(*homocinematically inclined)

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: Sexual Politics


"Is sex political?," a reporter asks the openly gay, real-life filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini in a newly-released biopic. "Of course," Pasolini replies, "There's nothing that isn't political." This query opens Pasolini, Abel Ferrara's 2014 movie that is only now being released in the US thanks to Kino Lorber. It opens this weekend in New York.

The controversial artist, who considered himself a writer first and foremost, was also an avowed Communist and atheist. This didn't exactly ingratiate him with the public in his native Italy or elsewhere during the 1960's and 70's. Few people were surprised when Pasolini was found beaten to death, presumably by someone he met for sex, in 1975. He would have a final word, however, when his shockingly graphic anti-fascism film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, had its premiere just a couple of weeks later. Nonetheless, Pasolini is generally revered among cinephiles today. Even the Vatican has acclaimed his 1964 version of The Gospel According to St. Matthew as the best film about Jesus Christ yet made despite the filmmaker's unbelief, not to mention his homosexuality.

Four-time Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe stars as Pasolini in Ferrara's film. Clad in bell bottoms and constantly sporting dark sunglasses, it is a good personification despite Dafoe's lack of an Italian accent. The main action in the movie takes place on the day Pasolini would die. Flashbacks reveal significant moments and interests from his past. This device proves confusing at times, especially since other actors play the younger Pasolini.

This biopic, though long delayed, marks an appropriate subject and fine big-screen return for Ferrara. After all, the "bad boy" American director made his mark with 1992's Pasolini-esque Bad Lieutenant. The movie was also beautifully photographed on location by Stefano Falivene. Don't miss this opportunity to get re-acquainted with Ferrara and more intimately acquainted with Pasolini himself.

Non-Fiction, award-winning director Olivier Assayas' latest, is also now playing in US theaters courtesy of IFC Films. It also dabbles in political and romantic/sexual topics via challenges confronting the contemporary publishing industry. Leonard (played by the endearing Vincent Macaigne) is a successful author of what he terms "auto-fiction," or fictional stories inspired by his own life. This doesn't please the thinly-veiled ex-girlfriends and other actual people who populate his works.

Having grown tired of Leonard's style, his longtime publisher Alain (handsome Guillaume Canet) decides not to print the writer's latest. This sets off existential and relational angst not only for Leonard but for Alain's actress wife Selena (Oscar winner Juliette Binoche), who has been having an affair with Leonard, and Leonard's current political-advisor girlfriend. Alain, meanwhile, is having an affair with Laure, his company's bisexual head of "digital transition" as they try to adapt to an increasingly online readership.

Set primarily in Paris, Assayas' screenplay is a brainy, bracing dissertation on our modern cultural zeitgeist. It includes such perceptive zingers as "addiction is now our default setting" and defines our "post-truth," "fake news" era as "people living in a fictional world ruled by their prejudices." Critics are obsolete (exempting myself, naturally) as public opinion and internet algorithms reign supreme. The film also features a very funny meta moment involving Binoche. But its most accurate observation may actually be one quoted from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's 1958 novel The Leopard: "Everything must change for things to stay as they are."

I haven't actually seen any of Assayas' previous films such as Personal Shopper and The Clouds of Sil Maria, which I intend to seek out. Non-Fiction serves as a great, enjoyable primer on the auteur's style and technique.

A writer-director with whom I am very familiar is Stewart Wade, who previously helmed the LGBT-themed indies Coffee Date, Tru Loved and Such Good People. His new release, Say Yes, is now available on Amazon Prime and is well worth renting. It is a touching dramedy in which a married straight couple deal with the wife's unexpected terminal illness. Her twin brother moves in to help care for her. This is initially challenging for her husband but he and her brother develop a friendship. Prior to her death, his wife makes an unusual last request: she wants her husband and brother to be a couple after she's gone. While neither of them is gay, the men begin to explore their "hetero-flexibility" with surprising results. Say Yes is low budget and the acting amateurish at times but it is a moving look at modern love.

I wish I could be as positive about TLA's new gay DVD release, The Skin of the Teeth (not to be confused with Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth). Billed as "Get Out meets Grindr," Matthew Wollin's bizarre movie lacks the best elements of either, although lead actors Pascal Arquimedes and Donal Brophy are attractive. They play Josef and John, respectively, who get together at John's place after connecting online. Josef unwisely ingests an "experimental" pill he discovers while snooping around, which leads to unusual complications and hallucinations... or are they? Unfortunately, the stranger things become, the less interesting the film is and it grows prolonged and boring. There is some good cinematography and use of shadow during a police interrogation scene. Wollin seems to be going for something David Lynchian but sadly doesn't succeed.

Reverend's Ratings:
Pasolini: B
Non-Fiction: B+
Say Yes: B
The Skin of the Teeth: D

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

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