BFI Flare, Canada, Comedy, Cultural traditions, Documentary, Drama, Gay farmers, Greece, Helpline, India, Jeff Lee Petry, Karishma Dev Dube, LGBTQ+, Matt Houghton, Milan Halikowski, Nathan Drillot, Seung Yeob Lee, Sexuality, Short movies, South Korea, Yorgos Angelopoulos
FiveFilms4Freedom is part of the BFI Flare: London LGBTQ+ Film Festival currently running until 1 April 2018. These five shorts have been shown as part of the festival, and thanks to an intitiative developed by the British Council and the British Film Institute, have also been made available online during the course of the festival.
Devi (2017) / D: Karishma Dev Dube / 13m
aka Devi: Goddess
Cast: Aditi Vasudev, Priyanka Bose, Tanvi Azmi
Rating: 8/10 – Tara (Vasudev) is a troubled teen who challenges her mother’s sense of tradition and moral certitude at every turn, but takes a step too far when she turns her romantic attentions to Devi (Bose), the housemaid who has helped raise her from a child. Dube’s critique of unyielding Hindi cultural traditions and strict morality plays well until you realise that Tara’s actions are entirely selfish and devoid of any consideration of potential consequences – which then leads the viewer to consider if Tara is quite the sympathetic character she’s made out to be at the start. Dube shows that there will always be victims in these circumstances, and the class divide is sharply illustrated by the inevitable outcome of Tara’s decision to act on her impulses. By exploring not just the cultural divide, but the generational divide as well, Dube shows that Tara’s behaviour is too frivolous to be tolerated by the traditions she’s rebelling against, and that acceptance is still a very long way off indeed.
Handsome and Majestic (2016) / D: Jeff Lee Petry, Nathan Drillot / 12m
With: Milan Halikowski, Lynnell Halikowski, Mike Halikowski
Rating: 7/10 – Milan is a twelve year old transboy living in Canada who has suffered more than his fair share of abuse and violence in his young life, and who has been routinely let down by the teachers at his school. Having endured all this, and gone through a period of depression that saw him try to take his own life, Milan has found the strength to come out as transgender, and in doing so, he’s found a friend in another transboy living just a few streets away. There are few of us who can fully understand what it must be like to feel trapped in our own body, and not to look the way we believe we should. Handsome and Majestic goes some way to explaining what that must be like, but spends too much time illustrating it by having Milan looking at himself in mirrors, and with a sad, pensive expression. Contributions from his family offer (perhaps unintentionally) stark comparisons with Milan’s own struggle, but just seeing him playing with his new friends allows the movie to end on a positive note that didn’t seem to be on the cards at all. It’s a moving, humane documentary, and though it doesn’t delve too deeply into transgender issues, it’s still an informative and engaging examination of one young boy’s wish to be accepted for who he is.
Uninvited (2017) / D: Seung Yeob Lee / 20m
Cast: Sum Lee, Keonyeung Kim, Jinseung Moon
Rating: 7/10 – An impending, and largely unexpected visit from his mother (Kim), prompts still-in-the-closet Jungho (Lee) to get his partner, Jae-ik (Moon), to pack most of his belongings and hide out in a nearby coffee shop while she’s at the flat they live in. Despite his best efforts, though, Jungho’s mother discovers evidence that points to his having a flatmate at best, and a gay lover at worst. Ostensibly a comedy, Uninvited lacks the bite needed to make this as funny as it could be, and Jungho is such a moody complainer it’s amazing anyone, gay or straight, would take him on. Still, this is anchored by a surprisingly compassionate and thoughtful performance from Kim, who never lets on if her character is disappointed or ashamed or appalled by her son being gay, but instead translates passive acceptance into determined support. Like Devi and Goldfish, this is another movie where the main protagonist isn’t the person who’s gay or a lesbian, but the parent whose own cultural identity makes it difficult to accept unreservedly their child’s sexuality.
Goldfish (2017) / D: Yorgos Angelopoulos / 14m
Cast: Michael Ikonomou, Lissandros Kouroumbalis, Eva Angelopoulou
Rating: 7/10 – It’s Stratis’ (Kouroumbalis) seventh birthday, and all he wants is a pet fish. His father, Yorgos (Iknonomou), wants him to get a warrior fish, but Stratis settles for a goldfish. On their way home, Stratis reveals the goldfish is called Tom, after Tom Daley the British diver. Incensed at what he perceives as yet another example of his son’s effeminacy, Stratis’ father throws the goldfish in the river, causing Stratis to run away from home… While it’s a little too broad in its approach – Yorgos is the kind of unreconstructed Greek male that borders on cliché – and the message is rammed home a little too bluntly, nevertheless, Goldfish is an enjoyable examination of how some men feel threatened by the merest hint of homosexuality, and the often absurd reactions they display as a result. Not a movie about being gay, then, but about the unnecessary fear and paranoia that comes from prejudice about homosexuality, and the terrible emotions that take over when the source of that fear and paranoia – your own child – might never be seen again.
Landline (2017) / D: Matt Houghton / 12m
Cast: Jem Dobbs, Niamh Blackshaw, Oliver Devoti, Bradley Johnson
Rating: 9/10 – In 2010, Keith Ineson, a chaplain from Cheshire in the UK, set up a helpline for gay farmers, one that allowed them to voice their experiences, their worries, and their concerns. With the helpline still being the only one of its kind anywhere in the world, Landline uses original telephone recordings and visual reconstructions of the events being talked about to paint a powerful, and sometimes disturbing portrait of rural prejudice and intolerance. Director Matt Houghton doesn’t just focus on the negative though: one perfectly judged vignette has the camera tracking through the debris and chaos of what appears to have been a terrible bar fight, only for the recording to reveal that it was one man’s coming out party, and probably the best night of his life. From this it’s worth mentioning the excellent cinematography courtesy of James Blann, which makes this docu-drama visually striking and compelling in equal measure.