It’s not too often that I actually sit down to watch a selection of short films, but during my week at the BFI’s London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, I was given the opportunity to view two sets of short films with a large variety of characters, locations and situations.
Before speaking about the actual films themselves, there were two interesting points that I realised during the day of seeing these selections of films. Initially it was interesting to see how the films were selected and put together through a variety of themes, the festival programmers had the careful job of selecting films which, despite the fact were spoken in different languages and took place in different eras, flowed from one to the next and made the watching experience enjoyable rather than choppy. Moving on from this, the short features allowed myself to understand one of the essences of film, the universality of themes and moods. Despite coming from different parts of the world, there were themes that anyone could understand and what made this even more prevalent was that many of the situations and emotions the characters were feeling, audiences outside of the LGBT community and festival could understand and sympathise with.
The first set of films that I saw was entitled, ‘Expectations’ which was made from five films ranging from the UK and Finland to Brazil and Switzerland and to Portugal. The main characters in all these films were male gay characters and all held the very similar themes of coming out and gaining an understanding for who you are. What is interesting about the short film is that they were able to deal with similar ideas in very different ways.
For me, the short film needs to capture a moment in time perfectly without needing to fill in what came before or leaving the audience wanting to know what happened after. The short film does not provide this back story but rather illuminates a current feeling and plays out it’s repercussions to an audience. The representation of the ‘moment’, I feel was best done in ‘Cappuccino’ and ‘More or Less’ but I shall discuss all the films below.
1. ‘Cappuccino’ Dir. Tamer Ruggli, Switzerland, 2010
At it’s crux, I felt ‘Cappuccino’ was never about a young boy’s (Benjamin Décosterd) fantasies over a classmate (Anton Ciurlia) but rather about his courage to confront his mum’s (Manuela Biedermann) poor parenting skills and open up to her about his sexuality. The revelation strangely allowed an opening in the relationship and the mother brings her guard down to show that she is there for her son.
There were moments of comedy between Jérémie and Gina, where she asked if she looked good in something (representing a relationship that many of us may be aware of) and there were moments of happiness. But within this short film, it also captured the emotions of feeling alienated within a society filled with people as well as a slight sadness for not fully understanding yourself. Jérémie never wanted Damien, but rather a manifestation of emotions that he wanted to speak to Gina about but did not feel he could.
The film was well acted and directed and certainly threw up some interesting points about the dynamics of a relationship between the mother and a son.
2. ‘More or Less’ Dir. Alexander Siqueira, Brazil, 2010
‘More or Less’ was an interesting film as it isn’t a coming out story per se, but initially is seen as a film about homophobia in high school. Despite the fact that the film takes place in Brazil, it was the universality of the subject that was really interesting. The concept of being against anyone is something we can all understand and it was intriguing to see how the film was going to deal with the subject.
The dialogue was very minimal and this left the audience filling in the gaps which unfortunately for a short film, I do not see particularly plausible. The location shots showed off the stunning exteriors of the village that the characters lived in but it may not have been enough to pull this short picture through. On the other hand, what did pull the picture through was it’s actors.
As a story, I mainly see it from the aggressors point of view. Kyel Lima plays Sandro, a boy who physically and mentally bullies Ivo played by Jholl Bauer. Although we are never explicitly told that Ivo is gay, Sandro spends the majority of the film heckling and beating him. What I quite appreciated about the film was that during the times when Ivo was being bullied, there was never a moment of ‘this is too much’. It was watchable and it was Lima who shone through in the picture. He never overacted, but managed to portray a constant state of confusion for the entire picture which ends in a very interesting way… Freud would be proud.
I’d say take a look at the picture as it does present an interesting set of ideas and manages to put into pictures, the weaknesses of bullies.
3. ‘We Once Were Tide’ Dir. Jason Bradbury, U.K, 2011
The director has described this picture as that moment when you give something special away but I felt very overwhelmed by the poetic nature of the piece. With sweeping landscapes, minimal dialogue and very intimate camera angles, I felt the piece was making too much of a point about what it was doing and not enough to ground the characters in some sort of viable reality.
This was only further emphasised by having the story set in the isolated moors. Despite any use of pathetic fallacy or how the location was ideal to emphasise a sense of alienation, I felt this was just another reason why the film was not grounded in anything I could or wanted to believe in. The story follows Kyle (Tristan Bernays) and Anthony (Alexander Scott) who spend a night together in the house where Anthony is looking after his terminally ill mum (Mandy Aldridge). The dynamic of the relationship between the two characters is very clearly played out in an interplay between Kyle’s relationship with Anthony’s mother. He cares for her the same way he cares for Anthony and yet he does not want to let his future become jeopardised by his past.
The film allows Kyle to become the teacher to Anthony, to enable him to learn how to live with his mother and start their relationship afresh. When it comes to this film, it is rather what is not said that is more important. The ways in which all the characters move and interact with each other, the way their eyes meet across the screen and the ways in which they dominate a space that could have dominated them.
4. ‘Wild Horses’ Dir. André Santos & Marco Leão, Portugal, 2010
‘Wild Horses’ follows two lovers who live together in silence. It follows them from waking to bathing and trying to live normal lives together in a world that may or may not accept them. The quiet world that they inhabit is broken up by flashes to another time when they got lost in the mountains together but this still is not enough for the two to fully understand their current world.
For me, this was the weakest film of the pack as it added virtually nothing to my enjoyment of watching. There was no dialogue and despite being beautifully directed, the film felt out of place within a pack of films about self understanding. There was no portrayal of learning what was to come next for these two, but rather an implied suicide at the end where they are sitting on a ledge together. There is no future for them and to be honest, I did not really care about that.
5. ‘Small-Time Revolutionary’ Dir. Miikka Leskinen, U.K-Finland, 2010
Now, that isn’t the cast of ‘Grange Hill’ staring back at you but rather a cast of misfits who are ‘The Kants’, an anti-Thatcher, anti-Section 28 youth group back in 1988.
The story follows these youths as they get ready to protest against Section 28, an amendment which said that no local authority should promote homosexuality or use it as an example for a sustained relationship.
Just so that I can get it out of the way now, my one weakness with this picture was that I wanted to know what came before and what happened next, I could see this as a full length feature and I wished it was exactly that. Out of all the pictures in this set of films, it was the best written, best acted and the best cinematography. It beautifully represented a dulled Thatcher Britain in which there was a clear alienation between parents and the youth and even in the case of this film, a separation between the two parents.
The film looks at Russell (Alexander Barnes) as he finds himself trying to make his parents happy whilst denying who he actually is. As a member of The Kants, he wants to stand for gay rights (as he is gay) and yet his parents don’t even know that he is. The film is much more than a coming out story but rather a chance for Russell to explore where he is coming from and where he wants to go next. There is an amazingly shot scene where he is screaming out towards the camera in slow motion, showing a grotesque version of his face which perfectly illustrates the seclusion he feels throughout the picture.
The moments of humour are brilliant, between Russell and his mother (Carol Holt) and they really make the audience laugh out loud. Sometimes not for the right reasons, but due to knowing how uncomfortable the characters on screen may be. There is a brilliant supporting cast and I just wish I knew what happened next!
So there you have it, the end of the first set of short films that I saw at the LLGFF. They showed me how intricate the work of a programmer must be to make sure that a set of films matches together to allow a narrative flow.