The human idea of identity is a delicate one, naturally susceptible to fragmentation, fluidity, and misunderstanding. Culture scholars have debated this phenomenon for decades, and JT Leroy engages these issues simply through the nature of its story; if there is a variation between how the outside world views us and how we view ourselves, which of these identities takes precedent? What, morally, do we owe people when we project certain images of ourselves—is it a lie to hide behind a mask, or can our true identity be found in the ways that we present to the outside world? Is our identity internal knowledge, external presentation, or a mix of the two? In JT Leroy, these questions are asked in earnest, but the film never comes to a conclusion, scratching only the surface of a much greater discussion on the queer experience of the self.
These are the words which first expose the true vulnerability of 74-year-old drag queen Jackie Collins (also known as Jack) in the independent British drama, Tucked. He is talking to his doctor, who has just informed him that he has weeks left to live. Hated by his daughter and plagued with regret for his past decisions, Jack has nothing but the dingy bar where he performs, and the love of a roaring audience—that is, until new queen Faith sweeps into his life complete with eight-inch killer heels. Young, stylish and non-binary, Faith represents a newer age of drag, but it is their shared exclusion from the world which bonds the two queens, and leads to a unique friendship that neither could have anticipated.
American society’s compulsive need to fit people into neatly labelled boxes is usually mirrored in cinematic convention. When categorising romances, we split them neatly down the middle, assigning various expectations depending on whether they are ‘gay’ or ‘straight’. Giant Little Ones attempts to defy these expectations by pursuing a worthy message of sexual fluidity, but fails to do justice to its complex themes.
The film begins like any American teen story, introducing the protagonist, Franky, as a seemingly carefree kid via shots of him cycling through his polished, middle class hometown. Franky, like any 16 year old, is interested in three things: his best friend (Ballas), his girlfriend (Priscilla), and his place on the school’s ultra-macho swim team. Early on, we witness his popularity as he saunters through the school, fist-bumping several other students. He appears to be a conventional heterosexual teenager, even accompanied by a lesbian sidekick, Mouse, whose sexuality is immediately established through a tasteless comment on Priscilla’s ‘rack’.
After the albeit-muted success of Damien Chazelle’s ‘First Man’, now seems to be an optimal time to revisit a documentary which strips the drama from humanity’s first steps on the moon. Filtering one of history’s most talked about events through a focused lens, For All Mankind leaves the conspiracy theories at the door to present 79 minutes of NASA footage and interviews – allowing its audience to partake in the simple joy of the achievement.
Director Al Reinert bookends the film with the only outside commentary featured in the whole documentary; President John F. Kennedy’s Address on the Nation’s Space Effort. The construction is otherwise simple: voiceovers from the astronauts accompany home videos from within the Apollo spacecraft, footage from the mission control centre and film captured from the surface of the moon itself.
Cinema does not need to be coherent to be understood. Some art is not made to be chronological, or easily understandable, or accessible to a wide audience. Equally, however, criticism has the right – or even the responsibility – to dismantle the layers of a film and peer at what’s underneath, so that we may debate the meaning which lofty imagery may convey. The problem with I Was at Home, But, is that this meaning never really appears, leaving nothing but frameless minimalism masquerading as a greater film.
Twenty-four year old Julie (Honor Swinton-Byrne) wants for nothing in life, bar artistic inspiration. As a film student, she avoids the starving artist stereotype by calling up her parents every time she needs supplies – “Mummy, I need two hundred pounds again!” – in order to continue treading water on multiple fruitless projects. Her airily considered ideas trace working class struggles that she will never experience, exemplifying the voyeurism of rich filmmakers for whom the dying towns beyond the Watford gap represent nothing but artistic potential. Through her character, Joanna Hogg has created the perfect representation of the precocious young woman, for whom opportunities will be created via wealth, rather than talent or work ethic. When the arrogant and manipulative Anthony (Tom Burke) comes swaggering into Julie’s life, however, she is soon forced to learn the heavy weight of adult responsibility, in the most painful way possible.
To watch this relationship develop is unpleasant to say the least. Each grotesque leer that Anthony throws in Julie’s direction is enough to make bile rise in the throat, and the feeling only worsens as the film continues to expand on his true nature. Hogg is careful never to romanticise the abuse that our heroine suffers, casting a largely negative light on his actions through an incredulous gaze: as Julie returns to Anthony again and again despite his behaviour, we despair for her, and collectively long for her to escape his clutches. It’s not an easy watch by any means, but Hogg’s refusal to counteract Anthony’s exploitation with any redeeming qualities thankfully precludes any kind of apologism.
To capture a lifetime of greatness in just two hours seems like an impossible task, but in ‘Varda by Agnes’, the French New Wave legend accomplishes this and more, producing a documentary which feels almost like an embrace from a wise relative. As she casts her eye back across six decades of her work, Varda recounts anecdotes from her past, accompanied by friends and colleagues, whilst delving into her fond outlook towards film as a medium. In this age of cynicism, 90-year-old Varda’s eternally bright acceptance of modernity feels like a breath of fresh air, and makes for a viewing experience which is truly magical for any film fan.
As an auteur, Varda is confident and passionate when discussing her work, outlining her motivations in an accessible and welcoming manner. The film traces her career with a rough chronology, beginning with her best-known Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962), moving through films such as La Pointe Courte (1954), Le Bonheur (1965) and Vagabond (1985), before changing tone to consider the artistic installations that she created in her later career. The completeness of this overlook amplifies just how far the filmmaker’s reach has travelled; from narrative film, to documentary, to modern art, there seems to be very little that she cannot perfect. Each piece is woven with Varda’s acute observational skills, driven by an intrinsic appreciation for humanity.