Love stories, politics, yodeling, and more: Frameline 34 short takes

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (James Kent, UK, 2010) A BBC production set in the northern English countryside of the early 19th century, James Kent’s The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister depicts the amatory adventures of a gentlewoman landowner (Maxine Peake) in search of a “female companion” with whom to live out her days. The narrative is somewhat breathless, the seductions equally so and yet a bit anemic, and our strong-willed, fearless heroine is admirable without being entirely engaging. Still, besides tapping into the Jane Austen slash fiction demographic, this tale of pre-Victorian bodice ripping and skirt lifting among the female gentry offers the considerable thrill of being adapted from the actual secret diaries of the titular Miss Lister, decoded by a biographer 150 years after her death. A documentary in the festival, Matthew Hill’s The Real Anne Lister, offers a complementary version of her story. Thurs/17, 7 p.m., Castro. (Lynn Rapoport)

I Killed My Mother (Xavier Dolan, Canada, 2009) The title I Killed My Mother suggests a different kind of movie from what it actually is. But that’s OK: though not a crime thriller, the film is still a tightly wound, high stakes drama. Writer-director Xavier Dolan stars as Hubert, the angsty son of the titular mother. When you consider that Dolan’s script is autobiographical — and that he was only 20 when the film was made — his performance becomes all the more impressive. As the mother, Chantale, Anne Dorval is also a force to be reckoned with. Despite its presence as part of a queer film festival, I Killed My Mother is not all that “gay” in the traditional “gay movie” sense. Hubert’s relationship with Antonin (François Arnaud) is secondary — what’s important is how his refusal to share it with his mother affects her. That helps make the movie a refreshing alternative to many more mainstream offerings. Sat/19, 6:45 p.m., Castro. (Louis Peitzman)

The Owls (Cheryl Dunye, USA, 2010) Expectations are high for The Owls: writer-director Cheryl Dunye again collaborates with Guinevere Turner, V.S. Brodie, and other notable queer performers — you can’t not think of classics like Go Fish (1994) and The Watermelon Woman (1996). The Owls isn’t quite at that level, but it’s a fairly thought-provoking piece. Four middle-aged lesbians — played by Dunye, Turner, Brodie, and Lisa Gornick — accidentally kill a younger lesbian and try to cover up the murder. Their ages are central: the fear of getting older is a major thematic concern. So, too, ideas of gender identity, with the introduction of androgynous Skye (Skyler Cooper). But Dunye breaks the fourth wall, staging her film as a pseudo-mockumentary with both the characters and the actors offering commentary. At just over an hour, The Owls can’t sustain all the back-and-forth, and too many intriguing ideas are left unfinished. Fri/18, 7 p.m., Castro. (Peitzman)

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls (Leanne Pooley, New Zealand, 2009) It’s hard to name an American equivalent of New Zealand’s Topp Twins — a folk-singing, comedy-slinging, cross-dressing duo who’re the biggest Kiwi stars you’ve never heard of (but may be just as beloved as, say, Peter Jackson in their homeland). Recent inductees in the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame, the fiftysomething Jools and Lynda, both lesbians, sing country-tinged tunes that slide easily from broad and goofy (with an array of costumed personas) to extremely political, sounding off on LGBT and Maori rights, among other topics. Even if you’re not a fan of their musical style, it’s undeniable that their identical voices make for some stirring harmonies, and their optimism, even when a serious illness strikes, is inspiring. This doc — which combines interviews, home movies, and performance footage — will surely earn them scores of new stateside fans. Sun/20, 3:45 p.m., Castro. (Cheryl Eddy)

Out of the Blue (Alain Tasma, France, 2007) Wearily preparing for a dinner party on a day they’ve both forgotten is their anniversary, Marion (Mireille Perrier) suddenly realizes her 22-year-marriage to Paul (Robin Renucci) is dead. Her decision to end it, however, comes as an infuriating surprise to him and a destabilizing one to their teenage daughter Justine (Chloé Coulloud). They all get quite a surprise when Marion’s new friendship with younger, flamenco-dancing female antiques dealer Claude (Rachida Brakni) turns into something more. This latest in a long line of very good French made-for-TV dramas at Frameline typically handles its complex load of familial and sexual issues with grace and intelligence, if with an occasional excess of high dramatics. Sun/20, 9:30 p.m., Roxie. (Dennis Harvey)

The Consul of Sodom (Sigfrid Monleón, Spain, 2009) Late Spanish poet Jaime Gil de Biedma was many things: an intellectual, aesthete, hedonist, bohemian, discotheque owner, Communist sympathizer (though the Party wouldn’t have him), publisher, more-or-less out gay man, and an occasional lover of flamboyant women like Bel (played by pop singer Bimba Bose). Sheltered by wealth and privilege — to the extent possible in Franco’s Spain — he dabbled in ghetto flesh, sometimes on trips abroad for his family’s tobacco family. As portrayed by actor Jordi Mollá and director Sigfrid Monleon, he’s a mixture of arrogance,
compassion, self-destruction, and shark-like perpetual motion. Seldom missing a chance to drop some full-frontal nudity or a kitschy period song (from 1950s to 80s), this biographical drama — which has been decried as overly sensationalized by some Spanish cultural watchdogs, including a few of the subject’s surviving cronies — is a shamelessly flamboyant and entertaining portrait of a life lived large. Sun/20, 9:30 p.m., Castro. (Harvey)

Dzi Croquettes (Tatiana Issa and Raphael Alvarez, Brazil, 2009) Whatever magic fairy dust fuelled the Cockettes’ glitter-covered hippy drag must’ve drifted down south to Brazil to inspire the similarly named Dzi Croquettes. Of course, that’s not the real origin of the equally colorful cabaret troupe, whose fantastic story is told in Raphael Alvarez and Tatiana Issa’s riveting and rollicking documentary. Blending Ziegfeld Follies-style glamour with agitprop, Dzi Croquettes were more polished and more overtly political than their North American sisters; something which frequently landed the group in hot water with José Sarney’s dictatorship. Finding an unlikely and unexpected advocate in Liza Minnelli, Dzi Croquettes fled their homeland in the mid 70s, becoming the unexpected toast of Europe until AIDS began to take its toll. Filled with delightful archival footage and insightful interviews with alumni, Dzi Croquettes is a joyful affirmation of the power of art (and a feathered boa or two) to effect positive change. Mon/21, 11 a.m., Castro. (Matt Sussman)

Brotherhood (Nicolo Donato, Denmark, 2009) It’s hard to feel much sympathy for neo-Nazis. Perhaps that goes without saying, but Danish film Brotherhood asks us to do just that: Lars (Thure Lindhardt) and Jimmy (David Dencik) meet in the service of Hitler’s ideals, then find themselves drawn to each other. As they struggle to come to terms with their attraction, we’re supposed to care. Fat chance. Although Lars initially disproves of the neo-Nazis, he becomes quickly (read: unrealistically) interested in their cause. Soon, he’s writing his own anti-Pakistani propaganda. And Jimmy is devoted to the movement from the get-go, even condemning “faggots” despite his own same-sex attraction. Maybe I’d feel differently if either Lars showed any sign of internal conflict. Neither displays a sense of regret over being a racist, xenophobic, anti-semitic asshole. They’re down with the gay but only in relation to each other. Who gives a crap if these two make it work? Mon/21, 9:30 p.m., Castro. (Peitzman)

Plan B (Marco Berger, Argentina, 2009) It’s the oldest story in the book: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy seduces girl’s new boyfriend. OK, maybe not, but the set-up isn’t entirely unheard of either. It’s a credit to Plan B’s sharp aesthetic and strong performances that it still feels fresh. The Argentinean export stars Manuel Vignau as Bruno. When his girlfriend Laura (Mercedes Quinteros) breaks up with him, he decides to get revenge by making his move on Laura’s supposedly bisexual boyfriend Pablo (Lucas Ferraro). If you’ve seen any romantic comedy ever, you know that what begins as a game for Bruno becomes true love. But Plan B doesn’t go the comedy route, and instead offers a compelling, somewhat subtle drama. The love affair is slow but well-paced, so that the inevitable conclusion feels earned and completely satisfying. Mon/21, 9:30 p.m., Elmwood; June 24, 6:30 p.m., Victoria. (Peitzman)

Undertow (Javier Fuentes-León, Peru, 2009) This sexy and delicate drama is a bisexual triangle that continues beyond the grave. In a Peruvian coastal hamlet, fisherman Miguel (Cristian Mercado) loves his pregnant wife and fellow church leader Mariela (Tatiana Astengo). But he’s also having a secret, passionate affair with Santiago (Manolo Cardona), an urbanite who moved there to paint the land- and seascapes, and who chafes at the restrictions Miguel places on their relationship. At a certain point one character dies, and writer-director Javier Fuentes-León seamlessly handles Undertow’s transition to magical realism. The leisurely story doesn’t go where one expects, ending on a perfect grace note of bittersweet acceptance. Tues/22, 7 p.m., Castro. (Harvey)

Children of God (Kareem J. Mortimer, Bahamas, 2009) Likely the first gay-themed film not just shot in but produced by the Bahamas, Kareem J. Mortimer’s first feature is an occasionally heavy-handed but consistently engrossing mix of romance, religion, and homophobia. Johnny (Johnny Ferro) is a withdrawn Nassau art student who’s a target of gay taunts and bashers. A teacher who says his paintings lack emotion gives him keys to her cottage on the “ultimate landscape” of isle Eleuthera, where he promptly meets the aggressively friendly and inquisitive Romeo (Stephen Tyrone Williams). Also headed here is Lena (Margaret Laurena Kemp), righteous wife of pastor Ralph (Ralph Ford), with whom she shares a strong penchant to publicly denounce the moral threat of “the gays.” She has, however, just left her husband after he furiously denied giving her VD — to confess might reveal that he is, in fact, playing around on the downlow. That’s just the starting point for a complicated, perhaps over-ambitious but sometimes powerfully sensual and poignant film that is definitely amongst this year’s Frameline highlights. June 23, 9:30 p.m., Castro. (Harvey)

Spring Fever (Lou Ye, China, 2009) Shot surreptitiously and chock full of gay sex, Chinese director Lou Ye’s latest film isn’t likely to earn him any additional slack from Chinese government censors (his 2006 film, Summer Palace, got him banned from filmmaking for five years after he failed to preview it before it screened at Cannes). Using hand-held cameras, public settings, and natural lighting, Lou follows Wang Ping (Wu Wei), who’s been having a passionate, messy affair with travel agent Jiang Cheng (Qin Hao). Things get more complicated when the snoop Wang’s wife hires to follow her closeted husband winds up pursuing the two men in ways he never imagined. What Spring Fever lacks in continuity and psychological depth, it makes up for with sexual candor and a genuine frisson of risk, given the secretive conditions under which it was made. That thrill doesn’t quite last through the film’s duration, but as a document of defiance Spring Fever is commendable. June 24, 9:30 p.m., Castro. (Sussman)

The String (Medhi Ben Attia, France/Belgium, 2010) The cross-cultural coming out drama is a perennial at LGBT film festivals, but Medhi Ben Attia’s assured debut feature presents a familiar tale in new surroundings with flashes of charm. Handsome architect Malik (Antonin Stahly) returns to his posh, Tunisian homestead from France to lay his father to rest, fully intent on coming out to his overly doting, oblivious mother (former Fellini muse Claudia Cardinale). But when he falls for hunky house-boy Bilal (Salim Kechiouche), he finds that the truth has a way of outing itself. Although Attia unspools his film’s titular metaphor rather quickly (having hid his true feelings for so long, Malik feels continuously “tied-up” by a piece of imaginary string), he deserves credit for his nuanced portrayal of gay life in the Maghreb and his inspired casting of Cardinale, who can’t help but radiate an Auntie Mame-ish joie de vivre even when the script calls for “disappointed” over “daffy.” June 25, 7 p.m., Victoria. (Sussman)

Hideaway (Francois Ozon, France, 2009) The very French insouciance with which Francois Ozon usually treats his characters and narratives sometimes makes a film seem perilously slight — yet more often than not he manages to pull off a surprising climactic resonance. Which is the case with this latest. When they both overdose on heroin, Mousse (Isabelle Carré) wakes up pregnant in the hospital — but her boyfriend doesn’t wake at all. Declining his mother’s offer to pay for an abortion, she retreats to a friend’s empty seaside chateau. There she gets an unexpected visitor in Raul (Louis-Ronan Choisy), her late lover’s surviving sibling. Their prickly interplay (and his affair with a local handyman) sometimes seems to be drifting pleasantly nowhere in particular — yet it does end up somewhere, rather poignantly. June 25, 9:30 p.m., Castro. (Harvey)

From Beginning to End (Aluízio Abranches, Brazil/Argentina/Spain, 2009) Just about the definition of upscale gay male softcore, this “big brother” fantasy has nothing to do with George Orwell. Its protagonists are inseparable Brazilian half-brothers (played as adults by Joao Gabriel Vasconcellos and Rafael Cardoso) whose bond caves in to the physical once parental boundaries are removed by mom’s death. This over-the-top kinship is tested when the younger bro is invited to train as a swimmer in the Olympics … in Russia. Near-plotless and borderline senseless, this shamelessly sexy tale from The Three Marias (2002) director Aluízio Abranches succeeds as a guilty pleasure on the sheer, convincing ardor he and his actors bring to their “taboo” love story. June 26, 6 p.m., Castro. (Harvey)

Howl (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, USA, 2010) Beatniks get the Mad Men treatment — with a cast that includes that AMC hit’s Jon Hamm, playing the lawyer who defended the publisher of Allen Ginsberg’s quintessential rebel yell, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, against obscenity charges in San Francisco’s most celebrated trial of the 1950s. It’s fun to see that anally nostalgic aesthetic translated to ramshackle North Beach apartments and sophomoric, filthy-mouthed literary heroes. Not so much fun: the overly literal animation chosen by the directors (famed documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman). Yes, parts of “Howl,” the poem, are animated — unfortunately in a style that calls to mind bad 1980s French Canadian pseudo-spiritual arthouse schlock. Still, this brief slice of beats is juicy, confined to the trial and the tale of Ginsberg’s poetic and sexual awakening. James Franco is wonderful as the young, self-obsessed, epically needy yet still irresistible crank. It was the first time I found myself wishing to see more of Ginsberg naked. June 27, 7:30 p.m., Castro. (Marke B.)

Frameline34: San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival
June 17-27, most shows $8-15
Castro, 429 Castro, SF; Roxie, 3117 16th St, SF; Victoria, 2961 16th St, SF; Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, 2966 College, Berk