The 18th edition of TLVFEST – The Tel Aviv International LGBTQ+ Film Festival, will take place from December 21 – 30 2023. Postponed from its original dates following the tragic events of October 7th and the ongoing war, the current edition will be held in recognition of these difficult times, without the traditional parties, cocktails, and international guests, and will focus solely on films. Yair Hochner, founder and director of the festival released a statement: “This is one of the most difficult times our country has known, our hearts are completely broken. I hope that the festival will succeed in creating an embracing, comforting and loving community atmosphere for cinema fans.” The full festival program and ticket information may be found on the TLVFEST website.
The political is intensely personal in Georgia Oakley’s Blue Jean, a taut, meticulously crafted film that blazes with an incandescent performance by Rosy McEwen. The film is set in late 1980s England, when Margaret Thatcher’s government passed Section 28 – laws that prohibited schools from “promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” If reading that makes you burn with rage, consider that these laws remained in effect until the year 2000 in Scotland, and until 2003 in England and Wales.
Blue Jean opens with a bold defining scene as Jean (McEwan), a gym teacher at a school in Newcastle, dyes her 80s cropped hair a bleached blonde. Recently divorced, she’s drawing a line between past and present, changing her look as she has changed her life. Yet that new life, which includes the fiercely attractive, brutally honest, shaved-headed Viv (Kerrie Hayes), must be kept secret if Jean is to keep her job. Passing at work is all the more crucial now that Section 28 is everywhere, blatantly encouraging systemic homophobia and discrimination. Jean must remain silent when co-workers talk about the “vulnerability” of young minds and feels compelled to tell her sister that Viv is “a friend.”
The closet is not a comfortable place and Jean is tense and wary at work, always playing a role. Only at night, when she hangs with Viv and their friends at a gay bar, shooting pool, is there a glimpse of the Jean that she might become. The arrival of a new student, Lois (Lucy Halliday), who immediately stands out as different, and happens to be a talented athlete, initiates a series of events and encounters which force Jean to make decisions. Struggling to be true to herself, her profession, her students, and her lover, while keeping her true self hidden is just what it sounds like – impossible. Although Jean tries to tell Viv that “not everything is political,” reality sides with Viv, who responds, “Of course it is.” Blue Jean is one of the best films I’ve seen this year.
Corey Sherman’s superb coming-of-age/coming-out feature debut Big Boys boasts an oh-so-sweet protagonist Jamie (Isaac Krasner) who practices the culinary arts with flair. Jamie is the very essence of emerging adolescence, he’s already had his Bar Mitzvah, he’s just had a growth spurt and is really tall, but his voice is still high, and he hasn’t quite grown into his changing body. Krasner is immensely appealing as Jamie, creating a funny, exquisitely detailed portrait of a quirky, sensitive, teenager in the process of figuring out the mysteries of life.
About to go on a much-anticipated camping weekend with his cousin Allie (Dora Madison) and his older brother Will (Taj Cross), Jamie is blind-sided when he learns that Allie’s boyfriend Dan (David Johnson III) will be joining them. Sharing his concerns with his mother Nicole (Emily Deschanel), that Allie and Dan will be having sex all the time, reflects his general discomfort with the topic, as well as lack of inclination to share Allie with anyone else. Smart and thoughtful, Jamie relies on his intellect, accumulating and dispersing knowledge as a way of maneuvering around tricky emotional terrain. Like many a teenager, Jamie has a talent for creating awkward moments, and Sherman makes the most of them, which had me laughing while inwardly cringing on Jamie’s behalf. There is a cute inside joke in one of these very first scenes – you’re smart, I’m sure you’ll get it.
Growing up with a single mother, Jamie gives the impression of an essentially confident kid who has been brought up with love. Older brother Will provides a great role model for toxic masculinity, yet although the boys share a mostly nice balance of sibling rivalry and affection, Jamie has his own moral code. It’s made fairly clear that Jamie has grown up in a culture of passive homophobia, in which gay boys and men are considered “different” and it’s understood that it’s legitimate to find that hilarious. Yet as we follow Jamie in his preparations for the camping trip, meticulously researched list in hand, his gaze at the affectionate bearded couple next door seems more than curious.
Big, muscular, Dan soon bonds with Will over sports, but as the weekend progresses, Dan’s relaxed demeanor and casual competence win over Jamie’s initial reluctance. Dan is the kind of guy who plays fair, and Jamie can’t help but admire his strong character, as well as his bear-like masculinity. Will, naturally, spots some girls at the campground, the classically attractive blond Quinn (Emma Broz), and her less conventionally hot friend Erika (Marion Van Cuyk). Jamie navigates camping skills, social skills, and his complicated feelings, with endearing awkwardness and impressive integrity.
Moritz, the protagonist of Hannes Hirsch’s debut feature Drifter, embodies a very different style of coming-of-age. 22-year-old Moritz (Lorenz Hochhuth) has come to Berlin to move in with his artist boyfriend Jonas (Gustav Schmidt). Although he’s physically left the nest, he still hasn’t really spread his wings – mother is sending him money so he can take his time figuring out the rest of life. To continue the animal imagery, compared to Jonas and his coterie, Moritz is very much of a country mouse. Older, more experienced and sophisticated, they lead free, hedonistic, and stylish lives – all new and a bit overwhelming for the clean cut Moritz. He doesn’t seem to have experienced much, and perhaps that is why, soon after his arrival in Berlin, Jonas has second thoughts about their relationship. Moritz is devastated by the breakup, and promptly joins a gym.
As Moritz begins to explore Berlin and its denizens, he is in the process of learning who he is – apart from his upbringing, apart from Jonas – and who he might become when he grows up. Initially hesitant, Moritz becomes more and more open to meeting new people and trying new things, and Berlin has much to offer. Especially to handsome young men like Moritz. At first, he seems to rely on the familiar, seeking the reassurance of a new relationship, but as he grows more confident, he experiments – with his sexual encounters, with drugs, and with his appearance. Hochhuth is fascinating to watch in his transformation from a diffident, callow, youth to a savvy player on Berlin’s queer playground, eager to try all the many flavors on offer, still on the path of discovery.
Sacha Polak’s Silver Haze has a gritty, almost documentary-like sensibility in its depiction of working-class life in England, yet there is a hopeful feel in its moments of tenderness, connection, and sweet joys. Vicky Knight delivers a riveting, powerful, performance as Franky, in a role that was in part inspired by events in Knight’s life. A fire at her father’s pub when Franky was a little girl has left its mark on her body, 15 years later, the emotional scars are still there too. The fire is rumored to have been set by Jane, with whom Franky’s father had an affair, yet nothing has ever been proved. The fire, and the subsequent breakup of her parents’ marriage, has left its mark on the entire family. Her mother is a mess, her sister Leah (Charlotte Knight, Vicky’s sister) is in an abusive relationship, and Franky seems resigned to expecting very little from life. It does not help that she clearly has been raised by a mother who was not able to give her the guidance and emotional tools to grow into a mentally healthy adult. Yet although she is haunted by the past, and doesn’t have much joy in the present moment, she is literally a survivor, and she has not lost her capacity for caring and compassion.
That compassion is revealed in her work as a nurse, healing others even though she cannot heal herself. It is there she meets Florence (Esmé Creed-Miles), and the two broken yet spirited women recognize in one another a kindred soul. Falling for Flo, Franky experiences new feelings, and finds within herself the capacity for a freedom she had never imagined. There are no formulaic, glib answers in this film, it follows its characters as they wander and sometimes falter with a compelling honesty.
GLITTER AND DOOM
Tom Gustafson’s delightfully named Glitter & Doom is a super feel-good summer romance musical (and TLVFEST’s closing film), with two seriously handsome male leads, set to the wonderful songs of the Indigo Girls, with appearances by Amy Ray and Emily Saliers themselves! If you’re not already dancing for joy, let me add another sweet surprise: Tig Notaro. Yes, this movie is sheer delight! Don’t worry too much about plot and character, just enjoy the flow.
Glitter (Alex Diaz) is the pampered son of studio executive boss mother Ivy (Ming-Na Wen) who wants him to follow in her footsteps. Glitter wants to be a clown. Doom (Alan Cammish) comes from the other side of the tracks; life with his mother (Missi Pyle) has been harsh and rough, hence his rather bleak outlook. Doom aspires to be a rock musician, but fails audition after audition at the local queer night club La Fountaine, as manager (Lea de Laria) keeps asking, “Don’t you have anything lighter?” This sweet, opposites-attract couple’s meet-cute is that at first, they don’t meet. Glitter (Alex Diaz) is performing on the street, albeit not so successfully, and Doom (Alan Cammish), depressed after messing up another audition, just walks by.
They do eventually connect and decide to get away from it all and go camping – “Get Out the Map”. Good times. But they are also troubled by thoughts of the future, and haunted by the past. Glitter wants to go to clown school but hasn’t quite gotten around to putting together his application. Doom wants to write a song that will finally get him a gig, but when his mother Robin shows up, despite a wonderful duet (Missi Pyle sure can sing!), Robin is trouble. Will they follow their dreams? Will they stay together? Watch and find out. Will Tig Notaro be fabulous? Oh yes! And if you don’t love the big scene with the Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine” you may not be the sentimental type.