A fave of A-list French actresses, the director was finally able to convince Karen Viard to star for him, and the result is a comedic thriller that French ex-pats may dislike - witness it for yourself when the film premieres at the upcoming Alliance Francais French Film Festival.
Voyeuristic erotic melodrama? Taboo arthouse mystery? Perverse religious dramedy? Yes. Canadian iconoclast Bruce LaBruce’s latest opus is all these things and more. Remaining true to his roots as a Queercore artist exploring primal taboos and sexually explicit storytelling, LaBruce cleverly propells the Greek myth of self-obsessed youth Narcissus to extreme dramatic lengths. Saint-Narcisse is a loving homage to seventies filmmaking and an amusing mystery with flickers of dark humour.
Montréal, 1972. Classically handsome, 22-year-old Dominic (Félix-Antoine Duval) is fascinated with his own image. He contemplates his form in front of the bathroom mirror, gazes at his own reflection in his motorbike’s side mirror and frequently takes selfies with his flash polaroid camera.
In an early scene, an aggressive street walker tries to pick him up. When Dominic rejects her, she enigmatically warns, “Don’t try to know yourself too much.” Meanwhile, he is haunted by glimpses of a tall, hooded man. But is he a figment of his imagination?
After his loving grandmother dies, Dominic uncovers a buried secret. Pleading letters from his mother Beatrice (Tania Kontoyanni) reveal she didn’t die giving birth to him after all. Immediately, Dominic embarks on quest to locate her and explore his family origins. He motors to a rural part of Québec, to the tiny village of Sainte-Narcisse (population less than 1,000) and inspects its graveyard by night. He is startled to see a child’s headstone that bears his own name. He learns that locals regard Beatrice Beauchamp as a witch who resides with a “woman who never gets old.” Dominic is drawn to a gaggle of monks. The head priest seems startled by Dominic’s appearance, and warns him against engaging with the monks while they are sequestered.
Curious, Dominic trespasses on Beatrice Beauchamp’s property and on the monastery grounds. Clues are everywhere for this inquisitive and impudent fellow.
Reunited with his mother, who believes the letters he furnishes are proof, she stubbornly states “I think I would know my own son.” Beatrice has a Gypsy-like beauty and claims she summoned him. Irene – her young companion – resents the intrusion. “He only takes pictures of himself. I mean, who does that?” sneers Irene (Alexandra Petrachuk). It’s a hilarious jab at today’s rampant navel-gazing.
Dominic also discovers that he has a twin brother Daniel (also played gorgeously by Duval). A foundling, Daniel was raised in a monastery run by a depraved priest Father Andrew (Andreas Apergis), who is unnaturally obsessed with both Saint Sebastian and the sweet-faced Daniel.
There’s some spiky dialogue to entertain us while the increasingly improbable story points intrigue us. Numerous orgasmic erotic scenes earn bonus points for tasteful representation of diverse encounters.
The film’s photography is exquisite, having been shot by legendary Québecois cinematographer Michel LaVeaux, a luminary of the Québec film scene since the seventies. Although digital, it has the style and atmosphere of a Québec 35mm movie from that era. The haunting original score by Christophe Lamarche-Ledoux adds frisson with its unsettling blend of dreamy romantic themes and contemporary refrains. An animated sequence comprised of sketches is stark and beautiful.
Mysterious and erotic – Bruce LaBruce’s twincestuous tale of doppelgängers is a bizarre odyssey into sexual depravity, revenge, and redemption.
Born In Jerusalem And Still Alive is billed as a black comedy, and the potentially interesting high-concept plot premise certainly makes that prospect credible. A young guy is appalled by the “illusion” of a historical city tour, and starts his own tour – of terror attack sites.
This is, however, not really a comedy at all. (Or, if it is, the jokes are not apparent and spectacularly unfunny.) Which would be fine, except that nor is it a particularly engaging drama on any level.
The man is Ronen Matalon, played by Yossi Atia who also wrote the script and co-directed. Ronen is a lifeless, depressive and rather dorky and socially inept fellow, who has no gift of the gab – not, one might say, the ideal candidate to lead a speaking tour. His commentary is sketchy – with, surprise surprise, virtually no mention of the Palestinian cause – but it makes room for both banalities and personal irrelevancies. (Such as pointing out the spot where he had his first kiss.) We feel sorry for him for various reasons, and we like his attentiveness to his increasingly frail and dependent father; but none of this stops him from being boring.
At any rate, into Ronen’s life comes Asia Mulan (Lihi Kornowski), who has been studying in Barcelona and who is bursting with all the joie-de-vivre which he lacks. What follows is somewhat predictable, but it’s reasonably well handled and acted.
Torpid and pretty tedious – and the godawful ‘feelgood’ music doesn’t help – but mercifully short.
My First Summer is a beautifully sensitive Australian coming-of-age film written and directed by Katie Found. The film is the first feature she has directed, and stars Markella Kavenagh (Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Gloaming) as Claudia and Maiah Stewardson (Girl Asleep) as Grace.
When Claudia’s mother, author Veronica Fox (Edwina Wren) commits suicide through drowning, Claudia is left to survive on her own in their remote rural property where she was raised to isolate herself from the rest of the world. But Claudia’s world is forever changed when Grace discovers her whereabouts.
The two of them strike a friendship that blossoms into love, and Grace, in all her colourful, sugary sweetness, works to help heal Claudia’s broken heart as she battles through the painful trauma caused by her mother’s death. But the girls must deal with the harsh adult world that threatens their secret summer love.
My First Summer offers comfort in the thought that supportive relationships exist. Claudia and Grace, earnest in their adolescent relationship, are there for one another when the outside world neglects them. The wispy grade and the general tone of the film earns both tears of joy and sadness. The girls’ connection offers them an escape from the difficulties of life, and there is hope in the sense that they will always love each other. Kavenagh and Stewardson’s sincerity is affecting in this exploration of mental health and first love told through the lens of queer female sexuality.
Although My First Summer is not as impactful as the similarly themed and titled 2004 Pawel Pawlikowski breakthrough film My Summer of Love, Katie Found certainly directs her cast expertly to give us a romantic drama that magnetically draws us into its world.
The central theme of self-image smacks you in the face from the very opening scene, with lead character Denny getting ready in front of a bathroom mirror, as her physical appearance changes multiple times. This piece of visual trickery raises questions early on, but becomes much more apparent later on.
As the scene is set, supporting characters play into the subject as well, talking rather uncaringly over drinks about the power of suggestion and projection – which, for some, is purely emotional rather than physical, hence the insensitive nature.
It’s at this bar that our two leads meet; the strait-laced corporate lawyer Ryan (played by Alex Russell) and struggling singer Denny (initially portrayed by Liv Hewson, more on that later).
Sure, their romantic chemistry moves quickly, but that’s only to get us to the more interesting aspect of their relationship – when Denny starts to question her gender.
This is only magnified as she starts a new life with Ryan, moving into a nice apartment and living a somewhat domesticated life. At first, it seems like your typical struggle for young adults to change their routine, but as Denny struggles more, it’s clear that the struggle is more than skin deep.
Slowly, she starts to experience changes to her physical appearance, and this is where the variation of performers becomes so powerful. The actor playing Denny changes multiple times, from Hewson to Lex Ryan, Chloe Freeman and Bobbi Salvör Menuez; and the characters around her are none the wiser.
As a viewer, it becomes clear where Denny’s journey is heading, but each of the performers do an excellent job of maintaining the character’s journey, to the point that when the big a-ha moment happens, it still hits you for six.
What makes Under My Skin even more interesting is that it spends an equal amount of time with partner Ryan, who is dealing with his own inner conflict and confusion. Specifically, whether his role as Denny’s partner can remain intact or whether he should be playing a role in their journey at all – something that hasn’t really been explored on screen before, at least not in relation to gender identity.
Australian filmmaker David O’Donnell (here working in the US) is certainly breaking new ground, from the premise to the casting of non-binary actors. However, the flipside is that Under My Skin still adheres to many Hollywood romantic cliches – such as an unfinished song or a four-leaf clover that keeps bringing the couple back to one another. Similarly, a lot of the sub-characters fall to the wayside quickly, such as Denny’s father and friends. It would have been good to spend more time with these people as they all learn and react to what’s happening.
The main takeaway is that while most big-budget films are cut from the same cloth these days, it’s good to know that there are still so many unique stories to tell from filmmakers who haven’t been represented properly before. Most importantly, hopefully these stories can reach people going through similar experiences, whether directly or with someone close, and it helps them to understand and deal with the situation better.
After unearthing a collection of 60-year-old letters in a storage room, producer Craig Olsen, alongside directors Michael Seligman and Jennifer Tiexiera, unveil a pioneering chapter of New York’s stigmatised drag scene, circa 1950s.
The film beautifully captures the exuberance and rebellion that defined drag queens in the 1950s, or ‘female impersonators’ as they preferred to be called, as it connotes elegance and style. Given the illegality of cross-dressing, these performers were ostracised by society, and faced a punishing legal system.
The drag community is represented through the mysterious identity of the author behind these letters. They are all curiously addressed to a disc jockey named Reno Martin, who later became a famous Hollywood agent. Interviews with a wide range of drag queens, now mostly aged in their 80s and 90s, regale with remarkable detail and passion of their sartorial choices, but also how they coped with stifling laws. In doing so, the film makes a calculated effort to piece together their recollections with an historical context that may indicate the scribe.
These letters are vividly brought to life with animated hand-writing over colourful backdrops reminiscent of the time period. To accompany this, the voiceover compellingly encapsulates the varied emotions involved in having one’s personality suppressed. On the one hand, an ostentatious tone matches the gossipy news heard around clubs, while another letter that is typed out, is met with a formal and downbeat tone, as the mysterious writer is at their desk-job blending in with societal norms.
Although the impetus is discovering the mystery author, the interviewees prove highly fascinating themselves. They are presented with archival photos and newspaper headlines regarding their escapades. Claude Diaz, for instance, fills with triumph in describing how he evaded police while stealing valuable wigs at the Metropolitan Opera. However, he wells up with tears in seeing old photos of drag queens, but as the memories flood back, he has to remind himself that that period is “over”. These real-time reactions provide a poignancy about the sacrifices they made to express themselves, but is also a radiant celebration of the unabashed fun that they once had.
P.S Burn These Letters Please has tragic undertones, but masterfully captures the brimming enthusiasm of trail-blazing drag queens in the late 1950s.