With close to 200 features, shorts, and docs on view at four venues, the Lesbian & Gay Festival has a lot on its plate. Although some of the narrative films are concerned with the familiar theme of sexual identity, this year there’s clearly an upsurge of romantic comedies, as is evident in both opening and closing night films— Rose Troche’s Bedrooms and Hallways and Jim Fall’s Trick. Five years ago, Troche made her debut with the scrappy, Chicago-set Go Fish; with Bedrooms she’s turned out a bouncy comedy of manners shot in London. Its lead character, Leo (an endearing Kevin McKidd), just wants to meet a nice bloke and settle down. Encouraged by friends to see more people, he joins a New Age men’s group run by a couple of zany gurus, and does find romance, for a while, with the Irishman of his dreams. Along the way, there’s a wildly funny sequence lampooning Jane Austen costume movies and a memorably flamboyant performance by Tom Hollander as our boy’s sexually adventurous roommate.
Another playful relationship flick, writer-director Stephane Giusti’s Why Not Me?, shot at picturesque locales near Barcelona, involves four fashionable characters— three lesbians and a gay guy— who work together at a hip publishing house. They’ve never fessed up to their families and decide to bring all their parents together for a weekend party at a country house in order to come out. Clever fun up to a point, Giusti’s film finally turns a tad laborious and cartoonish— Almodóvar lite. The cast is first-rate, with especially good work from veteran Marie-France Pisier as a loopy bourgeoise and rock idol Johnny Hallyday as a retired matador.
Coming out is a more painful affair in Yoshihisa Shigeno and Yujio Komiya’s Fatherless, a shattering doc about Masaya, a young man estranged from his provincial family; he spends anguished nights seeking paternal substitutes in Tokyo public toilets, then mutilates his body to assuage his guilt. Masaya returns to his native Nagano to settle scores, and after a painful reconciliation with his mother, looks up the father who had deserted them when he was a child. Before leaving his hometown, he asks permission from his father to hit him once— hard. Consent is given; he smacks his dad, whose only parting advice is: “You don’t have much of a punch. You need to become stronger.” This disturbing work was a student project, sponsored by the film school founded by Shohei Imamura. The fest is also presenting a cult classic from Japan: Yasuzo Masumura’s All Mixed Up/Manji (1964), one of the first Japanese films to deal with lesbianism. With this florid adaptation of Junichiro Tanizaki’s erotic novel, Masumura prefigured Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses.
Kutlug Ataman’s Lola and Bilidikid, the strongest new dramatic feature available for previewing, is set in the ghettoish underworld of gay Turkish youth in Berlin. Its main character, Murat, is a
German-born Turkish teenager whose growing awareness of his homosexuality has alienated him from his family,
headed by a tyrannical and violent older brother. This impeccably acted and directed variation on Rocco and His Brothers merits theatrical distribution.