At the JIO-MAMI film festival 2017

Romance, both bitter and sweet

Of queer love and loss: (clockwise from top) Call Me By Your Name; A Fantastic Woman; and Beach Rats;

Of queer love and loss: (clockwise from top) Call Me By Your Name; A Fantastic Woman; and Beach Rats;  

The LGBTQ films at MAMI this edition are noteworthy for their emphasis on relationships, love, transgender and masculinity issues

In this year’s best director award winning film at the Sundance Film Festival – Beach Rats, a high school teenager in Brooklyn spends hot summer days with his buddies – a group of shirtless young men, and also a new girlfriend, whom he is confused about. But at night director Eliza Hittman’s protagonist Frankie goes online where he chats with older gay men and then has random encounters with them in cars and on beaches.

In Call Me By Your Name (CMBYN)- another Sundance hit and runner-up for the People’s Choice Award at last month’s Toronto International Film Festival, a 17-year-old American high school teenager - Elio, spending the summer at his parents’ Italian villa, has a passionate affair with his father’s 24-year-old research assistant.

CMBYN and Beach Rats are two of the most celebrated gay-themed English language films of the year, which will play at the ongoing Jio MAMI’s 19th Mumbai Film Festival with Star. CMBYN – a European production, directed by the Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love and A Bigger Splash) has traveled to Berlin, Telluride, Toronto and New York film festivals, and is carrying with it a strong Oscar buzz.

Other notables with a LGBTQ focus at this edition of MAMI include, the Chilean film A Fantastic Woman (winner of Silver Bear for best screenplay at the Berlinale this year), director Sebastián Lelio (Gloria) narrates the story about a transgender singer in a relationship with an older divorced man. There’s Chavela, a delightful documentary about a lesbian Costa Rican singer and the South African production The Wound that explores masculinity issues in the country’s Xhosa tribe. I had earlier written about both the films in another piece for this newspaper. Together the films provide a taste of varying LGBT experiences in different parts of the world. But in each film love, romance and sex comes at a price. The struggles of the protagonists often outweigh their moments of pleasure and joy.

CMBYN is based on a well-received novel by the Egyptian American author and City University of New York professor André Aciman. And the film’s screenplay is written by the 89-year old James Ivory, one-half of the Merchant Ivory Productions team and director of a range of classics from Shakespeare Wallah to Heat and Dust, A Room with a View and Maurice.

Ivory was originally supposed to direct CMBYN. He recently gave an interview where he talked about how the script he wrote included several scenes of male nudity. But the film’s two lead actors - Timothée Chalamet (who plays the young Elio) and Armie Hammer (the older Oliver) had no frontal nudity clause in their contracts. “It’s just this American attitude,” Ivory said to Variety. “Nobody seems to care that much, or be shocked, about a totally naked woman. It’s the men. This is something that must be so deeply cultural that one should ask: ‘Why?’”

The lack of nudity aside, CMBYN is a deeply romantic film, where first love, passion and heartbreak are dealt with honesty and beauty. The fact that the film is set in an idyllic Italian village with long hot summer days, adds to the general romantic mood.

While CMBYN’s young Elio finds romance – at least for one summer, Beach Rats’ Frankie (British actor Harris Dickinson who is terrific as a Brooklyn teenager) follows the path of self-destruction. Instead of romance, there’s plenty of pain in Frankie’s messy summer. His father’s health is failing and he is having a tough time suppressing his big secret. The only solace he finds is in seeking older men for random sex, often with the added intension of scoring drugs from them. Beach Rats explores a very different American gay experience than CMBYN, but together the two films are fine bookends to coming-of-age dramas.

A Fantastic Woman’s Marina (Daniela Vega) – a trans woman, is comfortable about her gender and sexuality, yet she has battles to fight. Her lover – the middle-aged man Orlando suddenly dies of an aneurysm, and his family, including his ex-wife and son ban Marina from attending his funeral. But Marina does not step aside and play timid. Instead she fights back for her right to be at her lover’s funeral.

After its premiere at the Berlinale A Fantastic Woman has been highly appreciated at Telluride and Toronto festivals. Most of the focus has been on Vega, who in her second film outing is outstanding as Marina. It would be remarkable if Vega were remembered during this year’s award season. That would be a first for a transgender performer and would make Marina’s struggles and small wins in A Fantastic Woman all the more sweet.

For more details on screenings see, www.mumbaifilmfestival.com

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