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by David Lamble

Cast of <i>The Bubble.</i>
Cast of The Bubble.  

If you're one of the thousands who schedule summer vacations around the world's oldest, largest and probably best queer film emporium (June 14-24), be assured there's enough here to make you wish some nights that you could be in at least three places at once: the Castro, the Roxie Film Center and the Victoria Theatre, plus a special limited program at Oakland's Parkway dinner cinema. Titles alone shine: who would dare miss Itty Bitty Titty Committee, Rick and Steve the Happiest Gay Couple in All the World, Tan Lines, Vampire Diary, Motherfucker: A Movie or Triple X Selects: The Best of Lezsploitation?

The Witnesses In this daring memory piece from André Téchiné (Wild Reeds), an adolescent from the sticks discovers his Paris while cruising the bushes and sharing a small room in a cheap motel with his opera-singer sister, Julie (Julie Depardieu). Manu (the very frisky Johan Libereau) is so hot-to-trot that he forgets to change his clothes, wants to shower when everybody else wants to sleep, and gets into an explosive first affair with a cop, Mehdi (Sami Bouajila), not even gay, who's harassing the hotel's female prostitutes.

Téchiné has a knack for distracting you with things that don't matter: that the cop is Algerian; that the cop's creatively blocked children's-author wife, Sarah (Emmanuelle Beart), gives him permission to cheat with the boy; that the older doctor (Michel Blanc) the boy first rejects and then befriends is a wimp in the love department. All this prepares you for a sucker punch of things that do matter. Téchiné reminds us what was so wonderful about a time when life was thrilling, an adventure where one could risk everything without thinking about what that might mean. (Castro, opening night, 6/14)

The Bubble Israeli master Eytan Fox opens this dangerously hopeful tale with a reluctant warrior. Noam (the very enticing Ohad Knoller) is a Tel Aviv slacker doing his army reserve duty at a border checkpoint. A young Palestinian woman has a miscarriage, and Noam unexpectedly finds himself smitten by her young cousin, Ashraf (Yousef "Joe" Sweid). When Ashraf suddenly pops up in Tel Aviv, Noam and his left-leaning roommates work miracles to give the kid a Hebrew name, a fake ID and an under-the-table restaurant job. Soon the gang is partying together, holding raves to protest their country's occupation of Arab lands, yet in a funny way, living like their hip neighborhood was not located in a perilous state of denial. Playing at times like an HBO drama/edgy comedy, the film makes obvious parallels to America under Bush. Before it pops, The Bubble provides a window on hot sex, complicated friendships and a parallel universe where Israel and Palestine could co-exist like New York and New Jersey. The subtly emotive Sweid is a perfect everyman for an upside-down world where hope is still a four-letter word. (Castro, 6/18)

Spider Lilies What begins as a quirky cyber-sex romantic tease turns darker and more intriguing as director Zero Chou plays all her cards in a lesbian-centered tale of seduction, recovered memory and computer role-playing. Jade (Rainie Yang, bordering on too cutesy) is a flirtatious webcam girl who, when her clueless granny isn't wandering onto her bedroom set, lays traps for Internet lonely-hearts. Jade sets her sights on a part-Japanese tattoo artist, Takeo (Isabella Leong), but she doesn't realize that her site is under the watch of a shy young policeman out to quash cyber-porn. Chou employs flashbacks to childhood traumas to ramp up the stakes for all the characters, including several sexy if shifty young men. (Castro, 6/15)

Stealth Swiss director Lionel Baier, who provided a weird ride through the dopey escapades of a hunky/pranky teen in Garcon Stupide, returns to play a volatile 30something intellectual who abandons his humpy live-in boyfriend to search for the Polish roots in his family tree. Lionel (Baier) is kidnapped and driven to Poland by his exasperated older sister, Lucie (Natacha Koutchoumov). On the road in his Swiss Radio news car, Lionel and Lucie start to have Hardy Boys-type adventures. Polish jokes, smart ones, abound, but gradually we learn why Lionel so desperately yearns to be Polish. After being savagely mugged by a quarrelsome couple, Lionel and Lucie meet up with a cute French boy whose overnight hospitality provides a classic three-in-a-bed disclosure scene. This road comedy reminds us why we like to sleep with our own sex even if homo is far from all that defines us. (Castro, 6/17; Parkway, 6/21)

East Side Story In a successful comedy that dares to be cheesy, writer/director Carlos Portugal imagines a world in which a put-upon aspiring chef manages to trade up in East LA's volatile boyfriend/real estate market. The film opens on a funny "border patrol" sex scene between Diego (the marvelous Rene Alavarado) and his treacherous boyfriend Pablo (David Beron). Diego is tiring of a relationship that exists in his bedroom only after his granny has retired to hers. Pablo, who's pathologically closeted, is soon making the moves on Diego's flirtatious aunt (Gladys Jimenez), and Diego finds himself paying a visit on his new white gay neighbors. A delightful romp for those who found Quinceanera insufficiently queer, East Side touches all the bases. (Roxie, 6/15)

Outing Riley A solid entry from Project Greenlight winner Pete Jones has Jones starring as an Irish-American Chicagoan whose strong-willed sister engineers his most improbable coming out. It's to Jones' credit as a writer that we understand why Bobby Riley is reluctant to leave the comfortable womb of a spirited Catholic clan. Bobby is quite content to roughhouse his life away with his two hard-drinking, babe-chasing bros, his judgmental priest brother and his spunky sis. The plot turns on a series of letters that Riley's taciturn dad has left each sibling. The film makes you yearn to be a Riley, getting laughs at the expense of the Church, but not at the expense of perpetuating hoary clich�s about the Irish or us. (Castro, 6/15)

Fun Down There Don't miss this true queer classic from Roger Stigliano, whose one film leaves a mark as significant as Bill Sherwood's treasure Parting Glances. The film begins as Buddy (co-writer Michael Waite as a gay everyman) busts out of the comfort zone of his Upstate New York family's small farm. Stigliano and Waite give Buddy a baptism in Gotham bohemia, circa 1989. Aspiring filmmakers should learn from the team's original supporting characters, who enliven but don't kidnap the movie. It's a memorable week in the life of a queer rube, reissued in a splendid new DVD edition from Frameline. (Castro, 6/18)

Tick Tock Lullaby British director Lisa Gornick finds a unique cinema portal for delving into issues of womb envy for queer and non-queer couples and singles. The film follows Sasha (Gornick) and attorney lover Maya (Raquel Cassidy) as they "stalk" potential sperm donors. The trouble in babyland is complete with a visit to a single woman who wants to make one with a young male just beyond his own childhood; and to an attractive straight couple whose reliably procreative shagging hits a psychological snag. It's offbeat, thought-provoking and just plain funny, with a nifty British ensemble. (Castro, 6/16, 18)

Eternal Summer Leste Chen's slow-motion study of the long-term effects of a schoolboy crush may at first infuriate with its infatuation on terminally pensive teens, but give it a chance and you'll find some unusual insights into adolescent friendship, as well as at least one frisky bed scene. When bookworm Jonathan gets assigned to watch over hyperactive young athlete Shane, an odd bond springs up that defies each boy's sense of himself. (Victoria, 6/16; Parkway, 6/20)

DarkBlueAlmostBlack Director Daniel Sanchez Arevalo keeps us hanging by spinning the stories of two Spanish youngsters with oddball family troubles. Jorge (gorgeous Quim Guitierrez) is a disgruntled young janitor struggling to look after his stroke-stricken dad. Jorge's convict brother adds to his woes when he gets him in the middle of a prison tryst with a female prisoner who's hunting for sperm. Meanwhile, Jorge's best male friend Israel is struggling with the discovery that his annoying dad is cheating on his beloved mom with a male masseur. An unexpected crossover between the stories packs an entertaining wallop. (Victoria, 6/20)

Holding Trevor Rosser Goodman manages to turn clich�s about co-dependency into a compelling and authentic look at 20somethings drifting in La-La land. Trevor (screenwriter Brent Gorski) is on the verge of breaking up with his heroin-addled boyfriend Darrell when suddenly a more attractive option looms in the form of emergency-room intern Ephram. But before Trevor can move on in love and possibly switch coasts, he must come to terms with two important but borderline ties to promiscuous crewcut hottie Jake, and Andie, his trouble female roommate whose serial dating has left her on the brink of disaster. Overheated but accurate look at a "blank" generation's coming to terms with life. (Victoria, 6/16; Castro, 6/18)

A Four Letter Word Those who fondly remember Casper Andreas' Slutty Summer may enjoy this frenetic sequel. Characters act out, act up, throw hissy-fits and call each other gay clich�s, but in the end deliver up a New York drag universe that seems little changed from the days when Michael Greer was its queen. This one is very much a matter of taste, but the sex isn't half-bad. (Victoria, 5/18)

Shelter Me Marco Simon Puccioni's take on illegal guest-workers gets a refreshing twist as a lesbian couple end a tranquil North African holiday with a little gift hidden away in their hatchback. Factory heiress Anna (Maria De Medeiros is good as an infuriating passive-aggressive manipulator) is nonplussed when she discovers that a beautiful Arab teenager has stowed away in their luggage. Anna doesn't tell her lover Mara (Antonia Liskova sizzles as the girl-toy lover) about their "orphan" Anis (Mounir Ouadi gives a mature spin to this boy who is no simple victim) until the couple gets back to Anna's villa. The boy, employed on a forklift by Anna's family, soon becomes a bone of contention in women's fragile relationship. There are a few sizzling scenes — the filmmaker shrewdly balances homo and hetero — but ultimately Puccioni stays a bit too neutral on the big issues, leaving both Anis and us on the run by film's end. (Castro, 6/19; Parkway, 6/21)

Surveillance Paul Oremland's thriller unfolds in a Britain where spy cameras are everywhere. Our luscious hero Adam (Tom Harper) finds himself the object of a manhunt when a glamorous shagmate, Jake (Sean Brosnan), turns up dead under dubious circumstances. Enlivened by a major Simon Callow guest-turn as a preachy spymaster, the film bogs down when its cat-and-mouse game loses its oomph by the third act. This film needs one more good shag to bring us home happy. (Castro, 6/15; Roxie, 6/16) (Continues next week.)

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