Film Scouts Diaries

1998 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Cannes Diary #6: Pink Triangle/Bermuda Triangle

by Lisa Nesselson

May 23, 1998

I doubled over with laughter upon reading young director Sebastien Lifshitz's assertion in the press notes to his Cinemas en France entry "Les Corps Ouverts" (Open Bodies) that "homosexuality is not often represented in French cinema...". If depictions of gay behavior in movies were once as scarce as public approval of gays and lesbians, I think it's safe to say the drought is over. In fact, a space alien forced to bone up on human sexual proclivities using only this year's Cannes line-up, couldn't be blamed for concluding that homosexuality is the societal norm and heterosexual coupling the exception.

Here, off the top of my head, are a few observations about the characters in the films (French and otherwise) I've seen at Cannes this year.

"Ceux qui m'aient prendront le train" (Those Who Love Me Can Take The Train)
The characters en route to the funeral of Jean-Baptiste, a minor painter who fascinated men and women alike but sure did like to "eat ass" (as the subtitles so concisely put it), include a gay art critic whose lover, since boarding the train, has fallen madly in love with a scrawny teenage boy with whom he'll have furtive semi-sex in the train's toilet. After the funeral, we get to know a flighty woman named Viviane, played by none-other-than Vincent Perez ("The Crow" sequel, "Swept from the Sea") in a borderline risible but ultimately touching and moving turn. Patrice Chereau ('Queen Margot') loves to send the camera swooping and probing and obviously thinks there's no such thing as too many longing glances between male protagonists. (Competition)

"L'Arriere Pays" (The Hinterland)
Jacques, a 50-ish actor based in Paris, returns to his podunk town in Southwest France for his mother's funeral. Jacques left town at age 16 since the brutish locals razzed him for being too effeminate. Jacques (played by screenwriter-director Jacques Nolot, who also penned Andre Techine's "I Don't Kiss" - which told of a young man who arrives in Paris and becomes a male prostitute) takes a nap and dreams about adolescent male crotches and supple adult male crotches on a soccer field and in a bull fighting ring, respectively. Nolot's first feature does a terrific job of portraying the brutish locals, whose ordinary small-mindedness is terrifyingly authentic. You get the distinct impression that, lurking beneath cookie-cutter pleasantries, is an atavistic urge to beat Jacques to death with clubs. The washing and dressing of his mom's corpse is also something one doesn't often see on film. (Cinemas en France)

"Les Corps Ouverts" (Open Bodies)
Eighteen-year-old Remi answers an ad at school for a movie audition and ends up "auditioning" his anal passageway for the casting director. Although the film (which won the prestigeous Prix Jean Vigo) only lasts 45 minutes, sweet confused Remi also has a sexual encounter in a sex shop backroom with another young man (played, with casual sympathy, by the film's real director, Sebastien Lifshitz) and also fits in a roll in the hay with an attractive young woman, after which he says "I didn't think I liked girls." "Yeah," says the young lady "Girls can be a real pain in the ass." "That's not what I meant," says Remi. "What did you mean?" asks the girl. She never gets an answer. (Cinemas en France)

In the wacky French film "Sitcom," a bourgeois family abruptly experiences the joys of S & M, orgies and incest after dad brings home a pet rat. The first family member to be transformed by contact with the rat is the quiet nerdy son, who announces he's gay and changes his major from pre-law to shopping for Jean-Paul Gaultier duds. The Spanish maid's African husband also shows an avid interest in male flesh. Francois Ozon's first full-fledged feature doesn't sustain the mastery he showed in "A Summer Dress" (25 minutes) and the supremely creepy "See the Sea" (52 minutes), but this young man's dripping with talent. (International Critics Week)

"L'Ecole de la chair" (The School of Flesh)
In Benoit Jacquot's "L'ecole de la chair," adapted from a novel by Yukio Mishima, a middle-aged woman (Isabelle Huppert) falls hard for a handsome 20-year-old boy (toothsome newcomer Vincent Martinez) who bartends in a gay bar and is happy to sleep with either sex for money. Their class differences end up being more of an obstacle to happiness than the age difference. In her struggle to hold on to the young stud, the woman enlists the help of the bar's host-cum-hostess, played by Vincent Lindon, in a woman's wig and feminine garb and accesories. A rock solid French film for grown-ups with few surprises but plenty of well-observed human behavior. (Competition)

Those are just a few examples from Gaul. On to other fine nations.

From Australia:
Ana Kokkinos's "Head On" could have been called 'A Wog on the Wild Side.' Adapted with only moderate flair from the novel "Loaded" by Christos Tsiolkas, "Head On" follows the disolute adventures of Ari, an Australian of Greek heritage whose family expects him to study, marry, work hard and be respectable. Ari just wants to have hot, furtive sex with other men. Which he proceeds to do on screen. Ari's friend Johnny wears a dress, which does nothing to improve their predicament when the two men are hauled into a police station and beaten. It's hard to believe so much sex, violence and rebellion can be so tedious, but in this case, it is. (Directors Fortnight)

From Spain:
In "Torrente, el brazo tonto de la ley" (Torrente, The Dumb Arm of the Law), the title's boorish ex-cop (played by writer-director Santiago Segura) is on a quasi-stakeout with a young man who works in a fish shop. "How 'bout we jerk each other off?" suggests Torrente. "Not a fag thing, you understand - just something to pass the time." This is played for laughs and gets them in a wall-to-wall send-up that couldn't be crasser or sillier if Beavis and Butt-head had been script consultants. "Torrente," which opened earlier this year on it's own turf, is now the biggest Spanish box office success of all time. (International Critics Week)

From Canada:
In "Last Night," Don McKellar's poignant and funny depiction of the last six hours before the world ends as experienced by a batch of characters in Toronto, heterosexual Patrick (writer-director McKellar) is approached by a good (and also straight) buddy to have a man-to-man encounter so they won't have to die without having experienced whatever that experience might bring. "Last Night" packs a lot of observations about love, sex, desire and devotion into its compact framework. Sometimes hilarious and almost always touching, "Last Night" weaves its individual strands into a satisfying whole. (Directors Fortnight)

From the U.S.A.:
In "The Imposters," a madcap antics-at-sea farce, circa the 1930s, the champion wrestler played by Billy Connolly takes every opportunity to extoll the virtues of "firm buttocks" and sweating men wrestling in the altogether in Greco-Roman splendor. This is played for laughs and gets them. The film, written and directed by Stanley Tucci, treads water a litle too often, but is sweetly entertaining at least half the time. (Un Certain Regard)

In Lisa Cholodenko's outstanding "High Art," 24-year-old Syd (Radha Mitchell) lives with her boyfriend and works at the glossy manhattan-based photo magazine "Frame." When her bathroom ceiling spings a leak she ventures upstairs to the apartment of Lucy Berliner (Ally Sheedy in a flat-out terrific performance), a wealthy lesbian and lapsed photographer whose draped-on-the-furniture friends (with few exceptions) are all lesbians or heroin addicts or both. Syd finds the atmosphere sductive in every way and is soon opening her nostrils to heroin and her legs to experimentation. (Directors Fortnight)

Todd Solondz's "Happiness" has at its bittersweet core a father who's a sensitive, caring dad, whose love for and gift for patiently guiding his son knows no bounds. Unfortunately, this same fellow - a shrink by trade - is also terminally attracted to his adolescent son's male classmates. As Solondz deftly proved in "Welcome to the Dollhouse," middle class Americans are exotic, emotionally challenged creatures doing daily battle with feelings and fears that leave giant asteroids and overgrown Japanese lizards in the dust. (Directors Fortnight)

Todd Haynes's "Velvet Goldmine" is a treasure trove of polymorphous perversity, set in the sexually fluid milieu of glam rock. Woody Allen once cracked that bisexuality doubles your chance of getting a date on Saturday night. "Velvet Goldmine" plays like one very protracted, fetchingly designed Saturday night followed by a rude awakening in a decade that doesn't sparkle nearly as much. (Competition)

And I haven't had the pleasure of seeing "Love is the Devil," (Un Certain Regard), from the UK, which depicts the twisted, emotionally draining relationship between painter Francis Bacon and his berated young boyfriend.

So, Monsieur Lifshitz's assertion to the contrary, when it comes to contemporary cinema, in Gaul or elsewhere, the pink traingle hasn't exactly been sucked up into the Bermuda Triangle.

The Directors Fortnight celebrated its 30th edition this year by screening Paul Leni's silent classic "The Man Who Laughs" from 1928. Shown with an outstanding score composed by Canada's Gabril Thibaudeau (and performed quite sonorously by the Octuor de France), the film features a trusty canine companion, whom the characters call from time to time via title cards. His name? "Homo."

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