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Gay deceivers
Dodging clichés in the 21st Boston Gay & Lesbian Film/Video Festival

Some day gay filmmakers are going to realize that Queer Eye is not enough. That the innocuous clichés pandered on the more risqué TV networks arenít going to save their asses from the growing forces of hate. Perhaps a return to the transgressive cinema of the young Gus Van Sant, Todd Haynes, and Mary Harron is overdue. But to judge from much of the selection in this yearís Gay & Lesbian Film/Video Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts, thatís not going to happen soon.

Instead, taking a tip from sit-coms, trash-talk shows, and some of the less cutting-edge stand-up, gay directors seem to be settling into the rut of puffy romantic comedy bolstered by voice-overs. Or, in the case of Lee Friedlanderís Girl Play (2004; May 13 at 8:15 p.m.), a film based on the true story of two lesbian actresses who play lovers in a play and find life imitating artifice, padded with charactersí direct addresses to the camera. I didnít hang on to see how this one wound up; there didnít seem to be any doubt.

I stuck out Tennyson Bardwellís Dorian Blues (2004; screens May 12 at 8 p.m.) a bit longer, not because it was any less hackneyed (as the teenage Dorian of the title forewarns you, heís not just gay but a stereotypical gay) but because it has a genuine sense of humor and tart comic timing and a few surprises up its sleeves. Too bad they didnít do much to mitigate Dorianís villainous dad ó a bullying, homophobic Republican whoís the Kennedy-loving Dorianís nemesis. Wouldnít it be more useful to explore why so many bright gay writers and activists end up as apologists for and enablers of such creeps?

Maybe we can find less homogenized gay cinema in countries yet uncivilized by Bravo TV. Russia, for example, home of Olga Stolpovskaya and Dmitry Troitsky and their You I Love (2004; May 18 at 8:15 p.m.). Vera, a TV news anchor, hits it off with Timofei, an advertising executive, in a Moscow so alienated from its own labor that Lenin would roll over in his glass coffin. One of Timofeiís ads, for example, has a squad of soldiers chanting out, "Freedom is Cola!" Sure, itís not subtle, and doesnít get any more so when Uloomji, a fur-capped Kalmyk who doesnít know what an ATM is but does know how to live, enters the scene. But as hoky as the film grows as it strains for style, laughs, and effect, itís never dull or pretentious. Uloomji not only rekindles Timofeiís life force and libido, he sparks a degree of cinematic imagination thatís otherwise hard to come by in this festival.

The subplot of Uloomjiís conflict with his traditional family takes the foreground in Indian director Ligy J. Pullappallyís Journey (2004; May 14 at 7:30 p.m.). Despite the generic title, this romantic tragedy overcomes formula with richness of detail and complexity of mood. It starts out as a cliffhanger, with young Kiran poised on the edge of a gorge and ready to take the plunge. As we see in lengthy flashback, her desperation owes to her love for her feisty, lovely neighbor, Delilah. Their passion is revealed in little epiphanies; finally it blazes forth in defiance of the patriarchal values upheld by the pairís otherwise sympathetic families. Pullappally exploits the lush rural settingís beauty and mood of languor and repressed sensuality, not to mention the depth and attractiveness of the talented cast.

Plus, no voiceovers. For that you must travel west, to London, for the overdetermined self-analysis of Lisa Gornickís wry, tortured and, despite itself, sexy Do I Love You? (2003; May 22 at 6 p.m.). Or further west to San Francisco for even more austere self-reflection in Jenni Olsenís The Joy of Life (2005; May 13 at 6:15 p.m.), wherein we get analyses of her failures to achieve intimacy (they sound at times like a macho version of Gornickís more refined dialogues) recited by Harry Dodge, co-director of 2001ís ambitious if uneven By Hook or by Crook, over an endless montage of San Francisco landscapes.

After a while, you notice that there are no people in these landscapes ó wait, isnít that a bicyclist at the end of that alley? ó and that the Capra-esque title comes from a peeling sign on an old factory wall. Musings on Capra and Itís a Wonderful Life lead to a discussion of suicide and the Golden Gate Bridge and a confrontation with the abyss of loneliness and mortality that Olsenís line of thought seems to have been leading to, and avoiding, all along. Unlike too many efforts in this festival, the simple and relentless Joy of Life spurns stereotype and aspires to the universal.

Issue Date: May 6 - 12, 2005
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