Monday, October 29, 2012

Reverend's Preview: Putting the “GLBT” in AFI

While it is not an exclusively or specifically GLBT film festival, Los Angeles’s annual AFI Fest (Presented by Audi) nevertheless has something to offer all lovers of cinema.  The 2011 fest opened with the world premiere of Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, which cast the notorious FBI founder (impersonated by Leonardo DiCaprio) in an unquestionably gay light.

This year’s festival, which runs November 1st to the 8th at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and other Hollywood venues, isn’t offering many movies that scream “gay,” but there are several offerings of GLBT-interest to be found.  Best of all, AFI (which stands for the venerable American Film Institute) Fest is absolutely free to the public thanks to Audi and other generous sponsors.

The gala premiere of Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock will open the 2012 fest.  Academy Award-winner Anthony Hopkins stars as the world-renown director during the production of what would become his biggest box office hit, 1960’s Psycho.  While the film reportedly focuses on Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife, Alma (played by fellow Oscar-winner Helen Mirren), James D’Arcy co-stars as closeted bisexual actor Anthony Perkins, who famously embodied the murderous, excessively mother-loving Norman Bates.  It will be interesting to see whether the movie at least alludes to Perkins’ relationships with men, who reportedly included actor Tab Hunter, dancer Rudolf Nureyev and composer Stephen Sondheim.  Perkins died of AIDS complications in 1992.

Night #2 of AFI Fest will spotlight Ang Lee’s lavish, 3D adaptation of the bestselling novel Life of Pi.  This philosophical tale of a young man shipwrecked with a tiger and other wild animals marks the director’s most ambitious effort yet.  Lee won the Oscar for Best Director in 2006 for Brokeback Mountain, his beloved, sensitive look at two sheepherders (Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger) who are secretly in love with one another.  As a result, he is well respected among both gay and mainstream moviegoers.  Newcomer Suraj Sharma, who plays the frequently shirtless title character in Life of Pi, is certainly easy on the eyes.

A number of actors favored by GLBT viewers headline films that will be shown.  Among these are Ewan McGregor in the tsunami-set drama The Impossible; Bradley Cooper in the offbeat comedy Silver Linings Playbook; Kristen Stewart in On the Road, based on bisexual poet Jack Kerouac's autobiography; Maggie Smith in Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, Quartet; and singer-actress Kylie Minogue in the semi-musical Holy Motors.

I highly recommend two unconventional, uncompromising romantic dramas from France that will be screened during the fest in the wake of their acclaimed premieres at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.  While both feature heterosexual protagonists, the themes and emotions they evoke are universal.

Amour is writer-director Michael Haneke’s near-perfect exploration of an elderly couple’s commitment to each other in the face of terminal illness.  It won Cannes’ top prize, the Palme D’Or, and is truly one of this year’s best films.  Rust and Bone, meanwhile, depicts the love that develops fitfully between two physically- and emotionally-damaged people.  Academy Award-winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose, The Dark Knight Rises) plays a whale trainer who loses her legs during a freak accident.  She meets a directionless bouncer and boxer played by Matthias Schoenaerts (who made an international splash in last year’s Oscar-nominated Bullhead and is frequently nude here), who is also father to a young son.  The four lead actors between Amour and Rust and Bone give unforgettably powerful performances.

AFI Fest programmers do take care to include at least a few films of specifically GLBT interest.  2012 offerings include the US premiere of Laurence Anyways, a transsexual tale by young gay filmmaker Xavier Dolan (Heartbeats, I Killed My Mother); The Sapphires, an Australian hit about a girl group entertaining troops during the Vietnam War; Ginger & Rosa, a new movie by Orlando director Sally Potter about two teenage girls during the 1960’s sexual revolution; Everybody’s Got Somebody… Not Me, from Mexico, in which a troubled intellectual woman has an affair with an inquisitive teenaged girl; and the short film Alaska is a Drag, about a young gay man living in a small town in rural Alaska.

The festival closes November 8th with the official premiere of Steven Spielberg’s highly-anticipated biographical epic, Lincoln, starring two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president of the United States.  Its all-star supporting cast includes Sally Field (as Mary Todd Lincoln), Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader and many more.  Perhaps most significantly, though, the screenplay was written by gay playwright Tony Kushner of Angels in America fame.  No stranger to historical and political topics (he also wrote Spielberg’s Munich a few years back), Kushner could potentially liken Lincoln’s pursuit of freedom from slavery to our modern-day fight for marriage equality.  It will also be interesting to see if the movie addresses rumors about the statesman’s intimate, possibly sexual friendship with another man.

For a complete listing of films and to secure available tickets for screenings and related events, visit the AFI Fest website.

Preview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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