Pihalla

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Miku is 17, making his first tentative forays into sex and sexuality. His older brother, black sheep of the family Sebu, talks him into throwing a big party while their parents are away. Of course, the house gets trashed, so Miku is exiled to spend the summer with his parents (and without his phone!) at their summer cottage in the country.

He meets the (literal) boy next door, Elias, and, only partly for lack of other options, they quickly bond, exploring the lake and each other, comparing notes on whose parents and siblings are more fucked up.

Pihalla (Screwed) is another entry in the welcome trend of coming-of-age films in which being queer is only one of the adolescent issues, rather than the defining characteristic around which the bulk of the characters and of the plot are drawn.

It is refreshing to have sexuality be only one aspect of the story. That said, Pihalla has earned a place in the pantheon of all-time greatest coming out moments in cinema history. It’s fairly late in the film, so I won’t give away the details, but there is a surprising twist, giving a fresh take on, “Mom, I’m gay,” and casting light on some mysteries from earlier in the story.

The filmmakers, writer/director Nils-Erik Ekblom and writer/producer Tom Norrgrann, said that the script evolved during production, as they found the lead actors capable of much more than the light comedy originally written.

To be sure, this is a comedy with its share of laugh-out-loud moments, but we also get real insight into the two young men individually and together, and into their family dynamics. The touching moments of genuine connection are interwoven into the comedy, giving a more solid foundation for us to laugh along with characters we care about. The wit and humour of the dialogue shine through clearly, even through the filter of subtitles.

Let Queer Kids be different

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This year we’ve seen a number of mainstream stories focusing on straight people’s relationship to queerness — which insist that queer people are “normal” and “just like you!” — rather than queer people’s relationship to their own identities.

The queerest part of Greg Berlanti’s Love, Simon — the first major studio release to feature a gay teenage protagonist, which has been warmly received since its premiere last month — isn’t that titular gay teen. Instead, it’s Ethan (Clark Moore), femme and black with a Michelle Obama blowout and a sanguine rejoinder for every bully he encounters, who embodies the familiar high school figure of the kid everyone knew was gay.

The contrast between the two is sharpest following a bullying incident in the school cafeteria, when two jocks dressed like Simon and Ethan jump on a table and pantomime anal sex. Simon runs over, ready to fight them, while Ethan more or less rolls his eyes: To him, this is merely a change in flavor from the usual menu of ridicule. Before Simon can get to them, the drama teacher, Ms. Albright (Natasha Rothwell), marches in and, after a flurry of well-deserved shaming, sends the jocks to the vice principal’s office, along with Simon and Ethan, who wait to receive a forced apology nearly as humiliating as the incident itself.

Waiting with Ethan outside the office, Simon apologizes to Ethan, saying, “Nothing like this ever happened when just you were out.” But by this point in the film, Simon has personally witnessed Ethan getting bullied on at least one other occasion, so we have to suppose what Simon means is, This only used to happen to you. Ethan delivers a brief, moving monologue about his mother’s reaction to his gayness, and her obvious disappointment in who he is — an experience common to queer teens, but seemingly inconceivable to Simon.

In his few minutes of screentime, Ethan is exactly as sidelined in a film about a teen who is gay (but not that gay) as he would be in the hundreds of thousands of high school cafeterias that Ethans must move through. Ethan can’t hide or code-switch the way Simon (Nick Robinson) — white, masculine, conventionally handsome — is able to. Simon spends so much energy on preserving the secrecy of his own homosexuality that he fails to see the pain and danger for queer people who don’t have the luxury of keeping such a secret.

In an op-ed for the New York Times last week, one of a number of pieces to criticize the movie’s love affair with normalcy, activist and writer Jacob Tobia wrote a stirring critique of Ethan’s treatment in Love, Simon. “He is a sideshow, a subtle foil to show how palatable and masculine Simon is.”

Normalcy pervades Love, Simon, from the landscaped, Stepford-y suburb through which its protagonists drive to school to Simon’s parents’ cookie-cutter high school love story. In the film’s opening voiceover, Simon calls himself “normal” more than once, as if in a prima facie defense of his secret homosexuality. I’m gay, but I’m still normal! Even though, obviously, if he truly were like everyone else — that is, straight — there would be no movie to be made.

In a review for Time, critic Daniel D’Addario asks, “Can a love story centered around a gay teen who is very carefully built to seem as straight as possible appeal to a generation that’s boldly reinventing gender and sexuality on its own terms?”

Apparently, it can. Simon’s normalcy is one of the reasons why everyone from grown-up critics to teenagers themselves has loved the movie — it’s following in the footsteps of so many teen rom-coms before it about the lives of conventionally attractive straight kids; shouldn’t queer kids get a “normal” aspirational rom-com too?

Normalcy, after all, doesn’t only feel good — it also has political power. “Gays are just like everyone else” has been the rallying cry of a certain strain of gay liberation, a tactic that succeeded in ending policies like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, toppling the Defense of Marriage Act, and achieving federal marriage equality. And yet these efforts have been criticized from more radical corners of the LGBT community for their focus on issues concerning only the most privileged of Americans. The double-edged sword of normalcy-as-value is that it is always including and excluding with the same stroke.

Ultimately, Simon offers no more queer representation than hyper-mainstream antecedents like Will Truman (Eric McCormack) in Will & Grace, upstanding gay lawyer, or Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) in Philadelphia (1993), upstanding gay lawyer: a poster boy for well-behaved deviance, never forcing straight people to look directly at the boundaries of their world. Simon Spier is basically Wally Cleaver with an iPhone.

“I’m just like you” as an argument for equal treatment suggests that Simon Spier, or any other gay person, deserves respect and understanding by virtue of our similarities with straight people, rather than despite our differences — a construction we’re still being fed in queer media that sets the limits of acceptable queerness at the border of heterosexual comfort. Simon’s opening voice-over leans on his “totally normal” surroundings to excuse his deviation from them, rather than to question the boundaries “normal” builds.

Of course, all teenagers deserve to hear that they aren’t deviants and that they’re worthy of love — but what queer teens may need to hear more than anything is that popular notions of what’s “normal” are what make you feel wrong, or weird, in the first place.

Read on…

Mario

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There aren’t too many gay-themed sports movies with the exception of 2016’s queer-themed soccer movie The Pass and the 2000’s sweet romantic comedy The Broken Hearts Club.

Now, Mario, a new movie from Switzerland about footballers falling for each other beyond the locker room had its premiere at BFI Flare London LGBTQ Film Festival this week and will premiere in North America at Miami’s Outshine Film Festival on April 21.

A love affair between two players on a pro soccer team ignites when the team’s new striker Leon shares a rivalry and a flat with the the titular Mario, who’s in denial about how his passion for the new guy.  Despite Mario’s inability to admit his queerness, the pair engages in a relationship that threatens to crush their careers and throw the entire team off balance if exposed. Will Mario choose love over his career?

Personally I’m pretty excited about the fact that parts of the film where shot in the stadium of my beloved FC St. Pauli, a firmly queer-friendly club <3

The Wound

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Protests erupted over the The Wound, a queer film that premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, and its director John Trengove for appropriating African culture and publicising a secret tribal circumcision ritual depicted the film.

The traditional Xhola circumcision ritual  that is a  major topic in the film marks a boy’s passage into manhood. Considering that the ritual has resulted in over 800 deaths, it makes sense why young Kwanda, the youthful initiate in the film, wouldn’t want to go through it. His resistance forces his mentor Xolani to reconsider the traditions and the tribal notions of manhood altogether.

The actual ritual has gotten public exposure before. Former South African president and civil rights leader Nelson Mandela wrote about the experience in his autobiography.

The ritual involves a traditional surgeon (called an ingcibi) who severs the initiate’s foreskin using a spear, which is then tied to the initiate’s blanket. The penile wound is covered with a healing plant and for the next eight days, the initiate is confined to a hut (called a bhoma) and forbidden from eating certain foods. After eight days, an ukosiswa rite removes the food restrictions and marks the start of the second phase, which lasts two to three more weeks. The initiates’ seclusion ends when they race to the river to bathe themselves. Finally, the initiates’ hut and possessions are burnt, each initiate gets a new blanket and is called an amakwala (new man) henceforth.

Quartz Africa reports that protestors, like South African journalist Lwando Xaso and the current Xhosa king, say Trengrove (a white South African) appropriated Xhosa culture, particularly “jealously guarded secrets of a tradition that has managed to endure oppression and modernization.”

Xaso said, “It is not okay to subjectively delve into traditions and practices you are not a part of under the guise of sparking debate and engagement. It is not your place because you are not speaking as a member of that society.”

Two South African cinemas stopped showing The Wound over security threats, but it remains available elsewhere internationally.

Hidden Kisses

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Sixteen-year-old Nathan (Bérenger Anceaux) is the new kid in high school. One night, while attending a party, he falls in love with Louis (Jules Houplain), a boy in his class.

Able to sneak away from the crowd, they find themselves out of sight, and eventually work up the courage to kiss each other, but someone has seen them, someone took a photo of the kiss. As soon as the photo has been posted to social media, a storm of bullying and rejection overtakes their lives.

Departure

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Beatrice (Juliette Stevenson and her teenage son Elliot (Alex Lawther,) are preparing for the sale of their vacation home in the south of France.

Elliot struggles with his dawning sexuality and an increasing alienation from his mother. Beatrice in turn is upset over the sale of the house and her crumbling marriage.

When an enigmatic local teenager, Clément, enters their lives, both mother and son are compelled to confront their desires and, finally, each other. Departure is an intimate story beginning at dawn on the first day and ending at night on the sixth, charting the end of a summer, the end of a childhood and the end of an otherwise nuclear, middle class family.

 

Alex and the Handyman

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Alex And The Handyman takes a look at pre-adolescent sexuality in a sweet way. The film precocious nine-year-old Alex, who develops an instant crush on much older handyman, Jared. The child wants the moody 20-something man’s attention, but Jared isn’t that interested in humoring the fantasies of a kid.

The short starts off as a sweet and sometimes funny look at pre-sexual awakening. However, some people will probably be freaked out a bit by the end.

You can watch the whole short here. Submitted by Marvin.

Saturday Church

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Saturday Church tells the story of 14-year-old Ulysses as he struggles to express his personality & sexuality in a hostile environment.

Ulysses, the young protagonist of Saturday Church, is first seen at the burial of his father, a soldier killed overseas. The New York teen, played by Luka Kain, has delicate features and carries an air of quiet about him.

He and his younger brother will now be looked after by both their mother Amara and strict Aunt Rose. The latter does not mince words after Ulysses is discovered trying on his mother’s shoes. “If I ever hear of you even looking at women’s clothing, I will beat it out of you. You are a man. Start acting like one,” she says, enunciating each word with controlled rage.

But the boy is in no way conflicted about his sexual orientation — he’s just surrounded by disapproval. As a form of escape, he imagines his life as a musical, and the movie is dotted with song and dance, beginning with a particularly audacious locker-room scene in which Ulysses’ jock tormentors turn into backup dancers.

For real-life affinity, Ulysses seeks companionship on the pier by Manhattan’s Christopher Street, where he is enlisted into Saturday Church, a program for at-risk queer youth (the program in the movie is based on a real one).

The film was written and directed by Damon Cardasis, making his feature debut. It is a disarmingly and consistently sensitive movie that remains engaging even when its reach sometimes exceeds its grasp (a musical number set in what might be the world’s tidiest homeless shelter for example).

The wonderful cast brings the story home, and Luka Kain in particular is a real find. When Ulysses first puts on lip gloss in a room full of people who accept him, the smile that plays on his face is both ebullient and heart-rending.

Sleepy Sunday *4

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Full-time childhood, an alien time in which everything around us is passed through pure bodies and perceptions. One eye and a soul that follow invisible trajectories; only the instinct and the senses reign, along with the imagination.

I Cormorani takes us on a transfigured journey into this total reality. The film is an experiment in meta-cinema. A direct drive trailing the wandering of Matteo and Samuele: two twelve year old boys who live their long, lazy days of summer between nature and civilisation. The forest, the river and the mall become another dimension for us who observe them.

Their intimacy and complicity transfigures them unaware, in objects, lights, sounds and smells: of life and man, amplifying their objectification in a sublime fashion. Their and our way of being in the world, to find a sense of meaning.