This year’s Frameline Film Festival offers more than a half dozen features from Latin America that sensitively depict queer lives and love. Two Brazilian features—a terrific debut by Daniel Ribeiro, and the latest drama by Karim Aïnouz—are highlights at this year’s fest. And two more —from Mexico, and Venezuela— showcase gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender characters in various stages of desire.
Here's a look at all four of them. They all still have screenings at the festival, with more information as to how to get tickets here.
The Way He Looks
The sweet and sunny romance, The Way He Looks, is Daniel Ribeiro’s feature length version of his excellent 2010 short Eu Não Quero Voltar Sozinho. Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) is a blind teenager whose best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim) assists him. When Gabriel (Fabio Audi) joins the class, he befriends Leo and Gi. However, a class assignment forces Gabriel and Leo to work together, and the guys soon form an intimate bond. They go to the movies together (Gabriel describes the action to Leo); they sneak out late at night to watch an eclipse; and Gabriel teaches the classical-loving Leo about modern music. Ribeiro infuses these moments—Leo hugging Gabriel on the bicycle they share, or Gabriel guiding Leo to dance—with a tender sexual tension to show how these two teenagers might fall in love. The film’s visual cues are strong. A scene of Leo practicing kissing in the shower expresses the desires he feels but does not express. This is what makes The Way He Looks so magical; the guys never discuss their emotions, but they are all tactile. When Gabriel plants a kiss on Leo, or the two friends shower together—and Gabriel becomes aroused—the unspoken attraction hangs in the air. Ribeiro’s approach to telling Leo’s story prompts viewers to want the boys to couple up. Of course, there are subplots that try to keep the guys apart. Giovana becomes jealous, Leo’s classmates mock him, and Leo has battles with his overprotective mother. But The Way He Looks ends on a satisfying (if not unexpected) note. This enjoyable film will leave a smile in one’s heart.
Also from Brazil is Karim Aïnouz’s Futuro Beach, a gripping three-part drama that begins in dangerous waters of the title location. Donato (Wagner Moura) is a lifeguard unable to save a drowning man. He offers support to the deceased’s friend Konrad (Clements Schick), and the two men are soon having a hot and heavy tryst. Their intense affair does not end after Konrad returns to Germany. There is something that remains between these men—like the aggressive salt in Futuro beach that corrodes refrigerators. Part two of the film has Donato visiting Konrad in Germany. The men fuck and fight and discuss the future of their relationship. Aïnouz makes this minimal drama hypnotic as the men each express palpable despair while alone in their non-native lands, and even, at times, when they are together.
Futuro Beach shifts gears a bit with the third story, which features Ayrton (Jesuita Barboso), Donato’s younger brother, but it forms a symmetry with the first two parts.
Aïnouz deliberately employs an elliptical narrative to let viewers make connections and fill in the gaps, and this strategy is what makes the film so compelling and affecting. Moreover, the filmmaker’s compositions—the characters are framed on beaches, in showers, and in pools—reveals much about their emotional state, even if it is a bit obvious to have water splashing on jagged rocks to emphasize that status of Donato and Konrad’s relationship. The way the men interact is also freighted with meaning, especially when Donato and Konrad dance together. Aïnouz also lovingly films the men’s beefy, bronzed bodies, nearly and completely naked. Futuro Beach, may be his most erotic film since Madame Sata. It is also one of his strongest.
Everybody's Got Somebody… But Me
Everybody’s Got Somebody…But Me, is a luminously shot, poetically made drama from Mexico, about a lesbian couple in the throws of a heated relationship. Alejandra (Andrea Portal) is a publishing executive who begins a romance with María (Naian Daeva), a high school student. The film never makes their age difference creepy, but María is restless and immature. She wants to talk while the couple is at the movies, or itches to dance while at a café where a band plays. Some of this impulsiveness is adorable, but the teenager’s penchant to take phone calls or connect with friends at parties is often irritating to Alejandra. Writer/director Raúl Fuentes artfully films their rollercoaster relationship, and he breaks up the fights, flirtations, and reconnections along with other standard-issue couples “drama” using poetic inter-titles. He also shrewdly positions his characters within the narrative and each scene, in marked contrast to each other to comment on their relationship status. Flores is trying—as Alejandra explains to María in one scene—to “find the extraordinary in the ordinary.” Whether he succeeds or not depends on the viewer; some of the dynamics between the lovers will resonate with knowing audiences, while others may be bored to the back teeth by the lack emotional depth. Regardless of one’s investment in the love story, Everybody’s Got Somebody…But Me is undeniably incandescent.
My Straight Son
My Straight Son, from Venezuela, is a sleek and superficial comic melodrama. Diego (Guillermo García) and his obstetrician boyfriend, Fabrizio (Sócrates Serrano) discuss plans to live together, although Diego resists commitment. When Valentina (Arlette Torres), the mother of Diego’s 15 year-old son, Armando (Ignacio Montes), calls asking him to take care of their kid, he reluctantly agrees. Just as Diego is adjusting to this situation, however, Fabrizio lies comatose after being beaten by a group of homophobic thugs. My Straight Son shows how Diego adjusts to these changes in his life and how he bonds with his estranged son. The film provides lessons of tolerance, from learning how to love one’s self and one’s family, to appreciating diversity. The messages have their heart in the right place, but this overlong and underwhelming film shoehorns too many characters and subplots for comfort. In his feature debut, writer/director Miguel Ferrari, includes wacky humor in the form of Delirio del Rio (Hilda Abrahamz), a transgender performer, and mines other laughs from Perla Marina (Carolina Torres), Diego’s assistant who is enduring domestic abuse (ha ha!) from her boyfriend. Other subplots include Armando chatting with--and lying to--a potential girlfriend online, along with Diego’s efforts to bring Fabrizio’s assailants to justice. Ferrari shift tones so often in My Straight Son, viewers may suffer whiplash. The film is certainly made to be a crowd-pleaser—how else to account for Delirio’s dexterity with a gun, tango, and no-nonsense advise?—and it has entertaining moments, but overall My Straight Son is far less than the sum of its parts.