The adoption of female stars as icons by gay men isn’t a new phenomenon. Many examples spring to mind, such as Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. But what’s the reason for their gay icon status? And why is this only bestowed on a select few? Why is Joan Crawford, like so many others, deemed a gay icon and why, in the AlterHéros “100 Best Things about Being Gay?” list, does she sit at No. 46 because gay men “viscerally understand” her?
Adolescence is an important time for all of us. It’s a rollercoaster of unexplainable emotions – emotions that often cannot be accurately captured in words. It’s the first time we feel attraction, discover sexuality, and explore romantic relationships. It’s a crossroads for all, but it can be especially painful for LGBTQ+ youth. While heterosexual and cisgender teenagers will see their own desires reflected in the rest of their community, their trans and same gender attracted counterparts can often experience the throes of adolescence in complete loneliness.
Much of French filmmaker Céline Sciamma’s work focuses on the unique conflicts of adolescent life. Her camera juxtaposes the joy of new maturity with a fear of the unknown, calmly recounting the stories of strikingly individual characters. Her work is best watched collectively, for maximum appreciation of her minimal style, but if you’re looking for somewhere to start, take a look at the summaries below.
If there’s one thing that Love, Simon succeeds at, its giving us something new in a genre that is characterized by the regurgitation of the same tropes and clichés. Needless to say, I am not a big fan of teen romcoms, so I walked into my advanced screening last Tuesday with cautious optimism. I was immediately surprised to see how packed the theater was with plenty of young faces and couples, and as soon as the movie started they cheered and filled the theater with so much delight and energy that can only be beaten by a crowd of a Star Wars movie on opening night. It was in that moment I knew that I was about to watch something very special for my community. Love, Simon is a heartfelt, positive, and inviting romp through the personal journey of a closeted gay teenager, and being that it is a mainstream studio film- that in itself is an honorable achievement.
Adapted by the 2015 young adult novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Love, Simon tells the story of a teenage boy dealing with the struggle of embracing his own sexual identity whilst also wanting to also fit in and be treated normally by his family, friends, and peers around him. It was directed by Greg Berlanti, the writer-producer of other teen-aimed movies and shows such as the D.C. network shows and was produced by the same people who brought you films like The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns. This is a good indicator of what kind of film to expect going in, but Love, Simon does offer some very substantial subversions of traditional romantic comedy fare, including a character that serves as a callout to the obnoxious white knight archetype you see in a lot of these films.
From its first moments, The Assassination Of Gianni Versace proudly declares what kind of a show that is going to be: a silent storm of destruction, a captivating journey of demise and a battlefield of identity and fear, in all honesty, without any second guesses about its purpose of existence on the land of television in 2018. After a title card quickly reads the date “July 15, 1997” and gives the location information of “Miami Beach, Florida”, the camera starts to follow two very opposite lives two very different men, as a familiar tune of classical music; Adagio in G Minor, as arranged by show composer Mac Quayle; plays on the background, creating a sense of connection between their stories — but even more importantly an atmosphere of tragedy. One of them is Gianni Versace, the renowned creative director of that world famous brand; and the other is Andrew Cunanan, the serial killer who has killed at least five people during a three-month period in mid-1997. Versace clothes himself in expensive silk and salutes his many servants, while Cunanan sits by the beach, a gun in his bag. The former’s daily routine of taking medicine overlaps with the latter’s screams into the ocean, and Gianni buys magazines while Andrew pukes into a public toilet, his eyes gazing on a single sentence written on the bathroom stall. Their geographical closeness plays into this too, as the viewers are met with how much can change in just minutes apart of each other.
(The following review includes spoilers)
This year’s line up for Istanbul FilmEkimi (October Of Film), organised by Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV), had many films with LGBT themes and characters, including Sebastián Leio’s A Fantastic Woman. The film tells the story of Marina, a transgender woman brought to screen by the impeccable performance of Daniela Vega, whose older boyfriend Orlando (Francisco Reyes) dies because of a aneurysm shorty after the film starts. After his death, we are taken on a journey of Marina dealing with getting treated as a suspect by authorities and as a shame by Orlando’s family. Marina can hardly find time to grieve her boyfriend when she is faced with accusations, insults and physical attacks by almost everyone for things she didn’t do or had no control over. The struggles, of course, come from people’s perception of who she is, based on her sexuality.
There is a scene in the film in which Marina is lying naked on the couch, with a mirror covering her genitals. The mirror catches Marina’s face, looking at the place where society’s judgement against her rests. The scene plays as a metaphor for the film, what lies – or doesn’t lie – between your legs is what you are in the eyes of others. The mirror not only reflects Marina’s face back to her, but in the eyes of society, what the mirror is covering reflects who she is. Our genitals determine who we are, how we are seen and perceived by the others, and in the case of Marina and thousands of trans people, when someone doesn’t fit into the norms of society, they are deserving of being treated inhumanely. People’s perception of Marina’s gender is what puts her in the category of murder suspect, when the treatment she deserves is the one of a grieving girlfriend.
“I don’t know what you are,” says Bruno, Orlando’s son, to Marina, who he kicks out of his father’s house. He then attacks her verbally and physically with his friends to show Marina her place in their eyes. Bruno’s mother and Orlando’s ex wife makes a similar statement: “I don’t know what I’m seeing,” and forbids Marina from coming to Orlando’s funeral. She then insults Marina when she attends. Their statements point to where their transphobia lies – not knowing. They cannot categorise Marina within their norms and, as the saying goes, what they don’t know they fear. Their fear expresses itself in confusion first and violence later when Marina refuses to go by their rules. In his Guardian review of the film Ryan Gilbey, points out how some of the characters physically resemble each other. Amongst these look-alike people, Marina continues to be different and, as happens in a beautifully shot scene, keeps fighting against the strong wind.
Despite the tragic experiences Marina goes through, the film gives it’s audience, and Marina, a much hoped for happy ending of sorts. She takes her revenge in her own way, by jumping on Orlando’s family’s car where they’re trapped under her strength. In the finale we see her as we first did through Orlando’s eyes, singing, but this time she isn’t singing in some bar. Instead she takes the centre of a big stage, singing a piece worthy of her talent.
Leio’s direction and framing is amazingly done. He shows Marina on the screen in a way that makes the character stand out and shine amongst other characters. Daniela Vega is absolutely phenomenal in her first big role. It’s a nuanced and powerful performance that deserves to be included in contention for every major award, including the Oscar, which would make her the first openly transgender actress to be nominated.
‘A Fantastic Woman’ will be released in the US on the 2nd of February 2018, and in the UK on the 2nd of March 2018. Tweet me your thoughts at @muchadocinema or @marioncotilards, or comment below!