While some gay movies just seem to perpetuate stereotypes, I still find them interesting. Sometimes it’s the only way to discover certain elements of gay culture. We’re a diverse group, encapsulated under a number of different letters (LGBTQIA…). But, in gay films, it’s often difficult to find myself represented—my own reality as a twenty-something gay man. Life for LGBT individuals has changed rapidly over the past few years—increased visibility, increased human rights and increased acceptance. And with that, we’ve seen a rapid rise in new types of gay culture.
Gay movies, however, don’t always portray these new identities of being gay today. Too often they look back at the past, at the struggles and challenges and the advocacy. So when I stumble on a film that shows more closely the real-life experience of being gay today, I get excited. I’m excited to see myself, my identity, my experience on a big screen. I’m excited to see my feelings, my emotions portrayed in a way I can understand. Movies are often a window to our world—showing us stories that we can relate back to our own emotions. And, for me, a lot of gay movies don’t do that.
We’ve reached a peak in LGBTQ cinema—with many gay themes being portrayed in mainstream Hollywood productions. But there are still outliers, still aspects of queer culture which have been effectively whitewashed or hid under the sheets. Thankfully, a number of artists, producers and movie-makers are still working to show all the unique aspects of our gay world.
As LGBT equality has become more mainstream, so has the entertainment industry—with more openly gay characters (and out gay actors!) on TV and film than ever before. Topics are becoming more dynamic and interesting, too. A gay film today doesn’t have to touch on the HIV/AIDS crisis in America (Philadelphia) or be overly camp (To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar) to be a gay film anymore. Let’s look at six fresh takes from alternative queer cinema.
6 New Queer Films From Around the World
Jonathan (2016, Germany)
This 2016 German movie by Polish director Piotr J. Lewandowski tells the story of Jonathan, a 24-year-old who lives and takes care of his father, a cancer patient in his last days. Unlike most gay films from today, this doesn’t tell the story of young love, but of a long, lost love. The plot follows Jonathan’s relationship with his sick father after an old friend of his father’s reappears, shaking up the family. The drama causes turmoil, and suddenly, the family secrets began unraveling, and father and son are both forced to face reality. Set in a rural German town and with a beautiful use of light and cinematography, the movie provides an alternative perspective on the popular “coming out” storyline.
Mãe Só Há Uma (Don’t Call Me Son) (2016, Brazil)
This heartwarming Brazilian movie takes us on a complicated journey touching on themes of identity and guilt. Pierre (Felipe), a teenager and musician, discovers a secret: his mother is not his mother; he was stolen as a young baby. Forced to move to his new parents’ home, he must come to face reality with an existence he never knew. The new family brings with it a stricter set of rules, and Felipe rebels, accentuating his gender and sexuality as he feels comfortable. The film is a powerful depiction of the painful process of growing up, of finding who you are and of demanding the world to respect your differences. Directed and written by Anna Muylaert and debuting Naomi Nero in the lead role, this movie will both break your heart and make you laugh.
Nunca vas a Estar Solo (You’ll Never Be Alone) (2016, Chile)
A deep and powerful film about the struggle of being a gay teenager and the real dangers affecting thousands of LGBTQ people in Latin America, this heart-wrenching story takes place in Chile. Directed by Alex Anwandter, the film tells the story of Pablo, a gay teenager exploring his sexuality, and his father Juan, who works in a mannequin factory. In addition to touching on the father-son relationship, the movie takes a dark turn when Pablo becomes the victim of a terrible homophobic attack that sends him to the hospital. His father then finds himself the protagonist in a struggle against the world of legal bureaucracy and medical institutions while trying to care for his son’s well-being. The search for justice is complicated, and in the end, it’s touchingly powerful to discover what people are capable of doing to secure the best for their loved ones.
Who’s Gonna Love Me Now (2016, Israel/UK)
This documentary tells the story of Saar, who’s living in London, and his Jewish Orthodox family living in Israel. After moving to London, Saar discover he is HIV positive and struggles for acceptance as a gay man in a foreign city. While he finds some sense of belonging and comfort as a member of the London Gay Men’s Chorus, the acceptance of his own family is hard to get. The documentary deals more with psychological issues such as solitude and self-esteem, instead of focusing on the corporal medical reality of those who live with HIV. The film prominently features a trip to Israel where Saar confronts not only his religious beliefs but cultural stereotypes. The uplifting end of the movie brings hope to those who watch it and restores our faith in human communication and the power of love. The documentary is the work of directors Tomer Heymann and Barak Heymann.
Theo et Hugo dans le meme bateau (Paris 05:59) (2016, France)
Simultaneously the sexiest and the sweetest gay film I’ve seen, Theo et Hugo dans le meme bateau (it’s English title: Paris 05:59), captures my feelings and my attitudes of being a gay millennial. Here’s how the movie unfolds. A guy, Theo (played by Geoffrey Couet), is alone in a room full of naked men until he makes eye contact with Hugo (played by Francois Nambot). The room falls apart in their eyes—and they move to one another, ultimately leaving the sex club together, holding hands. Theo is both shy and quiet, while Hugo rambles on about this special feeling, this attachment, this almost-love. Little quips about how beautiful the other one is as they walk to one of the city bike rentals in Paris. It’s after 4 a.m. (as a timestamp on the screen shows) and the streets are mostly empty. It’s Paris at night. Along the way, they meet other strange and slightly surreal individuals from the night. As the night escalates, ultimately to 5:59 a.m., the emotions these two boys feel for one another fluctuate. There are tender and sweet moments and ones where they’re angry or scared—all captured with a beautiful soundtrack, close edits and touches of familiarity.
In short, it’s a film about a budding romance between two boys who meet, first have sex, and then a relationship (possibly) grows out of it. They reveal secrets as if they’re fast friends, they share hopes and fears—but only after they’ve already had sex. The film follows them as they get a rapid HIV test, discuss PrEP and PEP, talking of family and past relationships. It’s all so real, so authentic. And so non-judgemental. The relationship is real because it’s backwards. They don’t share their intimate feelings until the end of the film, but it’s at the beginning of the movie, the beginning of their relationship, when they first connect sexually.
Love is All You Need? (2016, USA)
Directed by K. Rocco Shields, the film takes place in a small middle American town where the star quarterback of the local university is outed for being a heterosexual. Her forbidden love affair with a male journalist rocks the town to its very core, setting off a series of catastrophic events that forever change the community.
The film jumps around a lot, moving between timelines showing the experiences of growing up different at various ages. I found it surprisingly difficult to follow who was gay and who wasn’t and why this or that might be considered bad in this fictional world—not at the fault of the filmmakers, but of my own pre-conceived version of the world we live in. It was confusing and challenging to understand a world so different from the one we inhabit here and now. And, ultimately, that’s what I enjoyed most about the movie—it was so familiar but so different. Love is All You Need? is a film that our allies and heterosexual friends need to see. It’s an important reminder of the challenges we might face as queer individuals in a non-queer world.
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Get many of these films on iTunes, Amazon or even Netflix.