Normally at this time of year many Bay Areans (and a few visitors arriving just for this reason) would be about to suspend nearly all other activity in order to spend eleven days or so soaking up international LGBTQ cinema via Frameline’s annual big event. Of course, that festival like many others is suspending its usual public-screening operations due to COVID-19 restrictions. Instead, there will be a limited virtual Frameline44 Pride Showcase June 25-28, which we’ll preview closer to those dates, but meanwhile you can get program and advance-ticket details here.
That’s not the only Pride Month-related film/video activity which will be happening online this annum. The Queer Women of Color Film Festival takes place this weekend, Fri/12-Sun/14, with nightly 7 pm programs live-streamed (including interactive filmmaker Q&A’s) that are accessible for free, though registration is required. The full schedule is available here. The San Francisco Transgender Film Festival won’t be taking place until mid-November at the Roxie, but meanwhile has provided a guide to five films from its past programs that can be watched for free.
The Roxie itself is also celebrating some Pride with several additions this Friday to its Virtual Cinema streaming rentals, including For They Know Not What They Do, a new documentary from the maker of For The Bible Tells Me So that continues his exploration of the frequent clash between American gays and Christians. This time director Daniel Karslake’s focus is on four devout real-life families for whom children’s coming out as gay and/or trans provokes crises of faith and acceptance. More info here.
The other new Roxie arrival is a “Pioneers of Queer Cinema” trilogy uniting restorations of envelope-pushing German classics from nearly a century ago. The most famous one is early 1931 early talkie Madchen in Uniform, Leontine Sagan’s famous tale of illicit love at a girls’ boarding school. It became a world classic despite being immediately banned by the Nazis, who also tried to destroy all copies of the film. Basically forgotten until its revival by gay film historians decades later was Danish maestro Carl Dreyer’s (Passion of Joan of Arc, Vampyr) German-language early work Michael, a daring “triangle” drama in which a beautiful female aristocrat comes between a tacitly gay artist and his young model-artist. Despite being released in a more liberal pre-Nazi climate, it too was little-seen due to averse reaction to the controversial themes. By contrast, getting away with considerable gender-role mayhem as a result of its farcical tenor was Reinhold Schunzel’s 1933 Victor and Victoria, the first incarnation of a much-remade tale that eventually turned into the 1982 Julie Andrews film and subsequent Broadway musical. It was a last “blast of Weimer decadence,” in which an unemployed music hall songstress finds success—but also awkward personal-life complications—assuming male drag. More info here.
This Friday brings two of the bigger movies so far this year to bypass theaters, Judd Apatow’s new comedy The King of Staten Island with SNL’s Pete Davidson (via VOD), and Spike Lee’s Vietnam veteran-themed drama Da 5 Bloods (on Netflix), neither of which were available for preview. But it’s a very busy weekend for less-mainstream streaming releases as well, just a few of which we’ve highlighted below:
MARONA’S FANTASTIC TALE
Fantastic is indeed a fair word to describe this gorgeous French animated feature from Romanian director Anca Damian. Marona is a B&W Parisian mutt with a bit of a Betty Boop-era Fleischer Brothers look, who recalls her short but eventful life as it’s about to end in the wake of a Parisian traffic mishap. She’s passed from one owner to another, including an acrobat, a construction worker, his sickly old mother, his shallow wife, and a little girl. None are perfect fits, and Tale suffers a bit from a somewhat rotely chiding tenor in which our protagonist is a font of patient wisdom from puppydom, victimized by the callous world of humankind.
But if this episodic film isn’t always appealing in story content, it’s always inviting and often spectacular in visual terms. Like recent Chilean The Wolf House (which also played Roxie Virtual Cinema), it’s a deluxe compendium of animation techniques and styles, combined to often aesthetically remarkable effect. And like that film, it’s not really a ‘toon for kids, being somewhat dark in theme (though not so dark as Wolf), insufficiently story-driven and a bit too abstract in imagery. Fans of the form over 12 or so will have a field day, however, and the film ultimately transcends its objet d’art status by arriving at a very moving, even somewhat cosmic last lap. More info here.
This quietly arresting Albanian-language film from Kosovo filmmaker Antoneta Kastrati, a documentarian making her first dramatic narrative, is one of the more memorable foreign films to arrive here so far in 2020. Lume (Adriana Matoshi) is a childless woman living with husband Ilir (Astrit Kabashi) in a rural community where everyone is into everyone else’s business. Actually, the couple did have a child, but she was killed in the war a decade earlier. (The movie apparently takes place in 2009.) Lume’s failure to conceive since is a cause of great concern to everyone but her, particularly her pushy if well-intended mother-in-law (Fatmire Sahiti), who insists she go to a local fortune-teller, then to a famous (and expensive) faith healer.
Under all this pressure, Lume grows more obstinate and distant, eventually stirring the hysterical fear that she is possessed by a jinn (i.e. demon spirit). Is she simply in protracted, even permanent mourning, or is something otherworldly really going on here? At once lyrical and ominous, troubled by disturbing visions that plague its heroine both dreaming and awake, Zana refuses to explain away its unsettling progress. It’s a movie that may or may not be about a haunting, in supernatural terms—but it is unquestionably a haunting experience in its eerie, lingering impact. More info here.
If recent documentary The Ghost of Peter Sellers whetted your appetite for some of that late great British comedian’s work, you might be intrigued by this long-forgotten, recently restored 1961 feature, his only directorial feature. It was not well-received back then (even after crassly retitled I Like Money for the US market), and once it had flopped the embittered star—not a very stable personality even at this relatively early stage in his career—purportedly tried to have every existing print destroyed. It probably wasn’t a particularly good idea for him to choose a vintage play by Marcel Pagnol for his material, with a very British cast failing to seem very French at all. Still, it’s not a disaster but a simple misfire, and a slickly produced one.
Sellers plays the Mr. Chips-like title figure, a fusty but devoted teacher of preadolescent boys at a somewhat run-down school. When he’s unceremoniously fired for an excess of scruples (i.e. he refuses to give good marks to a poor student from a rich family), he lands some rich benefactors of his own (Nadia Gray, Sellers’ future Pink Panther co-star Herbert Lom). He is slow to realize his naivety is just providing them a cover for genteel bilking of civic funds.
At first too-mildly comic, then too-mildly serious, Mr. Topaze probably seemed rather old-fashioned even six decades ago, and it proves surprisingly bland for a movie by an actor notorious for his eccentricity onscreen and off. It does, however, reveal his vanity, in that our hero goes from holy innocent to debonair master-of-the-world—a transition Sellers manages like the comic actor he is, through clever external mannerisms without any sense of internal psychological evolution. Like many artists of genius, Sellers doubtless overestimated his own: He needed a good director to be at his best, and that director was not Peter Sellers. More info here.