Queer Film Returns to Lincoln Center

Jesse Metzger in “I Want Your Love.”

This year’s smorgasbord of new queer cinema from around the world, NewFest, features a superb collection of 14 features, four documentaries, and a host of shorts over five days. Gay City News had the opportunity to focus on ten of them — most, though not all, of them big winners.

The festival opens with the outstanding character study “Four” (Jul. 27, 7 p.m.), which dovetails the stories of two couples who meet up for sex on the same Fourth of July. June (Emory Cohen) is a shy, gay teen who arranges a hook-up over the Internet with Joe (Wendell Pierce from “The Wire”), a gregarious married man. The small talk between these strangers — who go to a movie before retiring to a hotel room for sex — deftly captures their awkwardness and strained intimacy. Joe tries to coax the visibly uncomfortable June to relax, but their encounter gets increasingly tenser.

Meanwhile, Abigayle (Aja Naomi King) reluctantly agrees to meet Dexter (E.J. Bonilla) and allows him to smooth-talk her.

“Four,” directed by Joshua Sanchez, boasts a quartet of brilliant performances — with Pierce a particular standout — and a seductive rhythm that will rivet viewers as the characters come to terms with themselves and each other.

The closing night feature, Marialy Rivas’ “Young & Wild” (Jul. 31, 8:30 p.m.), is another highlight. This funny and naughty Chilean drama concerns a horny 17-year-old girl with ultra-religious parents secretly blogging about her sexual fantasies. Told in a series of chapters (titled “gospels”), the film has terrific scenes of Daniela exploring her bisexuality. Her fooling around with a female co-worker is erotic, but an explicit scene with her boyfriend — who sports an impressive erection — will set tongues wagging. Not since “Y Tu Mama También” has there been such a perceptive and stylish Latin American film about teenage sexuality.

Erections — and plenty of them — are also featured prominently in the compelling hardcore mumblecore entry, “I Want Your Love” (Jul. 30, 9:30 p.m.). The film centers on the parting glances Jesse (Jesse Metzger) casts on San Francisco on the eve of his move to Ohio. Anxious about leaving, he has despairingly empty sex with a pick-up and visits his ex, Ben (Ben Jasper), to say goodbye. When his best friend Wayne (Wayne Bumb) throws a party for him, Jesse hides out downstairs in his neighbor’s place.

Jesse’s discomfort in his own skin is palpable. A scene of him alone, waiting for his neighbor, is quietly powerful. In stark contrast, viewers will be stimulated by numerous and extended explicit and real sex scenes involving several couples. The cast’s average-looking guys give bold, brazen performances. While writer and director Travis Mathews’ film meanders a bit in search of its focus, “I Want Your Love” still manages to be both powerful and poignant.

Another low-key American feature — this one without any sex — is the sly comedy “My Best Day” (Jul. 28, 4:15 p.m.). The interlocking stories in this modest feature involve folks with identity issues searching for something. Karen (Rachel Style) is trying to track down her father, who moved away — possibly to the very next small town over from where she lives. Ray (Robert Salerno), a scrawny kid, hopes to escape from the bullies who threaten him and to score a date with Kathy (Haley Murphy). And gay Eugene (Harris Doran) is on a quest for “meatless meat.”

These characters — along with Neil (Raúl Castillo), a hunky Latino, a compulsive gambler named Stacey (Jo Armeniox), and Meagan (Ashlie Atkinson), a lesbian torn between two girlfriends — all discover surprises as “My Best Day” unfolds.

Viewers will be won over by this quirky little indie if they can develop an ear for its offbeat rhythms. Writer and director Erin Greenwell displays an eye for both striking compositions and lovely details, such as a gag involving Meagan calling her girlfriend at work.

Haley Joel Osment and Ashley Rickards in “Sassy Pants.”

In the American comedy “Sassy Pants” (Jul. 31, 3:30 p.m.), Bethany (Ashley Rickards) is a homeschooled teen who has a keen fashion sense but little else going for her. Her overbearing mom June (Anna Gunn) has stifled her social life and creativity, obviously compensating for her own mistakes. When Bethany finally runs off to her gay dad Dale’s (Diedrich Bader) home, she starts to find herself.

Most of the sass — and laughs — in “Sassy Pants” are provided by Bethany’s feisty grandma (Jenny O’Hara) and Dale’s much younger boyfriend, Chip (Haley Joel Osment). The film plays broadly with white trash stereotypes and clichés, but the film’s messages about independence and self-worth come through.

In a recent phone interview, Osment talked about playing queer.

“I didn’t want to make Chip a caricature or have fun at his expense,” he said. “He’s a selfish person. The humor doesn’t come from his orientation, but his self-absorption.”

Osment also described how he developed Chip’s unique look.

“We kept adding layers from the first day I went into the makeup trailer,” he explained. “The lip ring came in a moment of inspiration. The haircut was a sweep forward and a peacock in the back. Coley [Sohn, the writer and director] gave a clear picture of him in the script — the boots, the hot pants, and that tattoo. There are certainly talismanic qualities when you put boots on or the lip ring and/ or nail polish. The walk and voice came naturally.”

“Sassy Pants” is all about letting the characters’ freak flags fly, and Osment chuckled when asked what he drew from his own life for the role.

“Sassy about me?,” he exclaimed. “Being an actor gives me plenty of opportunity to be sassy on film.”

The failed career of a 1970s glam rocker is chronicled in “Jobriath A.D.”

Another distinctive character to look out for at NewFest is Jobriath, the 1970s glam rocker. “Jobriath A.D.” (Jul. 28, 10:30 p.m.) is an absolutely spellbinding documentary that unearths the amazing, strange-but-true story of a super rock superstar — who never became a star. A talented, unique singer and incredibly accomplished pianist, Jobriath performed in the musical “Hair” before he created his flamboyant stage persona that one observer said “out queen-ed Queen.”

While similarly androgynous David Bowie may have been a straight man performing femme, Jobriath dubbed himself a “true fairy” — and perhaps committed career suicide by outing himself. “Jobriath A.D.,” however, suggests the musician’s epic fall may have been orchestrated by his promoter Jerry Brandt’s exploitation of him. Wherever the ultimate truth lies, the stories behind Jobriath’s peculiar family life and his post-rock star career are full of fascinating twists and turns. Featuring incredible performance footage, smart commentaries from queer musicians Stephin Merritt and Jake Shears, as well as contributions from other showbiz names — including Ann Magnuson, Dennis Christopher, and Joey Arias — this inventive film is a remarkable story of fame, failure, and reinvention.

In a recent phone interview, the film’s writer and director, Kieran Turner, considered the question of whether Jobriath and Brandt played up the performer’s in-your-face sexuality as a gimmick in an era when a more traditional masculinity still held overwhelming sway.

“The biggest surprise to me was why was Jobriath not so accepted?,” Turner said. “Four years post-Stonewall, it seemed to me that New York City was open and accepting — out, loud, and proud. I had no idea that this caste system in the gay community existed. That the gay community was terrified of Jobriath because they were afraid that everyone thought this sissy boy who wore make-up [represented] the gay community. Jerry saw the androgynous trappings of David Bowie, Lou Reed, and the New York Dolls and thought everyone must be gay. He thought, ‘I’m going to launch the true fairy of rock and roll and take it one step further and surf this one in.’ If he had his finger on the pulse of what was going on, he would have realized what a mistake that was.”

“Jobriath A.D.” is an extraordinary tale from a bygone era not really so long ago.

One disappointing NewFest offering is Campbell X’s British import “Stud Life” (Jul. 28, 2 p.m.), featuring a black butch J.J. (T’Nia Miller) and her gay male best friend Seb (Kyle Treslove). Strictly amateur hour, this serio-comedy depicts jaded wedding photographer J.J.’s romance with Elle (Robyn Kerr). Seb thinks Elle is bad news, and when J.J. discovers something unsavory about Elle, the women’s relationship takes a turn for the worse.

There are issues worth exploring here — J.J. being torn between her best friend and her new girlfriend and J.J. and Seb getting queer-bashed — but “Stud Life” never develops the depth to engage viewers in the characters or their problems. A small dose of charm is not enough to save this low-budget effort.

A more compelling heartfelt film featuring lesbian characters is the glossy and soapy Swedish entry “Kiss Me” (Jul. 29, 2 p.m.). As the film opens, the headstrong Mia (Ruth Vega Fernandez) has accepted Tim’s (Joakim Nätterqvist) proposal. However, when Mia unexpectedly finds herself falling in love with Frida (Liv Mjönes), the daughter of her father Lasse’s (Krister Henriksson) fiancé Elisabeth (Lena Endre), the wedding plans begin to derail. Frida, viewers soon learn, is hiding a secret of her own.

“Kiss Me” beautifully captures the rush of Mia and Frida’s affair, and there are many intimate scenes showcasing the lovers together. But Mia’s desire to keep their relationship secret is impossible — especially when Frida confides in her mother. The scenes when Mia acknowledges the truth about her sexuality and Elisabeth confronts Lasse about their daughters’ lesbianism deliver the film’s best moments. Though “Kiss Me” stumbles on clichés in its last reel — which features a race-to-the-airport scene — the performances by the two attractive leads are captivating.

Another film about characters with passionate crushes, Bavo Defurne’s “North Sea Texas” (Jul. 29, 11:30 a.m.) out of Belgium, is more uneven. As a young boy, lonely Pim (Jelle Florizoone) dresses up in his mother’s tiara and lipstick. At 15, he becomes attracted to his handsome older neighbor Gino (Mathias Vergels), and they have erotic sleepovers. He is shattered when Gino finds a girlfriend, and the heartache is repeated when he falls for Zoltan (Thomas Coumans), his mother’s border. This stylized film captures the awkward moments that come with the earliest stirrings of same-sex desire, but its lyrical approach keeps audiences at a distance except during the most emotional moments.

Ohad Knoller and Oz Zehavi in “Yossi.”

Finally, NewFest offers New Yorkers another chance to meet an old friend from the queer Israeli classic “Yossi and Jagger.” When “Yossi” (Jun. 30, 7:30 p.m., screening at JCC Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th St.; jccmanhattan.org) premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, writer and director Eytan Fox and star Ohad Knoller discussed revisiting the character of Yossi.

“I wanted to save Yossi, and deal with stuff he and I have to deal with,” Fox explained. “We left him in such a terrible place in the former film.”

Knoller approached the sequel with more trepidation.

“I was scared to touch the same character again,” he said. “I love the way ‘Yossi and Jagger’ ended. When you are doing a sequel, you are answering the questions that people who see the film have — you are ruining something. What was important for Eytan and I in doing this film was to justify doing a second film.”

Picking up ten years after the first film, the bereft Yossi is now a heart specialist — a heavy-handed metaphor if there ever was one — who jerks off to porn, eats bad take-out, and uses old photos of himself to pick up guys on the net. When Jagger’s mother comes in for a check-up, they spend time together afterward and confront the emotional baggage left unresolved in the original in perhaps the most moving scene from any film this year.

Unfortunately, this moment happens at the midpoint of “Yossi”; what follows is a letdown. The film’s second half tracks the Yossi’s redemption as he finally moves on from his survivor’s guilt over losing Jagger. The relationship he begins with Tom (Oz Zehavi), a younger soldier, is never fully believable. What Tom sees in this sad, older, and slightly overweight guy who reads “Death in Venice,” listens to “old” music, and doesn’t like to be touched remains a mystery.

Still, Knoller gives an astonishing performance in reprising the role of Yossi, particularly during quiet, introspective moments that speak volumes.

NEWFEST: New York’s LGBT Film Festival | Film Society of Lincoln Center | Walter Reade Theater | 165 W. 65th St. | Jul. 27-31 | $12; $50 for opening, closing nights with parties at Filmlinc.com

 

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