The Objects of Our Affection

There's plenty to love at the LGBT film festival

If there are noticeably fewer gay-themed films on the market these days than there have been in past years, that's because the residual damage of the prefab gay romantic comedies of the mid- to late '90s (e.g., The Object of My Affection, In & Out) is now being felt on television. With the popularity of shows like Will and Grace, Queer as Folk, and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, television execs would have us believe that there's no such thing as "don't ask, don't tell." But what kind of progress is this? GLAAD has inexplicably lauded the makers of Queer as Folk for essentially promoting the worst elements of gay culture, while the utopian Queer Eye for the Straight Guy coddles gay stereotypes and encourages objectification. Bravo's dated Boy Meets Boy claimed to attack these very circus acts, but any social consequence was lost as soon as the show's star bachelor was made the butt of the producers' final joke. For the sake of entertainment, gay romance was dutifully trivialized.

Television isn't ahead of the times; it's actually several light years behind the more innovative works of the early New Queer Cinema. Which is bad for the gay community, but good for movie lovers. Now that the minstrel show has moved to television, gay filmmakers have been able to get down to the nitty-gritty. Today there's still a market for inconsequential trifles such as Fluffer and Km.0, but gay filmmakers are producing more subtle, cutting-edge works, everything from O Fantasma to Head On. Homosexuality is more implicit (behold the mystical allegory of Gus Van Sant's Gerry), and sometimes an area of serious critical study (as in Todd Haynes's Far from Heaven). If this year's refreshing Minneapolis/St. Paul LGBT Film Festival (November 13 through 20 at Oak Street Cinema) is any indication, the best in socially conscious gay cinema is still being imported from abroad, which may say less about gay filmmakers today than it probably says about America's insular society. From The Politics of Fur to Put the Camera on Me, the films and docs at this year's fest celebrate and subvert the sexual codes currently being exploited on network airwaves for big ratings.

Dee Mosbacher's documentary Radical Harmonies (screening Monday at 7:30 p.m.) pays homage to the lesbians who transplanted all sorts of sociopolitical frustrations into the underground "women's music" of the '70s. Their stories are candid, but this PBS-style documentary is nowhere near as radical as Karim Ainouz's Madame Satä (Thursday at 7:30 p.m.), an underplotted but sweltering portrait of the famous, paradoxical Brazilian queer Joao Francisco dos Santos (played in the film by Lázaro Ramos), whose many melodramas speak to the gay community's universal struggle to fight the power. Ainouz, who worked in various capacities on three of the most important films of the New Queer Cinema (Haynes's Poison, Tom Kalin's Swoon, and Steve McLean's Postcards from America), fascinatingly equates Santos's struggle for acceptance to performance art.

Macho, macho men: Ohad Knoller and Yehuda Levi in 'Yossi & Jagger'
Strand Releasing
Macho, macho men: Ohad Knoller and Yehuda Levi in 'Yossi & Jagger'

The shorts are a mixed bag. Andrew Hull's gorgeously shot "That Thing We Do" (Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.) is your typical coming-out soap opera, except that it looks like Abercrombie & Fitch: The Movie. Emily Atef's lovely "XX to XY: Fighting to Be Jake" (Saturday at 5:30 p.m.) is fraught with one too many sight gags and animated flights of fancy, though its evocation of the transgender Jake's fight to fit into the world speaks to our need for acceptance. And Stefan J. Nadelman's "Terminal Bar" (Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.), a wee paean to a now-defunct bar in New York's Hell's Kitchen, is often compromised by its zippy, multimedia madness, but its curiosity about unearthing lost chapters in gay NYC history is humbling.

The features and docs are noticeably short on laughs: There's a nasty mean streak that runs throughout Gay Block's "Bertha Alyce" (Saturday at 3:30 p.m.), the famous photographer's overly scrutinizing jab at her deceased mother; and the feature that follows "Alyce," Joan E. Biren's educational No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, is a competent but stale homage to '50s lesbian activists. (Hey--at least it's better than The Hours.)

For the best of the fest, check out these four below.

 

Kiki + Tiger
(Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3:45 p.m.)

Once the purveyor of immigrant dreams, Stephen Frears allowed cheap melodrama to reduce the plight of the lower classes holed up in the dingy London underground of Dirty Pretty Things. Perhaps that's why this first feature from Alain Gsponer is so refreshing: The film's raw, sensual realism and social consciousness brings to mind Frears's My Beautiful Laundrette. Based on a true story, Kiki + Tiger observes the bittersweet relationship between the Albanian Kiki (the striking Stipe Erceg) and the Serbian Tiger (Lenn Kudrjawizki), both living in Germany shortly before the war in Kosovo. Tiger's feelings for his friend are more than platonic and they go completely unconsummated, which ennobles the film but may frustrate those expecting to see some skin. Tiger is driven to madness by war and the demands of his nationalistic father after he lashes out against a fellow Serb and offers Kiki a place to sleep in his attic. If Gsponer seems to oversimplify the conflict between displaced Serbians and Albanians and the effect this has on the closeted Kiki, it's because he's more concerned with summoning the chaos in the stolen glances and tender exchanges between the film's characters. Kiki + Tiger is a film of deceptive surfaces and bitter, lovelorn betrayals. In repeatedly frustrating Tiger's love for the oblivious Kiki, Gsponer evokes a collective community terrorized by the threat of warfare. When Tiger stares at an attractive man in a lonely alley, the implication is that they're going to get together. But when a truck pulls up, we realize that both men are waiting for refugee friends. This inability to distinguish love from war infuses the entire film.

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