Frameline47's coming-of-age films

  • by Brian Bromberger
  • Tuesday June 13, 2023
Share this Post:
'Golden Delicious' in Frameline47
'Golden Delicious' in Frameline47

Looking through this year's Frameline film selections, a majority of the films focus on young adult LGBTQ people and their concerns. Out of 71 films (not including shorts or screenings of older movies), about 21 could generously classify as featuring characters or issues over 35, with the remaining 50 in the teens-to-35 category.

Director of Programming Allegra Madsen was asked if this was deliberate or, being the top films available this year, they just happened to focus on a younger age range.

"Each year at Frameline I aim to create a program that is an accurate representation of modern queer cinematic production," said Madsen. "My goal is to showcase the diversity of the queer experience through film. Frameline47 is no different...We want our audience to be a diverse as possible, particularly at this moment when queer personhood is under attack. Because of all this, we need to be in conversation with one another and have an understanding of all of our stories."

This doesn't really answer the question, but clearly the programming this year is skewered to younger queers in the hopes they will attend and become regular future Frameline audiences. There's nothing wrong with this per se, though the conversation and multiplicity Madsden is seeking might be more effective if the program was more age-diverse as it's been in the past.

In the Canadian "Golden Delicious" we have yet another coming out/coming-of-age drama which should inspire yawns, yet surprisingly has a few new spins on this clichéd genre and a winning performance from Cardi Wong as Jake. He's a closeted Chinese Canadian teen trying to figure out who he is and what he wants as he enters his senior year at high school. He's being pressured by his father, a former basketball star, to play on the team, when his real interest lies in photography.

His girlfriend Valerie wants them to lose their virginity together, like now. Meanwhile, a new family moves in next door, including Aleks (Chris Carson) the handsome openly gay basketball player also in his senior year. And guess what? Jake is suddenly interested now in playing on that team.

All this angst is complicated by Jake's parents' failing marriage and Jake's sister desire to enter culinary school in spite of her mother's opposition, as she's fed up working at the family's Chinese restaurant. In spite of this melodrama it succeeds, mainly due to the believable hot chemistry between Jake and Aleks. Also there are scant gay films featuring Asian American actors and even fewer movies about sports figures coming out, plus the added bonus of social media's often pernicious role in teen's lives. It's a rather delightful surprise not to be missed, about following your dreams and being true to yourself.

Emotional upheaval follows a couple after the child they had fostered for a year must be returned to the birth mother in "The Mattachine Family." The two men are pulled in different directions, with Oscar (Juan Pablo Di Pace) throwing himself into work after his long-stagnant acting career takes off, traveling to Michigan to film a TV show. Meanwhile, photographer Thomas (Nico Tortorella) feels emotionally lost and seems to want to parent a child as he revaluates his life in a journey of self-discovery.

His best friend Leah (Emily Hampshire, "Schitt's Creek") and her wife are trying to conceive through IVF. Based on director Andy Vallentine's and husband co-writer Danny Vallentine's own experiences, it explores what happens when one member of a couple wants a child and the other partner does not.

It's a very relevant examination of how same-sex families must navigate nontraditional means of securing a child, whether it be surrogacy, adoption, or medical procedures. While the ending seems foreordained, the story is compassionately and even-handedly told, buttressed by a terrific performance from Tortorella and the always-welcome presence of Hampshire.

A hectic day with resurrected ghosts from his past characterize LatinX trans man Fena (Lio Mehiel) living in New York City, as he tries to rekindle old relationships following his gender transitioning in "Mutt." His ex-boyfriend John (Cole Doman) can't quite accept Fena's change but still wants to have sex with him. His half-sister Zoe, on a truant day from school, helps Fena come to terms with their mother who kicked Fena out of the house while transitioning.

Finally, Fena must his retrieve Chilean father at the airport (he hasn't seen Fena since the change) as he attempts to renew his visa and deal with their unresolved feelings.

Shot in a cinema verité style, the film manages to showcase with authenticity the way trans people have to juggle their lives to deal with varying reactions to their transition. The film wouldn't be as effective (with its cumbersome plot contrivances) and poignant if not for the emotionally honest, raw, passionate performance of Mehiel, who is relatable in all his pain and the obstacles life throws at him.

'Blue ID'  

If you thought Caitlin Jenner had a media firestorm when she transitioned, her trials seem like a cakewalk compared to Ruzgar Erkoclar, the former Turkish actress and model who transitioned and was outed by the media, as recounted in the documentary "Blue ID."

The film opens in 2012 with a beaming Ruzgar receiving his first testosterone injection, followed by other milestones such as top surgery, with his parents mystified but supportive, while he now works at a bakery. However, once the media trumpets his transition in front-page tabloid-like headlines, his life becomes a living hell in transphobic Turkey.

It complicates his decision to change the sex markers on his ID, with females IDs pink and male ones blue, hence the title. This involves a court case that took years to resolve. It also shows Ruzgar trying to reenter his professions, post-transition. The film at times resembles home movies, complete with phone videos. But we can only root for Ruzgar as he must deal with frustration, death threats, humiliation, endless waiting, with courage and patience, which is not to say the frenzied scandal doesn't take an emotional toll. Draggy in spots, but overall you will be applauding Ruzgar as he walks on the runway in the final scene.

It all starts at a swimming pool in 1987 El Paso, Texas when quiet Aristotle/Ari (Max Pelayo) meets the extroverted Dante (Reese Gonzales) who wind up teaching him to swim in "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe," based on the acclaimed Young Adult novel by Benjamin Alire Saenz.

Both teens are Mexican Americans who bond over their classical names and become inseparable that summer. Dante informs Ari he and his family are moving to Chicago where his father will be teaching, but before leaving, he tells Ari he loves him, which annoys Ari. They keep in touch via letters, eventually Dante revealing to Ari he's gay, while Ari falls in love with a girl from school.

The next summer Dante kisses Ari, who doesn't seem to reciprocate, or does he? This hedging indirectly leads to a potentially horrific hate crime. These romantic feelings get tangled up in issues of racial identity and family dynamics as Ari seeks to answer why his older brother landed in prison, which his parents refuse to discuss.

The austere Texas cinematography features into the stark drama. It's very good but could have been great if the film had explored each of the two main characters separately instead of entangling from the very start. Like the book, this movie will probably be treasured by queer teens.

A compassionate nuanced profile of an overweight teen boy trying to sort out his sexuality is featured in "Big Boys." 14-year-old Jamie (Isaac Krasner), who's hero is the late chef Anthony Bourdain, is going on a camping trip with his obnoxious brother Will and favorite cousin Allie. To Jamie's consternation, Allie brings along her new boyfriend. However, he finds himself increasingly attracted to the affable muscular guy, even fantasizing romantic dinners with him.

Will encourages Jamie to hook up with one of the nearby female campers ("You're 14, you need to get some ass") and in one hilarious scene he pretends to be drunk to fend off an invitation to do precisely that. What's welcome here is a portrait of a gay teen who is not supermodel-beautiful and is trying to deal with his confusing feelings. Affectionate, sympathetic, and subtle, though the latter might contribute to some teens missing the message, still it's a pleasant low-budget festival welcome addition.

"If a fish gets trapped in ice, it doesn't come back to life. It dies," is the principal metaphor about freedom underlying the captivating Belgian/French narrative, "The Lost Boys." Teen Joe (Khalil Gharbia) is excited about his imminent release from what's really a juvenile delinquent correctional facility, but he's floored when newcomer William (Julien de Saint Jean, also in the festival's "Lie with Me") appears in an adjacent cell and is immediately smitten in scenes of smoldering passion. The scene where William gives Joe a tattoo is a scorcher.

When Joe is released, they must redefine their relationship and a rocky road lies ahead, as the interplay between freedom and desire takes precedence. This sensuous film is to be applauded for approaching a subject often taboo in American films. It would have been even stronger if the audience had been given some clues as to the background of both characters and why they landed in the facility. The score by French-Lebanese musician Bachar Mar-Khalife is perfect in this minimalist but still very powerful effort with sexy undertones that unexpectedly ignite.

Based on the magnificent Philippe Besson novel of the same name, the French drama "Lie With Me" concerns a writer coming to terms with his past. Celebrated author Stephane Belcourt (Guillaume de Tonquedec) is set to deliver the local cognac maker's bicentennial address in a return to his small hometown. Potent memories bring him back to 1984 when at 17 he encountered his first love with Thomas a jock classmate.

In order for the affair to continue Thomas forces Stephane to keep it a secret, hence the double-entendre title. On his trip, Stephane meets Lucas (Victor Belmondo) who turns out to be Thomas' adult son. Stephane has many questions for Lucas about what happened to his father and he will eventually learn Thomas's sad fate.

The flashback scenes are achingly beautiful with Jeremy Gillet as the young Stephane and especially Julien De Saint Jean as the young Thomas. The film skillfully delves into the devastating impact of shame and internalized homophobia, but it's also a paen to the power of writing, claiming we always write to someone, to make them present again, to give back what they gave to us.

Tonquedec is magnificent in expressing all the ambivalence and regret of someone reluctant to face the truth in his life, but through the healing power of insight learns to become a more integrated person. The stunning, sexy "Lie With Me" is our favorite narrative film of Frameline47.

Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Makoto Takayama, Japan's "Egoist" is an incisive character study that is somewhat groundbreaking because it presents queer characters as normal, not obsessed with sex. Japan is currently debating same-sex marriage, a contentious issue in this culturally conservative country.

Stylish gay fashion magazine editor Kosuke (Ryohei Suzuki) seems to have it all, but hires a younger personal trainer Ryuta (Hio Miyazawa) with whom he becomes infatuated. He employs him to become his lover, essentially a paid prostitute. Ryuta abruptly breaks off the relationship, confessing he's been a sex worker for years. Kosuke suggests a monthly stipend so Ryuta can quit his "profession" and use the money to help his elderly ailing mother.

Ryuta reluctantly accepts and the couple spend much time together in the presence of his mother (Sawako Agawa). Then the film takes a 180-degree turn in the opposite direction, reminiscent of the beautiful Asian-inspired film "Lilting." We won't spoil the plots denouement. This is a lovely sensitive examination not only of financial disparity in a relationship, but the transformational power of love, as Kosuke becomes more compassionate, less cocky and self-centered.

Since there are few out Japanese actors, straight actors play the leads. I didn't really believe Suzuki as a gay man, but he atones marvelously in the second half when he's forced to reconcile the character's rocky past with his own mother who died when he was 14.

Miyazawa is more convincingly gay and adds vibrancy to the proceedings, but alas his Ryuta is not as well-developed as Kosuke. Agawa is sensational and overall this is a tender, heartbreaking film that despite these minor quibbles, is my second favorite narrative in the festival.

Yet another portrait of grief, "Winter Boy," from France, centers on gay teen Lucas (Paul Kirchner), his mother Isabelle (Juliette Binoche), and older brother Quentin (Vincent Lacoste) as they cope with the death of the father in a car accident.

Lucas' gayness is not an issue and he's thoroughly accepted by his family. The film is more about confusion and loss. To deal with his bereavement, he tags along with Quentin to Paris for a week, where the wayward Lucas predictably gets into trouble, including a failed attempt to become a rent boy. He's infatuated with Quentin's roommate Lilio, who moonlights as a prostitute, yet acts as a father figure towards him.

Lucas gratuitously addresses the camera directly to reveal his inner thoughts (a recent cinema cliché) that over time becomes annoying and tiresome as well as self over-dramatizing. The death of his father is cataclysmic, but we learn virtually nothing about their relationship, not even in flashbacks.

Binoche is incapable of giving a bad performance and is exceptional, but she's given little screen time and is missed when off-camera. Kirchner is fine, but the character is flighty, unsentimental, cloying at times. Still it all feels real, even the clumsy family dynamics. While worth seeing, it should grab us emotionally more than it does.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.