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Why 2013 Has Been a Pretty Harsh Year For Cinematic Same-Sex Couples

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | /Bent December 11, 2013 at 10:54AM

From France’s “Blue is The Warmest Color” and “Stranger By The Lake” to Canada’s “Tom at the Farm” and “Vic and Flo Saw a Bear” to America’s own “Kill Your Darlings,” “Concussion” and “Behind The Candelabra” the film festival circuit (not so much the multiplexes – though that’s hardly surprising and besides this particular point) was ablaze with captivating cinematic gays. But there were certainly no same-sex weddings up on those screens. Quite the opposite, actually.
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"Concussion"
"Concussion"

It seems highly likely that folks will look back at 2013 as a pretty notable year in terms of international gay and lesbian rights advancement, at least as far as same-sex marriage laws are concerned. France, New Zealand, Uruguay, Brazil and the United Kingdom were among the countries joining that particular party this year, just as the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional in a landmark ruling.

As things go, one might think this would be reflected in what was also quite a significant year for portrayals of lesbian and gay characters in film. The privileged part of this world where lesbians and gays can increasingly decide whether or not to put a ring on it gave us a rather remarkable output of queer cinema this year. From France’s “Blue is The Warmest Color” and “Stranger By The Lake” to Canada’s “Tom at the Farm” and “Vic and Flo Saw a Bear” to America’s own “Kill Your Darlings,” “Concussion” and “Behind The Candelabra” the film festival circuit (not so much the multiplexes – though that’s hardly surprising and besides this particular point) was ablaze with captivating cinematic gays. But there were certainly no same-sex weddings up on those screens. Quite the opposite, actually.

"Blue Is The Warmest Color"
"Blue Is The Warmest Color"
Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue Is The Warmest Color” is perhaps the most discussed of any of these films thanks to it winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and, more over, due to the intensely explicit sex scenes between its two leading ladies. But "Blue" is much more than the “sexy lesbian movie that won at Cannes.”  It's poignant take on an epic relationship that

spoiler alert (the first of many, so tread carefully if you haven't seen all these films) – doesn’t end well. After Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Lea Seydoux) meet by chance when the former is just a teenager and the latter is in her mid-20s, they enjoy a passionate few years of Sapphic bliss. But as they begin to domesticate, the two women become distanced in large part due to how they each evolve into their own adulthood (which is considerably influenced by their very different social backgrounds) and are driven to other partners.  As a result, their relationship crumbles into one of the most emotionally brutal breakups you’ll see on a big screen this year or any year, really.  Some time later they reunite relatively amicably, only to find acceptance in their lives without one another.

A French male counterpart of sorts to "Blue," Alain Guiraudie’s “Stranger By The Lake” – which also won awards at Cannes and features explicit sex between its two extremely attractive leads – is somehow much less romantically optimistic. In the deceptively simple thriller, Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) meets Michel (Christophe Paou) at a cruising lake he frequents, and gets shut down when Michel's lover witnesses their flirting and pulls him away.   But a few days later, Franck secretly witnesses Michel murder his lover by drowning in him said lake, and decides to choose passion over safety and pursue an intense sexual relationship with him anyway. Franck, who otherwise seems like a kind, gentle guy, continues to follow Michel down an increasingly dangerous path that ends in something much more horrifying than a simple breakup.

"Stranger By the Lake"
Strand Releasing "Stranger By the Lake"

Two French films from Canada with queer relationships at their core were similarly unlovely. Xavier Dolan's "Tom at the Farm" finds its titular character (played by Dolan himself) traveling to the Quebec countryside for the funeral of his lover, Guillaume. But things on the farm aren't what Tom expected. Guillaume's mother (Lise Roy) had been entirely unaware of her son's sexuality. His monstrous older brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), meanwhile, seems to have some secrets of his own as he essentially takes Tom as his rather willing hostage. A homoerotic cat-and-mouse game develops as a result, and Tom's lethal desire for Francis turns a little "Stranger at the Farm" as he's left beaten and bruised, yet comes back for more. Though in the end, Tom has a little more sense than Franck, finally and successfully running for his life back to the city.

Somewhere in that same countryside, Vic and Flo (Romane Bohringer and Pierrette Robitaille) of Denis Cote’s “Vic and Flo Saw a Bear” don't end up so lucky.  The film -- which debuted in competition at the Berlinale -- offers the story of a lesbian couple who are trying to rebuild their lives (and their relationship) after one is released from prison. But their attempt is met with some trouble from the past. And though Vic and Flo's relationship -- already on some seriously rocky ground -- is tested by this, they do end up the first couple on this list that doesn't break up by film's end. Which would be great if the film's final moments didn't find them both lying dead in bear traps.