It can be read everywhere: queer cinema is on the rise. It’s quite hard to disprove that statement at first glance; there have been truly great films about queer individuals in the past years and they have garnered a level of attention that seemed almost impossible just two decades ago. But ‘queer’ can be a very dangerous word. While it eases the way to separate non-heteronormative experiences from heteronormative experiences, it also has the downside of being an umbrella term for a great amount of extremely distinct experiences, which can quickly blur their unique and autonomous nature. The term is already being criticized in larger discussions and even when not digging into those discussions, there is no denial that it has distorted the conversation around the rise of films that are inhabited and led by queer characters. These films only apply to a certain, more widely accepted line-up of queer experiences. While gay, bisexual and lesbian films have certainly managed to thrive in recent memory and offer more stories that don’t merely exist to please and educate straight audiences, there still is a dangerously high amount of cinema about other forms of sexual expression, that does exactly that and gets away with it, only because their filmmakers are also ‘queer.’ Case in point, the highly-irresponsible Girl, directed by a gay, cis-gender man. It’s a film which both fetishizes the trans body and wallows in exploitation of trans pain for affect, which didn’t hinder it from being celebrated by critics and rewarded with several festival prizes.
Obviously this doesn’t apply to every single one of these films. Cases for Tangerine have been made as a film that grapples with and respects the trans struggle, while being directed by a non-trans person that has merely done his research. There simply is a frequent amount of examples that reduce queer individuals to concepts, stemming from a lack of accuracy and nuance by filmmakers that are not a part of the represented group. These films are dangerous, because they distort other people’s experiences and create misconceptions and prejudice in the eyes of uneducated viewers. It’s not that the filmmakers don’t usually mean well, but they often simply don’t do enough to redeem this intention.
While the inter* community doesn’t have a lot of representation on-screen in general, rare exceptions such as XXY and Predestination display how right and wrong it can go in the hands of non-inter* filmmakers. So it’s a great pleasure that with Ponyboi, there’s finally a piece of intersex representation made by an intersex-man, about an intersex-man and it’s an even greater pleasure that it’s wonderful.
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’.
Tension has become a trademark in Marco Berger’s work. You’re aware going into one of his films that the will-they won’t-they suspense will drive the narrative. The spaces in his films brim with silence, allowing the restless expressions in his characters’ faces do the talking. The point is not to make it seem like words are irrelevant—on the contrary, it is when his characters come clean that you realize the power of just talking. It is fitting then that The Blonde One, Berger’s latest film, was conceived with a mute lead in mind. While at the end they were forced to scratch that idea, Gabriel, the titular blonde (Taekwondo’s Gaston Re), clings to quietness throughout the story, even being referred to as “the mute” by his friends.
We meet Gabriel as he’s moving in to his co-worker Juan’s (Alfonso Barón) flat so he can be close to his place of work. Juan looks infatuated with the man from the moment he arrives, glancing at him for a bit too long and standing a bit too close to him at every chance he gets. While Gabriel is apprehensive at first, as he has a girlfriend and a daughter living with his parents, he’s ultimately responsive to Juan’s insinuations. The sexual tension builds until the end of the first act when a proposal to go out and buy beer quickly escalates—Juan finally acts on his desires and Gabriel reciprocates leniently. The implication here might be that we’re observing the dawn of a new love, but as Juan kicks Gabriel out of his room after having sex, we learn that’s not the case.
Last year, there was one film that seemed to take up almost all of the space in my head. For all the wonderful movies that came in 2017, none occupied my thoughts or meant more to me than one in particular – this was Luca Guadagnino’s masterful Call Me By Your Name, a film that I have written hundreds of adoring words on over the past ten months, and which I hardly felt I could do justice to in my work. I am not here, however, to revisit Call Me By Your Name but, rather, to discuss the film that appears to have had the same effect on me this year. Though we may only be in September, I doubt that I will find another feature in the coming months that will impact me as much as Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Just as Guadagnino’s film gripped every part of me last year, so has Akhavan’s – her depiction of a young, gay woman’s battle with both herself and the cruelty of her environment is as heart-wrenching as it is witty, and feels to me as beautiful and as vital to queer cinema as Call Me By Your Name.
The Criterion collection is not the most inclusive of lists. The majority of films introduced into the canon belong to cisgender and heterosexual filmmakers. While the lack of representation reflects cinema as a whole, and Criterion tends to lean towards an era not known for acceptance, it’s still a disappointing fact. Regardless of this, there are a handful of gay filmmakers whose works have been given the Criterion seal of approval, a trusted sign of the contributions they have made, not only to the art of filmmaking, but to the gay cinematic community as a whole.
Mysterious Object at Noon (2000)
Weerasethakul, affectionally known by his fans as “Joe”, is an experimental filmmaker whose interest in the unconventional makes his feature-length debut, Mysterious Object at Noon, a must-watch from Criterion’s archive. Taking the concept of exquisite corpse (a surreal method by which art is assembled based on chance), Weerasethakul combines documentary filmmaking with art-house style, pushing the boundaries of cinema and successfully creating a patchwork story from various interviewees across Thailand.
Though Weerasethakul’s debut does not explicitly address sexuality, the theme is often explored across his work, alongside various subjects such as nature, Western perceptions of Asia, and dreams. His passion for looking beyond the expectations of the mainstream is undoubtedly influenced by his homosexuality. “For me, the word queer means anything’s possible,” Weerasethakul explained in an interview, allying himself immediately with the concept of queer cinema.