Tag Archives: Gay Life

‘By the Grace of God’ approaches its grim subject with wit

A Gallic eel of preternatural slipperiness, François Ozon has often embraced schlock. He casts beautiful actors like Melvil Poupaud and Charlotte Rampling in films that revel in their absurdity (it’s as if he writes his scripts so that he can watch his favorites work out the complications). Hence the seismic shock of By the Grace of God: a sober depiction of Lyon-based Cardinal Bernard Preynat’s sexual abuse. The press material quotes Ozon reflecting that he “imagined a film in the spirit of Spotlight,” Tom McCarthy’s 2015 film about Boston’s Catholic pedophilia ring in the 1980s. That Oscar winner focused on the investigative reporters; Grace focuses on the victims, all of whom shun victimhood itself. A vigorous, febrile, whiplash-paced film, Grace triumphs on the strength of Ozon’s screenplay, ecumenical (no pun intended) editing, and a mixture of tones.

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Messages keep gettin’ queerer: Bruce Springsteen

“What exactly is so queer about Springsteen?” Naomi Gordon-Loebl writes in a terrific piece. “Is it his extreme butchness, so practiced and so precise that he might as well have learned it from the oldest lesbian at a gay bar? Is it because his hard-earned, roughly hewn version of love is recognizable to those of us for whom desire has often meant sacrifice? Or is it something simpler?” For Gordon-Loebl and I, both of us identifying as queer, to become infatuated with Tunnel of Love, the most heteronormative of Springsteen albums, is one of the more delightful ironies of the last few weeks. I especially relished what she wrote about “Walk Like a Man,” my least favorite track, read as an experience of “growing up in a body out of alignment with my gender, trying to walk a path that was not made for my feet and being constantly, painfully aware of the dissonance.”

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‘For a second, all that shame — all that stuff — came back to me’

Yes, I know: Brevard County’s Covenant Christian School is a private institution. Yet it accepts public money, presumably so it can exercise its right to fire teachers like Toro Lisciandro for admitting they’re gay:

While many public districts, such as Orange, have policies that ban discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and more, Florida has no law banning discrimination against LGBT employees in general.

And whereas public schools must accept all students, schools in the state’s publicly funded voucher program can refuse to serve LGBT families — even if they get money from the state’s corporate tax credit “scholarship” program.

Many voucher schools actually spell out their discriminatory policies.

At Merritt Island Christian School, homosexuality is the only expulsion-worthy sin for students listed in its “ethics” policy.

At Volusia’s Trinity Christian Academy, students are told that simply saying “I am gay” is “basis for dismissal.”

Those two schools got more than $1.7 million in public money last year.

Please linger on the last sentence from this excerpt of Scott Maxwell’s column. Two phenomena have coincided. First, the redirection of public funds into private institutions; secondly, the disinterest with which Florida legislators view the discriminatory practices of these private institutions. A few months ago Democrats failed to get amendments passed to the bill eventually signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, amendments that would have addressed sexual orientation.

‘It was just music and the baths, music and the baths’

What I like about Cowley’s instrumentals is how their bleeps and spiky melodies evoke a chintzy anonymity — the anonymity of sex in The Anvil; I can smell the sweat and mung. Reviewing Patrick Cowley’s journals, “a voraciously readable historical document” released at the same time as a comp called Mechanical Fantasy Box, Rich Juzwiak captures a period in gay life that looks like the long British spring of 1914 before Franz Ferdinand fell victim to an assassin’s bullet:

To hear him tell it, Cowley was enthralled by the sex he was having—so many great asses, so many great cocks, and such prowess. “I could never take the fuck I give,” he brags. In addition to the graphic sex, his writings contain sprinklings of romance and momentary ambivalence regarding his fast lifestyle (“The churning, crowded heat of men in a sexual banquet crowds in on me and the forced-by-circumstances emotion-lacking atmosphere drives me away”). There’s also a real sense of the brotherhood that the ritualistic scene could foster for a lapsed Catholic like Cowley: “I’m on my knees worshipping Phallus. All around me are the other similarly engaged. I feel the one-ness of our activity. Silent yet all things understood.”

A child when the AIDS panic swept Florida, I learned to cordon off my sexuality from the rest of my life. Then my uncle died of HIV complications a year before New England Journal of Medicine published an article suggesting the benefit of antiretroviral therapies. Fear, trembling, and panic — they trail the god of war. To have survived this era doesn’t fill me with gratitude so much as expose a hollowing. I could never return to a past as unfamiliar to me as the Romanov court.

Nostalgia makes Pedro Almodóvar soft in ‘Pain & Glory’

The natural light in Pedro Almodóvar’s eighth collaboration with Antonio Banderas has a fullness, especially when cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine focuses on the deep greens of trees in gardens and the dust-caked sunlight of rural Spain. The choice makes sense for what publicists and the director himself have called his most autobiographical or, worse, “personal” film, and, perhaps as a result, what is a second-tier effort from an artist for whom the diminishing returns of outrage haven’t yet produced material adequate to his talents. You’ll have a good time watching Pain & Glory: it offers ample pleasures, visual and performative, especially a marvelous Banderas turn. But it’s not as poignant as Almodóvar thinks: He’s coasting on the assumption that the audience thinks, “Haven’t the last thirty-five years of our shared lives been wonderful?”

The first, rather hamhanded shot of Salvador Mallo (Banderas) sinking to the bottom of a swimming pool suggests a return to amniotic immersion. Invited to a restored screening of one of his classics (Sabor) and not doing much else thanks to a creative block, the ailing Salvador revisits moments from his past. He reconciles with his pugnacious former leading man Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), who returns the favor by getting him hooked on smack. In Salvador’s hazes he sees visions of his past: his mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz) and the village women singing a tune while doing the washing riverside; a white-washed cave in which his father insists they live; the handsome laborer (César Vicente) whom he teaches to read and write. A dig into Salvador’s computer files unearths an unpublished monologue that Alberto insists he deliver before an audience. Wouldn’t you know that this monologue eulogizes Salvador’s adolescent affair with Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), who happens to be sitting, devastated, in that audience? Of course! This is an Almodóvar film.

The distancing device, used to exemplary effect in 2004’s Bad Education, of employing narrators within narrators to share the director’s most personal moments mitigates the bathos. Otherwise Pain and Glory is a surprisingly unconvoluted — in every sense — valentine from Almodóvar to his audience for sticking by him for thirty-five years (Almodóvar’s first serious American screenings took place at what was then the Miami International Film Festival).  Manipulating eyes the color and shape of burned almonds, Cannes Best Actor winner Banderas gives a performance of intense warmth; despite his ill health and languor the intelligence and wit of Salvador comes through. A quiet reunion with Federico — two ex-lovers who may or may not have another chance at possible happiness — is a master class in generating romantic frisson.

The rest of Pain and Glory hews to the usual pattern of a director getting misty-eyed about his golden youth. The last forty-five minutes consist of one character after another expressing his or her gratitude for what Salvador’s done for them: Alberto and Federico are enough, but does adoring minder Mercedes have to light incense too? Fans of Cinema Paradiso will award it a more generous reception. Which is why Almodóvar must be grateful Julieta Serrano plays Salvador’s aged mother, seen in flashback. According to Salvador’s memories, she told him he’d been a disappointment as a son, hadn’t fulfilled her wishes. In these scenes set in a hospice and Salvador’s museum-like home (albeit “museum with Almodóvar as designer/curator”), Serrano shows such good sense and simplicity playing this dying woman that Pain & Glory stops for her; I might even claim that it honors its title. Every film made comprises a series of inevitable decisions about choices. To walk out of Pain & Glory is to wonder how a movie about Jacinta — a renowned filmmaker’s mother — might’ve played.

Portions of this review appeared in a blurb for Miami Film Festival’s GEMS series. 

GRADE: B+

GEMS Film Festival 2019 among its queerest

Programmed as an autumnal amuse-bouche before the rigors and glories of the full-blown event a few months hence, Miami Film Festival’s GEMS offers four days of films starting with tonight’s screening of Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory. Beside the South Florida debuts of the Eddie Murphy blaxploitation comedy Dolemite Is My Name and the dramatization of the clash between Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and Francis (Jonathan Pryce) called The Two Popes, GEMS will also show Noel Baumbach’s Marriage Story and Céline Sciamma’s Cannes-winning Portrait of a Lady on Fire. 

The festival screened a few offerings for me, a couple of which I reviewed below.

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