NewFest 2017 Feature Length Dramas:
After Louie – God’s Own Country – Against the Law – My Son is Gay – Discreet – The City of the Future – Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
God’s Own Country
Last year I saw only feature length dramas at the NewFest LGBT film festival, 13 specifically, while including in my blog posts two more LGBT themed instant classics (“Moonlight” and “The Handmaiden”) then concurrently playing in regular theaters. 15 movies. Only feature length narrative dramas. That’s usually what I gravitate towards at the festival. So I surprised myself when this year’s personal NewFest itinerary ended up with six short film compilation screenings plus several documentaries and a panel discussion, leaving “merely” five screenings for narrative features. Luckily two films I didn’t find time for in the festival (“God’s Own Country” and “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women”) are now playing in theaters. I quickly caught up with them this past weekend and can add them to this look at lucky seven queerific NewFest screen gems.
So although too many of this year’s NewFest feature length dramas are missing from this round-up, I still provide a diverse and potent selection of the high profile and the unheralded, American and foreign. Taking us from New York to Texas to the UK, India and Brazil. From the 1920s to the 1950s to today. From ecstasy to violence, anger to love, repression to redemption.
The NewFest 2017 New York Centerpiece screening was After Louie, a cinematic gift to all who feel it’s about time Alan Cumming, ubiquitous on stage, TV and film that he is, finally is given the central sole lead role in a movie (if it has happened before, I am unaware of it; surely it should happen more often). And he is very good as Sam, an artist at the crossroads, a veteran of the early AIDS years and ACT UP dealing with survivor’s guilt, whose psychological cages are rattled by a tricky relationship with a younger gay man, Braeden (Zachary Booth from “Keep the Lights On”). Director Vincent Gagliostro (“How to Survive a Plague”) co-wrote the richly layered screenplay with Anthony Johnston (who also plays Braeden’s lover); many themes and contentious issues engaging and dividing older and younger generations of gay men, as well as the yawning absence of a generation of men erased by AIDS, are smartly woven into an entertaining and provocative narrative.
Men in bath tubs – or a curious bit of synergy in current gay themed movie publicity shots 😉
Incisive supporting roles for ally Sarita Choudhury, veteran out actors like Wilson Cruz and Patrick Breen, and a trio of Queer Icons, Everett Quinton, David Drake and Justin Vivian Bond, enrich the ensemble and storytelling. But if nothing else, as Bond quipped during the Q & A, “After Louie” should be famous for giving us the future meme of Alan Cumming telling Justin Vivian Bond to “choke to death on a bag of dicks”. Or was it bag of cocks? Just one more reason (out of many) to see “After Louie” again. This film deserves to make a big cinematic splash when it is released next year.
Already having made a splash at Sundance, where it won the World Cinema Directing Award, and over many weeks in the U.K. box office, God’s Own Country is starting off strongly in limited release stateside. It also just received 11 BIFA – British Independent Film Award – nominations, incl. for picture, director and both lead actors . It might be a bit glib if understandable to refer to this love story between young Yorkshire farmer Johnny (Josh O’Connor) and Rumanian migrant Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) as Northern England’s answer to “Brokeback Mountain”. Except the expected societal obstacles to homosexuality turn out not to be the problem and instead Johnny’s own emotional barriers and arrested maturity are the main antagonists to love. Writer/director Francis Lee was able to shoot the film’s stark yet meticulous scenes in chronological order, adding greatly to a sense of realism and subtle dramatic shifts. The lead actors each both lived and worked on farms for a month before filming commenced, leading to a movie that captures farm life and animal husbandry with startling grittiness and brutal beauty, an aesthetic that also informs the depiction of the two men’s sexual and emotional relationship. Both leads play their roles excellently. (Is it shallow of me to add that Alec Secareanu is absolutely dreamy?)
On a side note, as much as “God’s Own Country” really is its own starkly beautiful movie, I can’t help but detect one or two small, perhaps unwitting, loving nods to “Brokeback Mountain”, including a scene where Johnny assiduously avoids glancing over at Gheorghe when he washes himself naked, framed almost exactly like a similar scene between Gyllenhaal and Ledger; plus there’s the mournful fetishizing of a missed partner’s article of clothing, though here it is a sweater instead of a shirt. (Don’t let that last sentence steer you wrong though; “God’s Own Country”, unlike “Brokeback Mountain”, is not a tragedy.) And on a really silly side note: Professor Quirrell and Madam Pomfrey from Hogwarts happen to play Johnny’s father and grandmother respectively. (And that’s what makes me a blogger, an enthusiast, and not a critic. Really don’t want to be mistaken for a critic…)
Based on box office receipts in the USA sadly only a mere 1/3 of 1% of the the audience that flocked to the wonderful “Wonder Woman” have turned up to check out the marvelous Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, the true story of a man, his wife, the lie detector machine they invented, the female student they bedded, bonded and everything but officially wedded, and how all this ecstatic entanglement inspired that most famous female cartoon superhero: Wonder Woman. I have a sneaking suspicion this film will find many eventual devotees on dvd, as the whole history is just too incredibly delicious, the performers too appealing, and the movie itself just too damn good. It is too easy to highlight apparently sensational details: Bisexuality! Threesomes! Polyamory! Bondage and Dominance! Sexual Role Play! Comic Book Superheroes! Feminism! Non-traditional Family Structures! Love! Devotion! (O.K. maybe the last four are less sensationalistic but they’re important too.) But more pertinent to point out is how without slick sensationalism but rather with what intelligent sensuality, compassion, and feeling director/writer Angela Robinson dramatizes her themes and the lives of William and Elizabeth Marston and Olivia Byrne. And as played by Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote… well, boy, to paraphrase Professor Marston’s own theories on emotions, they dominate the screen, induce great enjoyment in the viewer, inviting submission to all three and total compliance with the movie’s enthralling points of view.