LGBTQ Films Slated for SXSW and Rendezvous with French Cinema

Alex (Félix Lefebvre, left) with David (Benjamin Voisin) in "Summer of '85."
Music Box Films

Two film festivals in March feature some LGBTQ movies — and while the pandemic continues to keep folks at home, these streaming festivals can transport viewers to a different time and place.

Rendezvous with French Cinema

Unspooling virtually March 4-14 through Film at Lincoln Center, Rendezvous with French Cinema is the annual showcase of Francophone films. This year’s program opens with the documentary “Little Girl,” about a transgender pre-teen, and it gives viewers another opportunity to see gay enfante terrible François Ozon’s latest, “Summer of 85,” which is expected to get a release later this year.

“Little Girl”

This film is directed by Sébastien Lifshitz, who may be best known for his classic gay drama from 2000, “Come Undone.” In recent years, he has pivoted to documentary filmmaking, and his latest feature is an intimate portrait of Sasha, an eight-year-old who was assigned male at birth, but says, “When I grow up, I’ll be a girl.” Sasha’s parents — her mother Karine especially — are strong advocates for her, and battle with her school principal and teachers to make sure Sasha is treated respectfully (and with correct pronouns) and able to dress as in accordance with her gender identity as a girl.

Lifshitz takes his time with his film’s subjects, sitting with them as Sasha plays with her supportive siblings or a classmate. He also attends a meeting Sasha and Karine have with a kindly doctor who discusses issues of gender dysphoria. There are interviews with both Sasha’s mother and father where they recount their attitudes about their child with candor and acceptance. Nevertheless, Karine, however encouraging, worries that Sasha will face a difficult future.

“Little Girl” charts a year in Sasha’s life and the changes she (and her family) experience as she tries to live more authentically. Watching her mimic a young girl in her ballet class shows Sasha’s uneasiness, but seeing her become more confident, dancing in heels, and eventually putting on a two-piece swimsuit, is rewarding. Lifshitz captures his subject well.

“Summer of 85”

Writer/director François Ozon brings a nifty adaptation of Aidan Chambers’ novel, set in a seaside community in Normandy. The film, which bills itself as a story about death, opens with Alex (Félix Lefebvre), a baby-faced teen, being taken in handcuffs by the police. He narrates this story of his loss of innocence and how he met David (Benjamin Voisin), who — spoiler alert — becomes the corpse in the story.

When Alex’s boat is capsized one afternoon, David saves him. The two youths quickly become fast friends, spending as much time as they can together. Alex also takes a job in David’s family’s store, much to the delight of David’s mother (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). Things only seem to improve when the two youths begin a romantic relationship. But Alex is provoked by jealousy as easily as he is seduced by the handsome and charming David, and that may be why he ends up dead.

“Summer of 85” is a lively tale of heartbreak and death, well-acted by the attractive leads and well told by Ozon.

South by Southwest

This annual festival is online March 16-20 this year. Two features are having their world premiere and two shorts will appeal to queer viewers. While reviews for the features were embargoed, here is what can be revealed:

“Potato Dreams of America” 

Written and directed by Wes Hurley, this is the highly anticipated feature version of his fabulous 2017 documentary short, “Potato Dreams.” (Hurley wrote the feature before he made the short, but he rewrote the feature after making the short). Based on his life as a closeted youth growing up in the USSR, the visually stylish and dryly comic film recounts Potato (Hersh Powers in Russia; Tyler Bocock in America) coming to terms with his sexuality. He and his mother Lena (Sera Barbieri in Russia; Marya Sea Kaminski in America) emigrate when she marries a man (Dan Lauria) in Seattle who may not be what he seems. The cast also includes out actors Jonathan Bennett (as Jesus Christ) and Lea DeLaria.

“Swan Song”

The long-awaited third film in director Todd Stephens’ “Sandusky” trilogy follows his 1998 breakthrough feature, “Edge of Seventeen,” and “Gypsy 83,” which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. This seriocomic film is set and was shot in the director’s hometown of Sandusky, Ohio, and based on an iconic man Stephens knew. Mr. Pat (Udo Kier in a phenomenal performance) is a retired hairdresser asked to style a dead woman (Linda Evans) for her funeral. As he escapes his nursing home and travels across town, Pat reflects on his life. The film costars Jennifer Coolidge and out gay actor Michael Urie and features cameos by Stephens’ regulars, Stephanie McVay and Jonah Blechman.

The Beauty President”

This film by Whitney Skauge recounts the story of the 1992 drag queen Joan Jett Blakk, who was the first openly queer write-in candidate for president. A preview was not available.

“Trade Center”

Adam Baran’s excellent, wistful short is about sexual hotspots in the pre-9/11 World Trade Center (WTC). Five men recount their joyful experiences having anonymous sex in the building’s public bathrooms and secluded stairwells. One man even describes getting dressed up to access the WTC’s 12th floor bathroom, which was “hotter” because everyone was in a suit. Baran deftly edits images from the Freedom Tower against the voiceovers to show how the space (and access) has changed over time. Moreover, comments about Giuliani cracking down after the onset of AIDS lend an air of poignancy to this terrific historical documentary.

RENDEZVOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA | Streaming March 4-14 through Film at Lincoln Center

“SXSW” | Streaming March 16-20

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