This year I’ve only managed to see one film at the VQFF but it’s a collection of five shorts, so that makes it feel like I’ve seen a lot more.
Strong and Silent Types also could have been called Those Crazy Gay Drunks as it seemed like every other character was an alcoholic. Is there something I don’t know about gay men? Spoilers ahoy below!
Last Call. This is the one high-concept piece in which an alcoholic (!) gay man seeks to reconcile with the guy who left him some time before. He manages to convince the ex to meet him, drives off and promptly gets into some kind of horrible accident (that you don’t actually see). Instead of ending up under a sheet at the local morgue, Gavin finds himself in a bar that is empty save for one of those wise older women that exist mainly as supporting characters in morality tales. She pours him three shots, which he refuses as he no longer drinks. She insists and each drink causes him to flashback to key moments in his relationship with Mark, the acoustic guitar-playing, singing and wanting-to-adopt-a-child guy he used to be with. They are set to adopt but Gavin is, well, a drunk. Instead they break up.
Gavin laments to his mystic barkeep that it’s a shame fate had decided he was to end up dead after finally getting a chance to meet with David again (by this time he realizes the bar is some kind of way-point on his journey to the afterlife). She assures him that she can undo the accident if he drinks the last shot, which has the look of fresh Windex. He gulps it down and finds himself back in the car. He heads off to meet Mark but as he pulls up he sees his ex kissing another guy and handing off a small child to him. It’s clear that Mark has taken his pale blue Japanese guitar and started making music with someone else. Gavin then finds himself back at the bar where the woman, who confesses she has never been in love, and thus has no particular insights to offer, reveals that well, maybe you really are dead after all. Oops, my bad! But go on and leave the bar and get ready for the afterlife.
The afterlife turns out to be a really bright dock on the ocean with a bench where Mark is waiting with guitar. The End.
If you’re scratching your head at this point, you’re probably not alone. Even given its Twilight Zone pedigree, the story doesn’t make much sense. Feeding booze to a recovering alcoholic should serve some purpose beyond a plot device but nope, that’s all it is. The wise old woman turns out to not be very wise. In fact, she’s not really much more insightful than an eggplant sitting on the counter would have been. At least if the barkeep had been young and good-looking there would have been some eye candy. The ‘you’re not really dead — oh, wait, yes you are!’ seemed pointless but mostly I’m baffled by the ending, which seems to suggest that the afterlife is a fantasy world where you get exactly what you want. I suppose there’s an undeniable appeal there but Gavin would presumably know that Mark was really back on Earth boffing his new BF and raising the son he was too drunk to commit to having. That might prove a bit distracting in fantasyland. Thumbs sideways.
Little Love. This is a simple story of cheaters and their cheatin’ ways. It starts with three friends, two of whom are a couple. One half of the couple flies off on a trip, the hot Latino other half invites the mutual friend over and they boff in an energetic sex scene. The boring other half of the couple comes back, finds out and is all “I trusted you!” and then it’s over. That’s really it. There is no particular insight offered here and the piece is so short (10 minutes) that there’s no room for any kind of character growth or development. The message seems to be ‘don’t cheat on your friend with his super-hot Latino boyfriend’. Good advice! The worst part of this short film, apart from some stilted dialogue and somewhat wooden performances (except in bed, oddly enough) is the poignant piano or PP as I call it. This is heard throughout most of the shorts and is used to telegraph emotional moments, of which there are many, judging from the virtual poignant piano concertos taking place. You can hear a lot of the PP in the trailer for the film. At least there are no alcoholics in this short.
Disarm. A 30-something guy arranges to meet a 20-something guy through an online hookup site but instead of having sex, they engage in a wide-ranging conversation about sex, being gay, childhood, drinking and more. The 18-minute short is a character study and much of it a study of contrasts — the bitter older man still recovering from the wounds of his childhood and growing up gay, set against the glib young man who resolutely declares how masculine he is and how much he hates ‘fems’. They come to verbal blows, with the older man telling the young man that he both sounds and walks like a gay man — something the younger man obviously takes to heart as he ‘adjusts’ his stride after leaving the older man’s apartment. At times amusing and revealing, this is one of the stronger shorts in the presentation.
Promise. Oof. This one features an alcoholic, poignant piano, two essentially unlikable characters, a few unintentionally funny lines and a simulated rape. And it’s a comedy.
Just kidding about the comedy part.
This is a dour drama about a relationship falling apart. Stu (alcoholic) and Chris are about to get married but Stu has broken the somewhat arbitrary rules of their premarital open relationship by ‘double-dipping’ with another man by going back to him for another round of lovin’. This results in a lot of yelling, accusations both real and imagined and ends with Chris pulling off Stu’s clothes, throwing him on their bed and raping him over Stu’s loud and persistent protests. The film ends the next morning with the two of them meeting in the hallway of their home, both dressed for the wedding, though it is deliberately left as an open question of whether they will go through with the ceremony or not. “We have to,” Stu protests the night before, “all those people are showing up!” While the actors here are mostly fine, they are given dialogue that is pretty stiff at time and really, both of them come off as jerks you’d be happy not knowing, so I’m not sure what the point of the film was, except to perhaps show that not all gay men are witty and carefree like on Will & Grace. This may have worked better as a feature-length piece where the characters could have been fleshed out more. Hard to recommend.
Professor Godoy. The lightest and most daring short comes from Brazil. It features a classic premise, succinctly summed up by Van Halen as ‘hot for teacher’. In this case the teacher is a stern and exacting math professor at a private school, who tells us in the narration that he has always counted the exact number of steps to the school where he teaches ‘brats’ who ‘never grow older’ while he does. His dull routines change when one of his students, a young man named Felipe, starts including cryptic math-themed notes with his assignments that indicate an attraction to the professor. Godoy is initially repulsed, and rebuffs the attempts, until one night he finds himself waking up from a wet dream about Felipe. Awkward.
Even more awkward, Felipe shows up at Godoy’s home and gives him a slip of paper with an address on it, telling him to meet him in two hours (it’s okay, Felipe explains, they are no longer in school). Godoy says he will do no such thing and of course ends up sitting on a park bench at the appointed time. Felipe arrives and the film ends with a silent montage of the two on the bench, telling stories and laughing.
While the subject is provocative, the writer-director (who was at the screening and took questions after) plays it fairly safe — there is no sex depicted, not even touching or an errant kiss. Even at the end it’s ambiguous what sort of relationship the two men will have. Still, the actors are natural and the presentation is almost light enough that one might be inclined to call it innocent, if not for the actual subject matter. The director, Gui Ashcar, admitted in the Q&A after that the fantasy sequence — which consists of the two alone in the classroom, each at their desks and with Felipe advancing through a sequence of blackouts, toward Godoy — was originally meant to be less a fantasy and more explicit but as they were filming in an actual school, there was pressure to keep things a little more PG-rated. Another mark in the film’s favor is the beautiful cinematography, easily the best of all the short features. This was perhaps the only one to actually have the imprint of a director interested in telling a story, not simply teaching a lesson. Ultimately a pleasant diversion but not much more. Still, thumbs up.