by Rita Aresta
Is there anyone out there who isn’t tired of the typical, usually American movies with their run-of-the-mill white, heterosexual, upper-middle-class families? Prejudice against the LGBT+ community is something so backwards and inappropriate, yet so obviously present, that it actually feels pretty weird to even have to bring it up.
Over the past two decades, the large spectrum of LGBT+ themes has managed to find a varied and substantial amount of cinema representation. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transvestites and drag queens, among others, can now be found in large scale having moved from their previous niche movie category onto world-class cinema whether it be drama, comedy or horror, bringing sexual orientation into a field of normality which allows directors to focus on previously ignored details – since the boldness of the theme itself was inevitably the main focus.
Since Valentine’s Day (or Sadlentine’s, whichever you prefer!) made its yearly appearance earlier this week, VH has brought a list of ten international LGBT+ films (in no specific order) that you definitely need to watch.
A Single Man (2009, Dir. Tom Ford – USA)
Colin Firth stars as George, an English teacher in 1960s Los Angeles, who suddenly loses his male partner with who he’d been together for sixteen years. Feeling lost and unable to carry on with his life, he decides to kill himself and starts planning his death – discovering in the process that there are still some small things that prove life may still be worth living.
With impeccable portrayals by Julianne Moore and Colin Firth, who received his first Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his performance, A Single Man was fashion designer Tom Ford’s directorial debut, based on a novel of the same name by Christopher Isherwood.
Bad Education (2004, Dir. Pedro Almodóvar – Spain)
Spanish master Pedro Almodóvar’s film tells us the story of Enrique (Fele Martínez), a filmmaker struggling to come up with a new project due to artist’s block. It’s at this point that he gets closer to Ignacio (Gael García Bernal), his closest friend and the first love of his life from their childhood back in the 1960s at a religious school. After not talking to each other for years, they meet again and everything they had lived resurfaces in a passionate, multi-layered drama. Bad Education is a story with several stories inside it. There are rumours that the film is an autobiography of Almodóvar’s childhood, although he never confirmed nor denied it.
Beautiful Thing (1996, Dir. Hettie MacDonald – UK)
Light and unpretentious, Beautiful Thing talks about the discovery and acceptance of one’s sexuality, in this case through two suburban English teenage boys’ slowly building love, who need to face their own family conflicts in order to stay true to themselves. Featuring Glen Berry and Scott Neal, and directed by Hettie MacDonald, it has arguably one of the most beautiful movie endings of the past twenty years. It’s worth mentioning that one of its most memorable scenes happens to the sound of The Mamas & The Papas’ “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”. In fact, Beautiful Thing’s excellent soundtrack is sung almost exclusively by Mama Cass.
Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013, Dir. Abdellatif Kechiche – France)
Long and lifelike, this film follows the sexual awakening of young Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) who falls in love with intense blue-haired girl Emma (Léa Seydoux). The production is rich with steamy and dramatic scenes that keep the audience sitting tight through its long sequences, rendering it an effective portrayal of the life of homosexual women and their daily struggle against prejudice while trying to live a normal life. The graphic sex scenes between the two women had many self-proclaimed “liberals” feeling threatened. Having won the Palm D’Or award at the 2013 Cannes Festival, Blue is the Warmest Colour was directed by Abdellatif Kechiche and based on the homonymous graphic novel by Julie Maroh. More than the story of the relationship and sex between two women, it’s above all a tale of personal development.
Brokeback Mountain (2005, Dir. Ang Lee – USA)
It would be impossible not to mention this modern day classic based on the novel of the same name by Annie Proulx. Directed by Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain became a classic of gay cinema, having won three Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score.
Featuring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, it shows us the relationship between two cowboys in Northwestern USA. The film narrates their complex emotional, sexual and romantic relationship, in a time – and more importantly, a place – where homosexuality was seen as a disease. With all its awards, some would say no other film with a homosexual theme has achieved more than Brokeback Mountain – not solely because it’s a love story between two cowboys, but more importantly because it’s the story of a forbidden love, condemned to a universe of secrecy.
C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005, Dir. Jean-Marc Vallée – Canada)
From the 1960s all the way through to the 1980s, Zac (Marc-André Grondin), the fourth among five male siblings, grows up experiencing homosexual desires from his early teenage years, while trying to deal with his mum’s religious fervour and his dad’s intolerance. His struggle to please his conservative parents comes to an end when he reaches maturity, and the film beautifully narrates his trajectory through the different stages of his character – childhood to adulthood, denial to acceptance. It stands out from the crowd with its masterful direction, impeccable acting and its amazing soundtrack, including songs by David Bowie, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, to name but a few.
My Own Private Idaho (1991, Dir. Gus Van Sant – USA)
More than a movie about male prostitution, My Own Private Idaho is above all else a movie about the characters’ struggle to discover who they really are, from their origins to their sexual preferences. Written and directed by Gus Van Sant (who would direct Milk seventeen years later), and mixing elements from William Shakespeare’s Henry IV and testimonies from real male prostitutes, it tells the story of Mike (River Phoenix) and Scott (Keanu Reaves) in their search for Mike’s mother. With no money to their names, they enter the world of prostitution; however, Mike falls in love with Scott ,which is when trouble really starts.
Querelle (1982, Dir. Rainar Werner Fassbinder – West Germany/France)
This film tells us the story of Querelle (Brad Davis), a French sailor that docks in Brest. A savage moved by nothing but carnal desires, he becomes a regular client of Lysiane’s (Jeanne Moreau) brothel, becoming involved with both men and women in an oneiric search for pleasure in a sub-world full of amoral attitudes, sex and the strong colours of a never-ending sunset. The film is the final work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, gay filmmaker and playwright, and one of New German Cinema’s most important names, and is based on the novel Querelle de Brest written by Jean Genet in 1947.
Tomboy (2011, Dir. Céline Sciamma – France)
When little Laure (Zoé Héran) moves to a new city with her family she’s mistaken for a boy due to her short hair and boyish clothes by someone else, and thus decides to live her real gender identity. Gracious and emotional, you might want to have a tissue handy to get to the end of the film. Tomboy is, as its name suggests, a reflection on the behaviour and sexuality of a ten-year-old girl, but different from films such as The Birdcage and others portraying the great questions of sexuality; it’s more intimate and braver, since it presents that transsexual/homosexual universe from the viewpoint of someone right before their teenage years, in a phase that sexual impulses do not yet exist, but one’s true personality starts to build.
Weekend (2011, Dir. Andrew Haigh – UK)
Concise and simple, directed by Andrew Haigh and featuring Tom Cullen and Chris New, this film tells the story of Russel, a heterosexual boy who decides to go into a gay club and meets Glen. What might have initially seemed like a one-night stand turns into something completely different from anything he had ever imagined before. Based mostly on dialogue between the two lead characters, the film is appealing in the crude way in which it deals with the development of an unexpected and unlikely relationship, making it easy for the audience to connect with it.