A Strandful at Frameline31

Michael Guillen June 8, 2007

Strand Releasing‘s catalogue can always be relied upon for some of the year’s best art films and queer indies, and this year’s collection, which includes two incredible films that have already played the Bay Area — Tsai Ming-Liang’s "I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone" and "Syndromes and a Century" — is particularly noteworthy. The company’s got a strong presence at Frameline this year, and it’s certainly had a vivid relationship with the Festival in the past. Marcus Hu, who runs the company along with business partner and co-founder Jon Gerrans, received the 1995 Frameline award from the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival the same year Strand’s own production, "Frisk," made its controversial debut at the fest — and is offering a sweet suite of films at the Festival this year. Other productions the company’s produced or exec-produced include Gregg Araki’s "The Living End," Richard Glatzer’s "Grief," Tommy O’Haver’s "Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss," Robert Lee King’s "Psycho Beach Party," Brian Sloan’s "I Think I Do," Bruce LaBruce’s films, and Paul Cox’s "Innocence." The Evening Class’s Michael Guillen has gathered up the suite of Strand’s Frameline films for preview purposes here.

1. "Les Témoins" (The Witnesses)
André Téchiné‘s latest is the powerful opening night feature for this year’s Frameline. "The Witnesses" is as solid and mature a piece of work as I’ve seen in some time. Articulated through the seasonal cycle, "The Witnesses" shifts from the insouciant pleasures of summer through the unexpected bereavements of winter back again. Utilizing a stunning palette of cottonwood yellow and Mediterranean blue, the film puts AIDS in the context of ongoing lives and loves.

2. "Ha buah" (The Bubble)
Applying the love that dare not speak its name to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict produces the reconciliation that dare not speak its name in Eytan Fox’s hands. At his best, Fox captures honest emotions among his youthful (and quite attractive) ensemble. At his worst, Fox’s characters are hobbled by scripted contrivances. His suggestion that an explosive orgasm can supplant the detonation of a suicide bomb is, unfortunately, undermined by his own hurried need for the film’s denouement.

3. "Azuloscurocasinegro" (DarkBlueAlmostBlack)
The title of Daniel Sanchez Arévalo’s clever debut refers to the fabric of a suit on a storefront window mannequin coveted by protagonist Jorge (Quim Gutiérrez). The suit represents all his career aspirations, thwarted by obligations to an invalid father. Can Jorge come to terms with the tethers of familial duty? Can his desires and his dreams recognize their allowable parameters? Skewering the illusion of upward class mobility with a wry pinch, "DarkBlueAlmostBlack" emphasizes the fluidity of identity not only in how we see ourselves but in how others see us. Jorge’s best friend Israel (Raúl Arévalo) faces even more convoluted familial issues when he and his father begin vying for the attentions of the same masseur. The situational contrivances of this comedy are charming and entertaining.

4. "L’Homme de sa vie" (The Man of My Life)
At a Provençale country home Zabou Breitman offers a nightlong conversation on a stage-like terrace between two male neighbors, one straight, one gay. The conversation is returned to again and again as a leitmotif throughout the film, underscoring how each defines themselves in relation to others. An intimacy is achieved in their conversation that punctuates and punctures their routine arrangements, challenging each to reconsider their self-definitions. Gorgeously photographed in the verdant French countryside, the film leans into whimsical magical realism to express languid and questing emotions.

5. "Chacun sa nuit" (One to Another)
My Evening Class teammate Michael Hawley loathed this film when he caught it at the Palm Springs International earlier this year and I have to concur that it’s my least favorite of the Strand handful. Overwrought, with a one-note, anguished performance by Lizzie Brocheré as Lucie, Jean-Marc Barr’s effort to amplify a news piece he read on the back page of a newspaper about a murder with unclear motives results in a feature-length film with unclear motives. Lucie, her sexy brother Pierre, and their friends Nicolas, Sébastien and Baptiste portray a swirling and promiscuous quintet of disaffected Euroyouth. Easy on the eyes but not much else.