It has been a rich Autumn for Film Festivals in Chicago. Last week, REELING, Chicago's LGBT Film Festival, ended it's 30th Anniversary celebration.
The schedule (click here) was crammed with intriguing films from the world over, and I was fortunate enough to catch three of them.
First, an encore of "30 Cats In 30 Seconds", which ran before every film at the festival...Enjoy, and stay for three brief reviews of films from Italy, Germany, and the U. S.
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"Loose Cannons" (Italy) -- One of my favorite films of the year tells the story of Tommaso, the youngest son of an eccentric Italian family. On the night he plans to come out to everyone during an important family dinner, his older brother surprises everyone by beating him to the punch. Tommaso must decide if he can go through with his family's plans to have him take over their pasta business, and must weigh their health, and happiness, against a life of hiding and dishonesty. Although the supporting characters are broadly drawn, especially Tommaso's father and sexually voracious aunt, there is much truthful observation of the dynamics of the Italian family.
The film may seem cliched at first in its treatment of homosexuality as a punch-line; but after a while we realize that "Loose Canons", in it's humorous way, makes some wry observations about familial expectations, loyalty, acceptance, and unreasonable attitudes that pass down unquestioned through generations. The effect is one of appreciation of our foibles, and forgiveness of those who are victims of their cultures.
When Tommaso's friends come from Rome to visit him at the family villa, the uninhibited European humor renders this one of the funniest films of the year. A mysterious prologue and framing device pulls the family history together, as Tommaso discovers that he and his grandmother are kindred spirits in their shared dilemma of romantic sacrifice. As she leaves this world in a bittersweet scene reminiscent of "Chocolat", the film moves into a fantasy sequence that makes the film blossom with meaning. Charming, well-observed, wonderfully written, and performed to a hilt by talented and attractive actors, "Loose Canons" is a film worth making a special effort to find.
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"The Green" (U.S.) -- This film played a couple of weeks before the Penn State scandal was splashed across the media, with its sordid story of a revered football coach who is indicted for sexually abusing young boys. "The Green" attracted my attention first of all for the appearance of Cheyenne Jackson, the hunky actor who appeared in the Tony-nominated musical "Xanadu" as well as guest spots in the popular TV series "30 Rock". In "The Green", Jackson is Daniel, who, together with partner Michael (Jason Butler Harner), a high school drama teacher, move from New York to a small Connecticut town. Soon, Michael's troubled past comes to haunt him, as a student in his drama class accuses him of inappropriate behavior.
The film is an intriguing look at false accusations and family secrets, and raises some compelling legal issues, before the screenplay wallows in clunky melodrama. All in all, however, "The Green" provides suspense, beautiful lensing, and good performances by the entire cast, especially Harner and Jackson, who overcome the contrivances of the script, and are powerful screen presences.
"Romeos" (Germany)-- My favorite of the three, a film that could appear on major top-ten critics lists if given a proper release. It's the unusual story of a character we never see on the big screen. Lukas is a young man , formerly Miri, who is transitioning from female to male, whose adjustment to adult life is complicated by the physical and psychological challenges of inhabiting a new gender. The film is refreshingly honest, and neither sensational nor exploitative, as one might come to expect from an American film treatment of the same subject matter. This is not a devastating message picture like "Boys Don't Cry,", but a sweet-tempered original unlike anything else you are likely to see.
Lukas needs to assert his maleness, even though his civil service dorm assignment still considers him a female. He must do his best to pretend that he was placed there due to a lack of beds in the male dorm, and redefine his relationship with his Lesbian best friend Ine. When Lukas meets the handsome, dominant Fabio, he must decide if he can reveal his true nature, and complete a life lived in honesty. The budding romance, and ensuing conflict, between Fabio and Lukas is just one of the many highlights of this fast-paced, terrific example of modern filmmaking. The film works mostly because the actors are so natural in their roles. **Rick Okon is a trans actor whose openness matches his skill as an actor (see comments). Maximilian Beaufort as Fabio is a terrific heart-throb.
I can't wait to see this again.