cartoons and who happens to look very much like the other twinks who’ve joined the competition. Call it a coincidence! Jay volunteers after anonymous death threats are sent to the contest hoping to mimick some of his favourite action heros. However, most of the action in this film is reserved for the relationship between A-Shin and A-Hong who eventually discover their true love – each other. We don’t even get to know who wins the contest in the end. I guess the point is that true love is the winner.

„Go Go G-Boys!” must be following in the footsteps of some sort of Chinese slapstick comedy genre. It is filled with situation comedy elements which are funny enough if you completely disregard the acting (or rather the lack thereof) and if you try to imagine what it must be like being gay in Taiwan (although it must be a lot better than in mainland China, it seems). For example, in one scene the father of one of the contestants arrives from the country with two chickens, which is obviously a great embarrassment to his son, and eventually finds him in bed with another guy. Earlier in the film he was trying to convince his son to start thinking about marriage, now he ends up teaching this other guy (whom he’s no doubt already seeing as his soon-to-be inlaw) how to make a stew with chicken legs. Funny enough, if you think about it!

This film seems to be targeting an audience whom Joey from „Boy Culture” (see my previous review) would call „stage 1 fags” and who according to him „are not slutty hoping to find this perfect boyfriend who’s also not slutty” for about a year after they come out. And although there isn’t anything wrong with that as such, this film has a total soap opera ending to it which I’m not sure even the most romantically inclined among us would find more plausible than most story lines from „Santa Barbara”. But who knows? Maybe this is the sort of ending that is appreciated by the film’s audience in Taiwan and other parts of Asia.

The Taiwanese gay subculture presented in the film seems very effeminite. Everybody looks like a doll and just a personification of campness. Yet, there are numerous references to "Brokeback Mountain" (isn’t Ang Lee from Taiwan originally?) and "The Lord of the Rings". At one point both even collide in a dream. I believe it has always been easier to accept homosexuality in these cultures if the homosexual man behaves and dresses like a woman. Lady boys in Thailand and hijras in India have been traditionally tolerated largely because of this aspect. It seems a lot more difficult to accept a man who behaves and dresses according to the traditional understanding of what men are supposed to be like being gay. I believe this must also be the case in Taiwan. It’s easier to make a camp comedy with exaggeratedly camp, doll-resembling guys than a comedy with ordinary blokes from around the corner. I also believe that campness in itself is perceived as funny. The same way as Mr. Humphries was funny to most people who watched „Are You Being Served?” back in the 1970s. It seems that „Brokeback Mountain” has been sneaked through the back door in this film just to underscore that. And although there is nothing wrong with camp boys in camp comedies (I must admit I quite enjoy them myself), the problem is that it doesn’t do much other than lending a hand to the survival of the cliches about gay men.

"Go Go G-Boys" can be recommended to those of you who would enjoy watching barely dressed Chinese twinks kissing and singing in a camp comedy. It won't rock your world but it will be like having a nice dessert at the end of your meal. To the others I can only say - don't bother!

Here you can watch the film's trailer

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Boy Culture (USA, 2006)

Director: Q. Allan Brocka.
Principal cast: Derek Magyar, Patrick Bauchau, Darryl Stephens, Jonathon Trent.

Everybody needs role models. The choices people make and the lifestyles they have are more often than not influenced by these role models. A role model can be a showbiz star and it can be that cute couple whom you know and who’ve been together for what seems ages and still look glam and all lovey-dovey. But it’s also an individual process. Everybody finds (or often fails to find) his or her own role model(s). When it comes to gay men, these role models often seem to be of the more flamboyant and promiscuous variety. The kind that doesn’t automatically inspire you to have a quiet and monogamous life. Why is it so? Are gay men more afraid of commitments than their straight counterparts or are gay men a different breed with different values and needs?

Q. Allan Brocka’s so far second long feature film „Boy Culture” isn’t aspiring to be moralistic as such. The whole story is presented as a „confession” of a professional hustler who, for the reasons of „anonymity”, goes by the name „X”. Although he has been hustling since his teenage years, he has never had sex with anyone for free. In his own words, he is saving himself for that „special one” and finds more pleasure in masturbation than his work. Emotionally frigid, at least to the outside world, he goes about his life with the same sense of meaning and direction as a lift – in service when required but not much purpose or fun otherwise. It might also be symbolic that he has to use one to come up to his new client Gregory, one he is referred to after one of his other regulars „stops breathing for all the wrong reasons”. Gregory, played by the veteran Belgian/French actor Patrick Bauchau, is an old recluse living in his penthouse apartment high above everything and everybody with only memories to share (and apparently, his substantial savings). Unlike X’s other customers who may have very specific but still rather undemanding demands, Patrick wants X to want him before they make love. Their one hour long (paid) encounters are on the surface nothing more than conversations between a 25-year-old rent boy who knows his Oscar Wilde and a 79-year-old queer who’s got no one else to talk to. However, they soon take the shape of confessions, not unlike X’s own to the film’s audience, which subsequently help to unlock both of them.

In his private life, X shares an apartment (which has a small roof garden) with Andrew, a black guy around X’s age and Joey, an 18-year-old twink who has managed to convince X to let him stay rent-free, just by being „young and fabulous”. But while X doesn’t care much about Joey fooling around and having back-up plans for constantly changing boyfriends, the story is different when it comes to Andrew. As of recently, he has started bringing home „tricks”, thus triggering a strong reaction in our „Ice Queen”. In his confession to the audience, X doesn’t conceal the fact that he is attracted to Andrew and that Andrew is „boyfriend material”. However, he doesn’t do anything about it, and when confronted directly by Andrew while tending to the plants on his roof terrace, he cannot but exclaim „absolutely not” in capital letters. And what would be the point of their relationship? Would X give up his hustling? Will Andrew stop sleeping around? According to X, anyone can fulfill Andrew and why would he be so special? Our „moralistic whore” then makes things even worse by proclaiming that Andrew has now turned into „a very ugly faggot who would probably suck anything with a cock”. Tensions rise and the whole situation gets even more complicated when Joey pledges his love to X while being on drugs after a sex party involving Andrew and a third part (a cameo appearance by Jesse Archer from „A Four Letter Word” and „Slutty Summer”). The outlook is bleak for the three of them but change is on its way and the old guy helps to unlock the garden of Eden.

High moral grounds are not difficult to have in principle. And it’s probably even easier when you are physically high above the ground, like Gregory in his penthouse apartment or X on his roof terrace overlooking the whole of Seattle. Does Gregory live up to his own preachings? Is X afraid of being paid in feelings rather than cool cash? No matter what the answers are to these questions, one thing is focal to the film’s own moral ground. One shouldn’t be afraid to change oneself for the things that matter. One should be able to compromise with oneself and those around one or one can end up old, alone and miserable. Carpe diem – seize the opportunity and don’t be afraid of it.

When the romance between X and Andrew seems irreversably gone, Joey reproaches Andrew for being a bad role model which also sets this whole film in a perspective. In many ways „Boy Culture” is intended as a behavioural role model. It presents the audience with what it sees as a problem and offers a solution which it believes to be the right one. One to follow, just like you follow a role model. But herein also lies the film’s weakness. It offers a recipe and our protagonists follow it, so the grande finale ends up being fairly Hollywoody which is a trap the film’s creators laid out for themselves from the very beginning by aspiring to create a „role model” film. Therefore, the film couldn’t have had a different ending. Who knows, maybe they wrote the script on top of the Space Needle in Seattle?

Yes, also gay men can make a commitment and change their ways to have a lasting relationship, but in many ways it will be a more conscious choice and a choice that one has arrived at in one’s own time to a higher degree than in the straight world. There is seldom any pressure from one’s family to marry another man and there is no biological clock ticking with regard to children. Neither do gay men face the prospect of marrying someone at 18, having five kids and regretting that for the rest of their lives. But also on the other hand, when the going gets tough it is often the children who help straight couples get through their reconcilable differences. With gay men it’s mostly cats or dogs who, however, don’t tend to last as long as most children. I believe that in the end it will always be the conscious effort to commit and remaining true to that commitment which will matter the most for gay and straight couples alike. And yes, one has to be able to change oneself, adapt to different conditions, compromise while keeping one’s own integrity. It’s a difficult and demanding process which takes a lot of effort and is very individual. The story in „Boy Culture” is all about that and very believable until the final part which in my opinion is a bit of a fairy-tale ending – „and they lived happily ever after...”

„Boy Culture” is a thought-provoking film with beautiful actors who also know how to act convincingly. It’s humorous and it’s sexy. Despite its self-induced flaws, I will claim that it’s of one of the best gay-themed films to come out of the US in the recent years.

Here you can watch the film's trailer

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Vier Minuten (Four Minutes, Germany, 2006)

Director: Chris Kraus.
Principal cast: Monica Bleibtreu, Hannah Herzsprung, Sven Pippig.

The German filmmaker Chris Kraus’ second feature film „Vier Minuten” is the latest proof that the German cinematography is capable of creating box office successes outside of the German-speaking countries. Just after one week at cinemas in Italy, it was the second most watched film slightly lagging behind something as predictable as „Spiderman 3”. The film has also won numerous awards at international film festivals including the Audience Best Feature Award at this year’s San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival and The Best Feature Film Award at the Oslo Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. The film rights for theatrical release have been bought by over 30 countries including Australia and Japan. Back home, at the German Film Awards, the film received this year’s LOLA for the best feature film and the two main leads were awarded LOLAs as the best actresses in leading roles. And deservingly so. „Vier Minuten” is a riveting portrayal of an unlikely friendship between two opposites – an 80 year old Frau Krüger, quintessentially Prussian in her humble appearance and rigid views, and a 20 year old prison inmate Jenny von Loeben, a destructive sociopath convicted of a brutal murder.

The elderly lady’s character is based on a real person from the director’s childhood boarding school, a person who has never ceased to fascinate him. Just like the real life Frau Krüger, our protagonist perceives the world through music and can best express her emotions in teaching it to her students. Young Jenny, on the countrary, has too many emotions which she can’t control. She is unruly and destructive, despised by the prison wards and her fellow inmates alike. The story begins to unfold when Frau Krüger arrives in the prison with her precious piano on a mission to give piano lessons to those willing to learn. An interesting premise and not entirely unlikely in modern Europe where new approaches to rehabilitating criminals are getting more and more popular. Despite the prison ward Mütze’s best attempt to recruit those willing at a church service inside the prison, only four people sign up. The piano is brought to the prison’s library and the individual lessons can begin. The last one to be brought in is Jenny. However, Frau Krüger blankly refuses to teach her because of her messy hands. Jenny goes amok, attacks Mütze, beats him up severely and then engages in a frenzied orgy of piano playing. As Frau Krüger is quitely walking away from all this violence, she is, nevertheless, stunned by what she hears from the library, a masterfully played piece of what she despicably calls „negro music”. Jenny ends up in isolation where she is visited by Frau Krüger who admits that she doesn’t like Jenny or rather her personality one little bit but would like to give her piano lessons. Frau Krüger wants her to win the contest for those under 21! And she is only to play classical music. Reluctantly, Jenny accepts the strict rules imposed by this old lady from another era and they both begin a bumpy and not quite self-evident odyssey of music and violence.

In the meantime, another story unfolds in flashbacks, a story of love and betrayal. In her youth Frau Krüger was in love with a woman who later was imprisoned and executed by the Nazis for being a Communist collaborator. There was, of course, very little she could have done to save her lover's life once she was caught, but the images of their passionate love, the brutal death and her own distancing herself from her beloved are still haunting her. It seems that she hasn’t been able to love another woman since and remained a lonely spinster with music and her memories as her only companions. In Jenny she sees somebody who throws away her talent while her dead love was never given any chance to develop hers. It is therefore imperative for the old lady to get Jenny to that contest. The film culminates in an unforgettable and explosive scene which renders justice to its title.

"Vier Minuten" is a powerful film about lost possibilities and the triumph of will with all the odds against one. Frau Krüger's ascetic world and rigid ways collapse as a result of her time together with Jenny. She opens up to a more colourful and emotional world. Jenny struggles with her emotions through music and eventually finds her humbler self. The four minutes are over, the music is still playing on.

Here you can watch the film's trailer (in German)

Monday, 29 October 2007

Festival Awards: And The Winners Are...

The 18th International Lesbian and Gay Festival in Hamburg ended on Sunday, 21 October. Throughout the whole festival people were asked to state their opinion about the films they had just seen on pink pieces of paper which were collected by the festival staff at the exits. As a result, the following awards could be given entirely based on the popular vote:

URSULA for the best lesbian short film went to Abbe Robinson from the UK for "Private Life" (more info on this film on IMDB

URSULA for the best gay short film went to Michael Mew from Canada for "Peking Turkey" (more info on this film on IMDB

URSULA for the best transgender short film went to Abe Bernard from USA for "Trannymals Go To Court" (more info on this film at

This is the second time that Abe receives an URSULA. Last year his first Trannymal film which was called simply "Trannymals" also got the award. Congratulations, Abe!

Each URSULA winner received 1,000 EUR.

The MADE IN GERMANY award for the best German short film went to Martin Busker for "HerzHaft" (more about this film and the director at

The winner in this category will be given the possibility to attend a course at the Berlin Hamburg Film School (

EUROLOLA for the best European film went to Erich Richter Strand from Norway for "Sønner" ("Sons") (more about this film at

GLOBOLA for the best intercontinental film went to Brooke Sebold, Benita and Todd Sills from USA for "Red Without Blue" (more about this film at

Festival impressions: Day 6 (the final day)

Metropolis, one of the cinemas where the festival's films were shown.

Inside Metropolis: posters advertising some of the festival's films.

Before the Sunday matinée film goers could enjoy some hot drinks and croissants on the house.

Joachim from the festival team had also accepted the kind offer.

One of the festival's themes this year was the work of Greta Schiller, an independent American filmmaker. Here - a poster for one of her films - "Paris Was A Woman".

Greta Schiller was also present at Metropolis in connection with the screening of two of her short films. Here - in a conversation with Joachim.

The audience at the screening including Katrin from TalkSofa.

Greta Schiller also answered questions from the audience.

All images by Māra Pētersone.

Festival selection: A Four Letter Word (USA, 2007)

Director: Casper Andreas.

Principal cast: Jesse Archer, Charlie David, Cory Grant, Virginia Bryan.

If films were cocktails, „A Four Letter Word” would be a Pink Lady. With a cherry on top. Casper Andreas’ second long feature film is an excercise in contemporary urban gay self-defining, rich on flamboyant queer characters as well as jokes worthy of any drag queen on a mission. It is evident that the film was created by gay people, with gay people and for gay people and as such deserves credit for being consequent. Some of the most famous gay characters created on screen were played by straight actors – the entire „gay” sets of „Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”, „Brokeback Mountain” and numerous other classics were, in a manner of speech, just fakes. And although I also must give credit where credit is due (they did appear convincing), I still feel somewhat cheated when I realise that all those romantic scenes must have been forced out of them and later „improved” by the film’s editors and other technically minded people. This is certainly not the case with the cast on „A Four Letter Word” – it isn’t necessary to fake their „queerness” – for queer they are!

Luke, played by the relative newcomer Jesse Archer, is a four letter word for horny. Oblivious to any other possible „fun” things in life, he spends his days working in Gayborhood, a gay sex store and his nights playing the field on the local club scene accompanied by his best friend Mace who can probably be best defined by his own words: „I can’t speak for my ass – it’s public property”. At work, his lifestyle is constantly debated by the naked yoga enthusiast and gay rights crusader Zeke who, nevertheless, is still rather fond of him. For under the shallow facade, Luke is more than just the urban gay cliché, an etiquette he certainly doesn’t want to be put on him. One night on his usual manhunt he approaches Stephen with „ph”, played by Charlie David whom many will recognise as Toby from Here! TV’s gay soap opera „Dante’s Cove”. After a brief interaction, our protagonist is labelled by his new acquaintance as just that – „a gay cliché”. This, naturally, hurts Luke who decides to show just how „extraordinary” he is, well, only to be thrown out of the club. In the meantime, „a wannabe actor but currently waiting tables” Peter has his boyfriend Derek moving in with him while his boss Marilyn, brilliantly played by Virginia Bryan, is getting married which prompts her to go amok with what at one point in the film is described as the „Bridzilla” scheme. In order to deliver herself from her alcohol addiction she also starts attending AA meetings with her sponsor Trisha who, however, has other interests at stake with regard to her. Peter and Derek are seen by Luke as a perfect couple and he is happy for Marilyn but he insists that he enjoys being the way he is – single and able to get laid anytime he fancies. This, neverthess, changes after he bumps into Stephen the second time – in the darkroom of a club. They say that opposites attract and it must have been the case here because they are both mysteriously drawn to each other and Luke subsequently attempts to introduce himself to a completely new world – that of monogamy. He knows that his lifestyle isn't sustainable forever. And he seems to have feelings for Stephen. So what can Luke do to change himself? As part of his strategy he even attends a meeting for the sexually compulsive at the local LGBT community centre which I must admit doesn’t sound too far out in a city like New York. Luke really wants things to work out between him and Stephen. But is Stephen actually the one?

„A Four Letter Word” is a romantic comedy set in New York. Still, the characters portrayed are fairly universal and recognisable. The films poses more questions than it attempts to answer. Still, the questions it poses are relevant to most urban gay men of our day and age. Romance versus sex, care versus selfishness, the ability to cohabit and compromise. At the same time, it’s a fun and witty film which should be enjoyed just like a Pink Lady. With a cherry on top.

You can watch the film's trailer here

And a special tribute to Adam Joseph who appears in the film with his song "Faggoty Attention" (that cherry on top)

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Festival impressions: Days 4 & 5

Apparently, the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in Hamburg even has a fan club which is advertised here at one of the cinemas.

The Canadian filmmaker and now professor at York University in Toronto John Greyson was in town to present his latest project as well as a number of his shorts at the festival.

John Greyson's workshop took place in an independent cinema in Sankt Pauli called B-Movie. Here: Abe Bernard ("Trannymals") and Til Kreisch (TalkSofa) engaged in a conversation in the cinema's foyer.

John Greyson is probably best known for his feature film "Lilies" which won him several international awards including The Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television Genie Award and the Best Canadian Film Award at the Montreal International Film Festival in 1996. He has also directed several episodes of the American version of "Queer as Folk".

Some of the audience at the workshop.

Back to Mittagstisch.

Abe Bernard, John Greyson, Markus Götze and some people from the festival team.

Joachim from the festival team and John Greyson.

Abe Bernard on his way to Metropolis to present his short film "Trannymals go to Court".

Passage, one of the cinemas where the festival's films were shown.

Not a completely unreasonable place to raise awareness about AIDS.

Markus Götze presents the new American comedy "A Four Letter Word" in the capacity of its producer.

The audience at the screening of "A Four Letter Word".

Wayne Yung, the director of the German short film "Birthday Games" is grilled on the TalkSofa in the Nachtbar.

Then it's the turn of the well-known American filmmaker Greta Schiller to be in the spotlight.

And I had a chance to chat to John Greyson, the director of my favourite gay film "Lilies".

All images by Māra Pētersone.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Festival selection: Sheng Xia Guang Nian (Eternal Summer, Taiwan, 2006)

Director: Lester Chen.

Principal cast: Bryant Chang, Hsiao-chuan Chang, Kate Yeung.

A few decades ago it was widely assumed that there were bad films, then there were awful films and then there were Chinese films. Much has changed since those days, especially when it comes to contemporary cinematography from Taiwan. Films coming out of this breakaway part of China continue to impress and “Eternal Summer” is no exception. Its moody and almost intimidating landscapes are a fitting backgound for a story that in itself isn’t particularly original, yet necessary to tell – a story of entering the adult life where you have to make choices and sacrifices in a way you couldn’t imagine.

Our two protagonists, Jonathan and Shane (we’ll stick to their English names here), are practically coerced to being friends at an early age at school. Shane is being a disruptive and unruly child from whom all other kids shy away, and Jonathan, the class orderly, is ordered by his headmistress to befriend Shane to get him on the right path. Although Shane initially sabotages Jonathan’s attempts at changing him, they eventually form a friendship which will only get stronger as they enter adolescence together a few years later. They become virtually inseparable and nothing seems to threaten that.

A girl who has grown up in Hong Kong returns to her native Taiwan and joins the school which the two boys attend. Early on, Carrie, as she is called, befriends Jonathan and they even skip school for a day together to go to Taipei where they also stay the night in a hotel room. Carrie tries to seduce Jonathan but fails and their train ride back to school on the following day is conducted in awkward silence. It doesn’t take Carrie long to realize that Jonathan is in love with Shane and although she quitely accepts it, she is also confused. Shane becomes somewhat jealous that Jonathan seems to hang out a lot with this new girl and tries to get to know her on his own. As a result, Carrie becomes Shane’s girlfriend. In order not to hurt Jonathan, they try to keep it a secret, but no secrets can be kept forever and our three confused youths are taken on a bumpy ride of emotions they barely knew existed.

As I’ve pointed out earler, the plot in itself isn’t very original – girl loves boy, boy loves boy – a triangle drama which is seen before in different combinations. What sets this one apart is the depth of the characters’ emotions shown in respect to each other and the lip-biting silent suffering with which they bear their predicament. Shane is presented with a true dilemma – he can’t afford to lose Jonathan’s friendship, yet he doesn’t want to trade him for Carrie. His own feelings towards Jonathan are also more complex than just those of being his best friend which is clearly shown in one of the more passionate scenes. Jonathan, who can’t force himself to reveal his true feelings to Shane because he also fears losing Shane as his friend, is forced to make a choice as well as Shane. In their new adult lives things can’t stay the same. Carrie cannot but bear witness to the inner struggle in both of them as well as the struggle between them which culminates in a powerful scene on a beach set against the ocean background – the forces of nature at work.

“Eternal Summer” uses the grandness of the surrounding natural settings to highlight the human nature and the storms that it creates. It’s not so much about being one with the nature, it’s more about being part of it. Just like the ocean can get upset and start ravaging the coastline and sinking the ships travelling through it, so can people. Like the ocean, they can also calm down, but as long as they are alive, their emotions will never come to a complete halt. “Eternal Summer” is a beautiful coming-of-age drama which deserves to be seen by many people. The issues it deals with are universal and the fact that it’s in Mandarin shouldn’t deter anyone from seeing it. It is also worth mentioning that the film won the Golden Horse Film Award in 2006 which is the main Taiwanese film prize.

Here you can watch the film's trailer

Festival focus: Nachtbar/TalkSofa

Every year a different location is chosen for the so-called Nachtbar which is a place where people can meet after the day's programme to discuss films and other topics. The exact location is always kept a secret until the opening night when it's announced publicly. This year it's in a place called Maria Kron near Sankt Pauli.

Die hübschen Mädchen behind the bar.

Every night after midnight different festival guests are interviewed on the TalkSofa "Bei Kreischbergers" hosted by Til Kreisch and Katrin Bergers which is also broadcast live on the local radio station TIDE. Here: Markus Götze, a native of Hamburg talking about "A Four Letter Word", a new American film, in the capacity of its producer.

The audience on the spot.

Here Abe Bernard from California is telling about his film "Trannymals".

Our friendly hostess Anja was also there to listen.

And then it was my turn to talk about the LGBT Film Days in Riga and the general gay rights situation in Latvia.

The party doesn't end with the talk show though. You can talk and dance until the wee hours.

Even the bar staff take it pretty easy later in the night.

All images by Māra Pētersone.

Festival impressions, Days 2 & 3

Inside Studio in Sankt Pauli, one of the cinemas where the festival's films are shown.

And this is what Studio looks like on the outside.

Every day between 12.30 and 2 pm the organisers and guests of the festival gather for a lunch together. It is known simply as Mittagstisch. A great opportunity to make arrangements for the day and meet other people from the festival.

Another shot from Mittagstisch.

The Mittagstisch location is also used for interviews. Here Clair from the US is interviewed by Pink Channel, a local LGBT radio station in connection with the film "Red without Blue" in which she features.

All images by Māra Pētersone.