Film Review | Sunday, 12 July 2009
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The story of L

For three days next week, the St James Cavalier cinema will host the LGBT Film Festival, which, as part of a collaboration between St James and the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM), aims to bring present a selection of worthy films on LGBT issues from all around the globe.
The festival forms one of the events surrounding Diversity Week, which will be taking place over July 13 - 18. According to organizer Lorraine Falzon, the festival “is another way in which we seek to render the lives of LGBT individuals visible since often heteronormativity prevails. Just look around you at the images on billboards, bus shelters and magazines and see how little there is that recognises same sex attraction or challenges gender stereotypes. It is also a means of celebrating LGBT culture and sub-cultures, rejoicing in our diversity. We hope that the films are enjoyed not just by the LGBT community but also by wider society. St James Cavalier is an ideal location since it is centrally located and therefore easily accessible. It has also earned a reputation for supporting alternative art and media performances.”

The first film in the series will be Ma vie en rose (My Life in Pink), the 1997 film by Belgian filmmaker Alain Berliner. The film deals with Ludovic (Georges Du Fresne), a seven-year old boy growing up in a middle-class Belgian neighbourhood who discovers that he is not like other boys: dressing up as a girl feels natural to him, and he is continually perplexed by how his parents, the neighbours and the school authorities react to his habits. Berliner positions the film through Ludovic’s lens, which makes it all the easier to both identify with the boy and to defamiliarise the grown-ups’ reaction to his cross-dressing ways. Ludovic approaches all of this with tender innocence, and his persistence against all odds isn’t born out of stubbornness or rebellion, but simply out of a sense that he refuses to do anything that doesn’t feel natural. While his hardships are many and constant, what distinguishes Ma vie en rose from far more harrowing fare such as Boys Don’t Cry and Brokeback Mountain is its middle-class setting. There is very little actual danger for Ludovic: his parents clearly love him, and no real harm is going to come to him by angry mobs with pitchforks, or psychotic rapists (at least, not yet). But it teeters on the brink, and this fragile tension is what keeps the film alive and kicking. Indeed, the banal prejudice of the neighbourhood in which Ludovic’s family has just moved (as his father does his best to be chummy with his boss) becomes a point for wry humour.

Central to the films motifs is the ‘girly’ TV show ‘Le monde du Pam’, in which Barbie and Ken look-alikes live out an rosy existence as the perfect man-woman coupling. Ludovic is a fan of the kitsch show, which acts as an escapist retreat for the self-proclaimed girlboy. In a way, this technique is similar to the one employed by novelist Jeanette Winterson for her debut novel Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, a thinly-veiled autobiography dealing with the author’s emergence as a lesbian. In both cases, escapism is treated not as a denial of reality, but a necessary immersion into a parallel universe that allows your true self to grow. This is what truly marks Ludovic out as a hero, and a survivor. The device is used as an epiphany towards the end and while it may come off as a dues-ex machina, Berliner does take us on a journey up to that point, so it doesn’t feel too gratuitous. While Ludovic is the whirlwind that causes the chaos to happen, he remains sympathetic, and while his family may come off as antagonists at several intervals, their pain is real, and they mature with him. Overall, Berliner’s film is worth watching as a coming-of-age story in its own right.
The following festival days will also feature Sean Mathias’ Bent and Shamim Sarif’s I Can’t Think Straight. Bent is based on a 1979 play by Martin Sherman which revolves around the persecution of gay men in Third Reich Germany after the murder of Sturmabteilung leader Ernst Röhm. The original play marked the first time that popular culture had acknowledged the fact that the gay men were victims of the Holocaust, and helped pave the way for more historical research and documentaries to be released about the fate of homosexuals under Nazi Germany. Max (Clive Owen), a promiscuous gay man in 1930s Berlin, is at odds with his wealthy family because of his homosexuality. One evening, much to the resentment of his boyfriend Rudy (Brian Webber), he brings home a handsome SA man. Unfortunately, Hitler has just decided to get rid of the Sturmabteilung, which was noted (in the sense of defamed) for the same-sex inclinations among its ranks. The Sturmabteilung man is discovered and killed by SS men in Max and Rudy's apartment and the two have to flee Berlin. Max's uncle Freddie (Ian McKellen), who is also gay, but lives a more discreet life with rent boys to satisfy his desires, has organized new papers for Max, but Max refuses to leave his naïve boyfriend behind. As a result, Max and Rudy are found and arrested by the Gestapo and put on a train headed for Dachau concentration camp.

I Can’t Think Straight follows the story of Tala, a London-based Jordanian of Palestinian origin prepares for an elaborate wedding with her Jordanian fiancé. But then she encounters Leyla, a young British Indian woman who is dating her best friend Ali. Spirited Christian Tala and shy Muslim Leyla could not be more different from each other but the attraction is immediate. Tala’s feisty nature provokes Leyla out of her shell and soon both women reveal their feelings for each other. But Tala is not ready to accept the implications of the choice her heart has made and escapes back to Jordan where her chain-smoking high-brow mother finishes preparations for an ostentatious wedding.

Ma Vie en Rose will be showing at St James Cavalier cinema tomorrow (July 13) at 21:00. Ticket for one festival film is at €5.00 (€3.00 MGRM members) while a block ticket for all three films is at €12.00 (€7.00 MGRM members)


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