Even though queer experiences and voices of queer creativity have been rejected in the film industry for decades, and movies have not told us anything about us with our involvement, today that ice is slowly melting. More and more authors are telling stories in which we can see queer people reflecting our own experiences, often starring queer people themselves.
Despite the neglect, a number of films have been made since the 1970s [some with hetero directors and actors, but still] that capture the diversity of experiences well. In the article, you will read about 5 good movies – some of them are already considered classics, some of them were unfairly forgotten or did not deserve the attention of a wide audience.
Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo
Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau’s 2016 film Théo & Hugo in Some Territories (Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo) opens with a 20-minute orgy in a Paris gay sex club. There are no dialogues in the opening scene – an unforgettable cinematic experience is created by the interaction of bodies and lighting. It is in this bold scene that the eyes of the main characters, Theo and Hugo, meet and the story moves to the streets of Paris at dawn. The story that started casually in a sex club continues with a conversation about art, personal life or other random topics. In the silence of the newly awakened city, places and faces flash, which show us the diversity of Paris.
The filmmakers manage to show the multifacetedness of experiences of gay boys and talk about an often neglected topic in cinema (and beyond) — the anxiety related to HIV status in the modern world. Most of all, the film is about the desire to establish human connections and feel emotional sharing.
If you have the key to that door, I will gladly follow you, if not, I will try to escape on my own.
Hector Babenco’s 1985 film – Kiss of the Spider Woman shows the way of mutual understanding of shared experiences of two completely different people. The relationship between the dreamer Molina (William Hurt) and the homophobic, misogynist communist Valentin (Raul Julia), who is full of hatred and complete alienation, gradually comes to an understanding. The characters open up more and more and begin to discover the common features between them – both are oppressed, a tool for maintaining political power and a kind of excrescence for the state: one is imprisoned for “sexual misconduct”, the other is a political dissident.
The opposition of reality and imagination, which are completely separated from each other at first, leads to common crossing points, Molina and Valentin complement each other, offer ways of survival, coping, direct each other to development, humanization, discovery of hidden depths.
It is worth separately mentioning the impeccable performance of the actors: Raul Julia is perfectly able to portray a macho, toxically masculine Valentin and, as the story develops, reveals much deeper, emotional sides, William Hurt (we should also say that according to the script, Molina is a queer Brazilian man, and Hurt is a white hetero man, so casting him for the role, especially in American cinema, is a widespread, harmful practice) won a well-deserved Oscar for this role. It is a source of separate pleasure to observe how Molina creates and develops, how he manages to avoid the clichés widespread in cinema and create a multidimensional character. Here we should also mention the main character of Molina’s stories — Sonia Braga, who plays several different characters, some of which are found in imaginary stories, and the short appearance of each of them opens the way to understanding the film even more deeply.
The Watermelon Woman
The problem is that I don’t know what I want to make a film about. All I know is that it has to be about black women because they’ve never told stories about us.
A 1996 movie, The Watermelon Woman was the first feature film directed by a black lesbian. Cheryl Dunye’s unfairly forgotten film (ironically, in some ways, the same fate of the topics it deals with) focuses on the historical and present-day experiences of black lesbian women, who are completely absent from film history, “often not even mentioned in the credits of the film’s crew”.
Cheryl Dunye plays the main character, a female director [the character’s name is also Cheryl] in the film and makes the point even more intense – what is the fate of black artist women in an industry dominated by white people and men, which is not directed towards giving space, or accepting innovations. Filmed on the border between documentary and fiction, the main character of the film explores the biography of an actress who lived decades ago, who is referred to as The Watermelon Woman in the list of the film’s creative team. As the story progresses, the parallelism between the experiences and biographies of the modern creator and the 30’s movie actress becomes more and more obvious — both are in a relationship with a white woman, which creates racial “conflict”, incompatibility, both are trying to establish themselves in an industry that basically does not make room for the representatives of different social groups. Stories of both women are connected to the old fictional film Plantation Memories, in which a woman planter falls in love with a black servant.
Cheryl Dunye has made a movie about race relations, sexuality, gender and history that is as relevant today as it was then.
Fist-Right of Freedom (Eng. Fox and his friends)
Money, money, money! If you repeat a word often enough, you won’t even know what it means.
In Rainer Werner Fassbinder ‘s 1975 film Fist-Right of Freedom (Fox and His Friends), you will meet a series of negative characters. This is a work about gay men who try at all costs to find themselves in a privileged position, to get as close as possible to the lifestyle of the oppressive group. The main character of the film, Franz, who performs numbers in a circus wearing a fox costume and suddenly becomes rich in the lottery, thanks to the newly acquired money, distinguishes himself in the circle of friends of gay men. He is nothing like them, he cannot fully understand their bohemian lifestyle, nor can he engage in their “intellectual” discussions, but it is tempting to find yourself on the better side of the class difference, and to reject this temptation, to look for oneself outside the order that is based on money, is difficult.
For his new “friends”, Franz is an object of ridicule, a mean by which they prolong their privileged position or illusion and are ready to bring a person to self-destruction, so that they do not descend one step down the ladder of privileges. And Franz is too weak and naive to see that people will go to any lengths to exploit others for their own benefit — he is also part of this system where you are either a predator or a victim. —
I’ve seen criticism of Fassbinder, too, for a harshly negative portrayal that doesn’t even show a single clear example to follow, but that’s what makes Fist-Right of Freedom a great film—it’s a slap in the face to viewers who don’t even realize they’re a link in a chain of economic exploitation and have no ability, or desire to resist, nor have they heard of a better alternative and can imagine it.
Pain and Glory
I thought the power of my love would overcome his addiction, but it didn’t. Love is not enough. Love may move mountains, but it is not enough to save the person you love.
Many films by the legendary Spanish director, Pedro Almodóvar can be mentioned in this list. Almodóvar transforms the personal experiences and stories he’s learned over the course of his long career into unforgettable cinematic experiences — conveying complex experiences with Pedro’s signature colors, dialogue, relationship development, and Spanish telenovela influences.
Pain and Glory is probably the director’s most personal film, the main character of which is an elderly director – Salvador Malo (Antonio Banderas), who has health problems, suffers from pain and tries to get over the trauma of his mother’s death. Salvador begins to use drugs to numb the pain, and as he sleeps, he returns to his childhood memories – moving to a new house, the moment of sexual awakening and poverty, due to which the only way to get an education was to study at a theological seminary. He also remembers the last days of his mother and regrets not paying enough attention, or breaking the promise he gave to her.
While they’re staging a play based on Salvador’s text, the director’s past and present intersect, there is a chance to renew an old relationship, but does it make sense to start over the old stories?! In the movie, the connections between the past and the present, the moments of the return of old, forgotten stories can be seen again and again, and it can be said that it indicates how inseparable the two are. At first glance, the film is mostly about pain, whether physical or emotional, but there are plenty of moments of glory for the aging director, and we see many victories: whether it’s taking advantage of a small chance to succeed, dealing with regrets, pains, or a creative crisis.
Pain and Glory touches on a number of important topics—addiction, the aging process, health, grief and loss, finding the line between real and fake, relationships and self-discovery, and more. The end of the film is worth mentioning separately — it is in this moment when the artistic work and the experience of the director in the process of continuous creative burning come together.