D and I have been going to rather a lot of films lately.
So far we have been to see:
Israel, 2006, 100 min
Director: Eytan Fox
Singapore, 2006, 77min
Director: Kan Lume / Loo Zihan
KISS THE BRIDE
USA. 2007. 97 min
Director: C Jay Cox
The Man of My Life (L’Homme de sa vie)
France, 2006, 114 min
Director: Zabou Breitman
BEFORE I FORGET (Avant Que J’oublie)
France, 2007, 108 mins
Director: Jacques Nolot
HATSU KOI (First Love)
Japan, 2007, 97 min
Director: Imaizumi Koichi
Spain, 2007, 109mins
Director: Eusebio Pastrana
A Jihad For Love
US / UK / France / Germany / Australia, 2007, 81 min
Director: Parvez Sharma
SATURNO CONTRO (Saturn In Opposition)
Italy, 2007, 110 mins
Director Ferzan Ozpetek
EAST SIDE STORY
USA, 2006, 88 min
Director: Carlos Portugal
We still have a few more to go.
There is something of a gender-divide in the festival: lesbian films are being shown at the Dendy in Newtown and gay ones at the Academy Twin, in Paddington. So far, I confess, we have only been to Paddington. Sometimes the organizers seem to have misjudged things: Spinnin’ was a film which would have appealed to lesbians as well – it comes out of a more coalitionist social environment than that which prevails in Sydney. Sometimes I wonder if the social separitism between gays and lesbians in Australia is just an updating of Australia’s famous social gender separation (evidenced by the traditional parting of the genders at social functions) in general.
The film festival brings me to what I will call the “gay dividend.” This is actually a reverse dividend, or a dividend for the supplier rather than the consumer. It is the factor which means that the world over (perhaps because you are meant to feel grateful you are being catered for at all, or guilty about your abberant status) the drinks (or DVDs or magazines) will be more expensive or of lower standard (eg, Dawn O’Donnell’s alleged watering of the beer), or the toilets will be more revolting. You know what I mean. It is a variant of the the vice dividend (in prostitution and pornography) and related to the contraband dividend (for, say, illegal drugs).
Applied to the film festival, it means that there are films which we went to see, because they were “gay,” which we otherwise would not have dreamt of paying money to see in a cinema. For, example, “Solos”, advertised as the film which was “banned in Singapore” (not that was saying much) was stylistically very much in the vein of the most boring film in the world. Apparently, when you are dealing with a taboo subject, the price to be paid is no dialogue and scarcely any plot.
A Jihad For Love was a documentary about gay and lesbian muslims. The director was there and there was a Q & A session. D wanted to ask: “If they won’t accept you, why do you bother with religion? Why not just say ‘Get stuffed?'” I now regret dissuading him from asking this question, even though I can see the mutual incomprehension which it expresses: D’s upbringing is so staunchly atheistic, and even Chinese traditional “religion” is largely so non-theistic, that D cannot think of religion other than as an institution made of and by men (OK, and women) and of religious belief as something essentially voluntary. For believers, however, belief is not voluntary and apostasy in some countries can carry severe consequences.
Still, as someone who has walked away from Judaeo-Christian religion in part because of its [anti-] sex ethic, I am sympathetic to D’s view. So much of the film (the people of Sodom were punished for their inhospitable rapes, not their homosexuality; Allah is loving and must love people as he has made them) reminded me of similar contortions amongst gay and lesbian people who strive to remain within the church. Even the perennial: “I’m gay because I was born that way; I cannot change” is, as D pointed out, an attempt to defend a point which need not be conceded, so far as it is an attempt to answer arguments about gay sexuality as a sin or as unnatural. D believes you can choose to be gay – though he may man that at least you choose to “act” gay. And isn’t this the real point? Not “I can’t help it!” but “It’s my life; I want to do it; it isn’t hurting anybody.”
In the meantime, in the film and the Q&A session, we got the usual chestnuts. Mohammed was a feminist (wishful thinking in my opinion and just a religious variant of “the emperor is kind and just, but surrounded by bad advisers”); everybody is just picking on Muslims because they think Muslims are all terrorists (maybe that is so in UK and UK but not much so in Australia; and anyway, the gay/lesbian gripe is about oppression within Islam).
Back to the festival generally. When you see so many films at once, you begin to imagine that you are seeing some trends. One, especially in the more “arty” ones, is for fragmented narrative which skips around in different time periods. I don’t know if I was suffering a surfeit of films, but I found that this made some films really hard to follow. Sometimes this was because other clues as to temporality (as in Spinnin’, where chronology was aligned to the fortunes of Madrid Atelier football team) were beyond my ken.
Other films (especially the comic ones) seemed to suffer from too much enthusiasm. The scripts were just bubbling with ideas and jokes.
It is easy to understand why both these things happen. Films are incredibly complicated things to make, and very labour intensive. But in the end they are an art form experienced in real time, and mostly (despite the new DVD culture) seen just once. The true art, I think, must be the art which conceals art and smooths its elements so it can be comprehended within these parameters. This must be difficult for the filmmaker who has lived every second of the film a thousand times over.
So far, the stand out best film of the festival is The Bubble (an Israeli-Palestinian gay Romeo and Juliet). The Man of my life and Saturno Contro come next for me, in that order. You will be able to see A Jihad for Love soon on SBS, which has provided some of the funding. Hatsu Koi was amateurish but charming.