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Love! Valour! Queer Cinema! 

A guide to the Lesbian and Gay Film Fest

Wednesday, Jun 18 1997
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Page 2 of 3

-- Heather Wisner
Plays Wednesday, June 25, 10:30 p.m. at the Victoria

FINISHED
This is a threadbare cinema bio, a speculative history of Alan Lambert, a gay porn star and self-styled "Marxist messiah" unknown outside the porn world. A soporific narration repeatedly emphasizes the difficulty director William E. Jones had in "constructing" this mystery man, a problem not helped by the lack of live footage from what should be an essential source: Lambert's many sex films. Instead we get endless shots of trees, ocean waves, cityscapes. Lengthy excerpts from Capra's Meet John Doe don't convince us the subject was an everyman. And the director's claim that Lambert was a virtual visionary is fatally undercut when we hear how worried the subject was about the damage a hemorrhoid might do to his career. End credits say an NEA grant partially funded Finished, and perhaps it shows the present price of NEA sponsorship: a flick about a porn star with no nudity.

-- Gary Morris
Plays Wednesday, June 25, 8 p.m. at the Roxie

FIRE
Lesbianism as a powerful tonic to the suppressions of Indian culture is the subject of Deepak Mehta's contemporary melodrama. Radha (played by megastar Shabana Azmi) is the traditional "good wife" who never questions her husband, a sect-follower who tests his libido by forcing her to lie naked next to him every night, so that he can resist temptation. Sita (Nandita Das) is her younger, more modern-thinking sister-in-law, whose arrival coincides with Radha's increasing alienation. Sita is horrified by her own marriage to self-absorbed philanderer Jatin (Jaaved Jaaferi): "This devotion thing is overrated," she says flatly. The film, a deft mix of pathos and humor, lovingly details their increasingly indiscreet trysts. A wizened, judgmental granny provides a wordless black-comic Greek chorus (she's mute from a stroke); the high point occurs when the house servant nervously masturbates to a video called The Joy Suck Club while granny watches in horror. Fire was shot in India at the same time Mira Nair's Kama Sutra was causing a scandal; Fire's upfront treatment of a lesbian amour, normally a taboo subject in the country, went happily unnoticed.

-- Gary Morris
Plays Friday, June 27, 7 p.m. at the Castro

FRANCHESCA PAGE
The musical, at least the cinematic variety, has mostly been consigned to the same historical trash heap as the western as a genre hopelessly out of touch with modern viewers. But gay audiences may be more tolerant of the form than the mainstream; how else to explain the presence of two old-style musicals in this year's festival? (The other is Broadway Damage.) Franchesca Page stars drag-queen performance artist Varla Jean Merman as a Divine-like stage mother who makes a living from waitressing and singing racy numbers at an airport lounge. Her life's dream, and the movie's plot, is her attempt to push her sweet but talentless daughter into a promising new "disco musical." But the production is plagued with infighting and a series of mysterious assaults and deaths, a la Phantom. Writer/director Kelley Sane mines reliable sources -- Broadway, John Waters, Pedro Almodovar -- for this gaudy, entertaining, if ultimately forgettable exercise in drag shtick.

-- Gary Morris
Plays Saturday, June 28, 8:30 p.m. at the Castro

FULL SPEED
The "kids" of Full Speed are a group of French and Arab hipsters who listen to rap and write poetry and novels. They're political and polysexual romantics -- fighting against injustices of class and race but less adept at resolving their own increasingly out-of-control relationships. Director Gaël Morel convincingly frames their story against a backdrop of French racism and the ascendancy of the right wing. During a speech, white Quentin unnerves his bourgeois audience by forcing them to look at an Arab friend who's been assaulted: "Show your scar. Let them see the political promises of the far right." Typical of this complex, passionate work, though, Quentin puts his own class privileges to use by exploiting a love-struck young Arab named Samir. In a heartbreaking moment that distills the personal from the political, Samir lies naked next to the indifferent Quentin and says, "Turn toward me. I'll make do with your heart beating next to mine."

-- Gary Morris
Plays Saturday, June 21, 4:30 p.m. at the Castro

L'ESCORTE
Some commentators have called Denis Langlois' new film a "Canadian Friends," but L'Escorte far surpasses the American TV show from its earliest scene -- a nerve-racking party where a tightknit group of pals of various genders and sexualities play out their fraying relationships. A simple practical joke -- hiring the title character, a call boy named Steve, for the brooding Jean-Marc -- strains all the film's major relationships to the breaking point as Steve sleeps his way through the group. This $200,000 production features first-rate, naturalistic acting; a story that constantly surprises; a complex mise en scene; and sure proof that bloated budgets do not a movie make.

-- Gary Morris
Plays Saturday, June 21, 8 p.m. at the Roxie; also plays Wednesday, June 25, 3 p.m. at the Roxie

LATE BLOOMERS
The lesbian regional romance is now an identifiable genre. In Julia Dyer's film, shot in Dallas, a straight secretary trapped in a sexless marriage falls in love with a dyke geometry teacher and basketball coach. In the press notes, the filmmakers say their research showed that "women falling in love with each other in mid-life, after they'd had marriages and families, was nothing new." While the film suffers from some plot contrivances and occasional bathos, the relationship between Carly and Dinah indeed rings true. Images like the two women playing basketball in wedding gowns, or their furtive passing of toilet paper under the stalls of a school bathroom as a token of budding desire, bring freshness and feeling to the proceedings.

About The Authors

Gary Morris

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