Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival

The 19th Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival runs Friday, November 5, through Thursday, November 18; screenings this week will be at the Music Box. Advance tickets can be purchased at Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark, between 10 am and 6 pm on weekdays, and between noon and 5 pm on Saturday; same-day tickets can be purchased at the venue box office only. Tickets are $7, $6 for shows before 6 pm, with discount passes available. Tickets for the opening-night program at 7 pm on Friday, November 5, are $15. For more information call 773-293-1447 or the festival hot line at 312-409-4919. Commentary by Jonathan Rosenbaum (JR), Ted Shen (TS), Lawrence Bommer (LB), Jack Helbig (JH), Adam Langer (AL), and Albert Williams.


Bedrooms and Hallways

Set in the trendy quarters of London, Rose Troche’s lighthearted comedy tracks the budding gay romances of wry, reserved, and endearingly befuddled Leo (Kevin McKidd of Trainspotting) and his loud, flamboyant flatmate, Darren (Tom Hollander). As in her debut feature, Go Fish (1994), Troche shows a knack for capturing the bonhomie of tightly knit groups (her lampoon of Leo’s heterosexual New Age men’s group is transparent yet devastatingly funny), and most of her actors know how to enliven Robert Farrar’s glib, occasionally precious dialogue. Insistently cheerful and nonjudgmental, the film steers clear of deeper or more complicated emotions–as did Four Weddings and a Funeral, which it resembles in some ways. With Hugo Weaving (as Darren’s naughty boyfriend), Jennifer Ehle, and Simon Callow. (TS) Troche will attend the screening. (7:00)


Spanish director Ventura Pons clearly intended this to be a moody meditation on love and friendship. It references every kind of love imaginable–young love, old love, parental love, unrequited love, love between old friends, lust disguised as love. Yet it’s remarkably cold; Jesus Escosa’s slick cinematography turns every frame into a fashion spread, and even a scene of a lonely old man getting clobbered by an angry hustler looks glamorous. Josep M. Benet Ijornet’s screenplay, adapted from his play Testament, is heavy with long, digressive conversations and heartfelt but tiresome monologues. The story revolves around two old friends, one straight and one gay, and the straight one’s pregnant teenage daughter, but Ijornet’s disjointed scenes never quite add up. The acting is strictly soap opera, some of the players turning in passable performances while others chew the scenery with an intensity verging on camp. (JH) (9:45)


Les Girls

Andrew Sarris has called this 1957 semimusical, adapted by John Patrick from a Vera Caspary novel, George Cukor’s version of Rashomon. As in the famous Kurosawa film, flashbacks relate alternate versions of the same story–which involves the relationship of three showgirls (Kay Kendall, Mitzi Gaynor, and Taina Elg) to hoofer Gene Kelly in a Paris setting. Nicely handled, and one of the better examples of Cukor’s flair for ‘Scope framing (after A Star Is Born and Bhowani Junction), although the Cole Porter songs aren’t very memorable; Kendall is a particular delight. (JR) (Noon)

Baby Steps

A program of shorts about the pressures facing gay people who want to raise children. Geoffrey Nauffts wrote, directed, and stars in Baby Steps, playing a nervous but dignified schoolteacher who discloses his homosexuality during an interview with a quietly exasperated adoption agent (Kathy Bates); the preachy script is softened by the expert performances. George Camarda respectfully portrays the gay gentry in The Olive Tree, as a gay photographer and a lesbian desperate to have his child explore such heart-wrenching subjects as legal rights and HIV testing. In Greg Sirota’s Two Point Five a man ponders whether he should betray his boyfriend with heterosexual intercourse in order to conceive a child, but the laconic script and the actors’ pouting suggest a J. Crew ad. (TS) On the same program, Lisa Udelson’s The Party Favor (with David Schwimmer), Ferne Pearlstein’s Raising Nicholas, and Maureen Brownsey’s True Blue. (2:30)

Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train

Patrice Chereau (The Wounded Man) directed this 1998 French drama about a dead painter’s friends, students, and ex-lovers all riding the same train to Limoges for his interment. Written by Chereau and Daniele Thompson; with Jean-Louis Trintignant, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Bruno Todeschini, Sylvain Jacques, and Vincent Perez. (4:30)

Show Me Love

Set in the Swedish town of Amal, this 1998 feature by Lukas Moodysson concerns a shy bookworm (Rebecca Liljeberg) who falls in love with a popular classmate (Alexandra Dahlstrom). The slightly less rhapsodic Swedish title is Fucking Amal. (7:00)


Thom Fitzgerald’s Canadian documentary uses archival footage and dramatic reenactments to explore the American bodybuilding magazines of the 50s, which were absorbed into the queer subculture and came under fire from the judicial system. (9:15)


Sylvia Scarlett

For my money, the most interesting and audacious movie George Cukor ever made. Katharine Hepburn disguises herself as a boy to escape from France to England with her crooked father (Edmund Gwenn); they fall in with a group of traveling players, including Cary Grant (at his most cockney and remarkable), and the ambiguous sexual feelings that Hepburn as a boy provokes in both Grant and Brian Aherne (an aristocratic artist) are part of what makes this film so subversive and special. It boldly and disconcertingly seems to switch tone and genre every few moments, from farce to tragedy to romance to crime thriller and back again–rather like the French New Wave films that were to come a quarter of a century later–as Cukor’s fascination with theater and the outsize talents of his cast somehow hold it all together. The film flopped miserably when it came out in 1935, but it survives as one of the most poetic, magical, and inventive Hollywood films of its era. John Collier collaborated on the script, and Joseph August did the evocative cinematography. (JR) (Noon)

The Films of Michael Brynntrup

This program of mostly autobiographical shorts by the German experimental filmmaker reveals a playful, prurient sensibility that aims to titillate and even infuriate: he’s Andy Warhol without the philosophical subtlety, Kenneth Anger unredeemed by gaudy poetry. The most disturbing–and most original in its technique–is Loverfilm: An Uncontrolled Dispersion of Information (1996), which catalogs Brynntrup’s numerous sex partners since the late 70s. He retrieves their photos and videos from a computer database while recalling his encounters with them and explaining the German copyright laws that allow him to use their images. Intercut into the rapid montage is a porn flick involving adolescents; though Brynntrup is too coy to be totally explicit, his boastfulness is both fascinating and distasteful. All You Can Eat (1993) compiles the faces of young men in orgasm, the cutting and music accelerating as their expressions intensify, yet the concept is old hat, and Warhol’s focus on one man in Blow Job was far more telling. In My Second Vers. (1993), Brynntrup behaves like a kid with a new toy, cutting back and forth between his own videocam footage and Super-8 and 16-millimeter footage of him shooting. Cain and Abel: A Moral (1994) recalls the German expressionists in its ghoulish meditation on homoeroticism and the bloody consequences of God’s caprice. Photographer Jürgen Baldiga (Cain in Cain and Abel) is the subject of Aide Memoire: Gay Document for Remembering (1995), in which Brynntrup chats with his friend while a frump shouts antigay obscenities outside; it offers a rare glimpse of Brynntrup’s sentimental side. (TS) On the same program: Tabu V (About Which One Cannot Speak) (1998) and NY ‘NY ‘n Why Not. Brynntrup will attend the screening. (2:00)

The Man Who Drove With Mandela

See Critic’s Choice. (4:30)

Hit and Runway

In a less homophobic America this light comedy would make a good TV series: an aspiring but talentless Italian-American screenwriter teams up with a nerdy gay playwright to write a macho action movie for the screenwriter’s favorite star, Jagger Stevens. But as an independent feature Hit and Runway seems safe, slick, and conventional. Jaffe Cohen and Christopher Livingston’s script is witty and entertaining, with some good character-based humor, but the plot twists are rarely surprising, and the characters’ emotional discoveries (the homophobic screenwriter becomes a warmhearted man in touch with his feminine side) are treated with sitcom glibness. The script’s by-the-numbers mentality is matched by Livingston’s unsubtle direction, David Tumblety’s pedestrian cinematography, and Livingston and Rhonda L. Mitrani’s workmanlike editing. (JH) (6:30)

Desperate Acquaintances

Many filmmakers have captured the frenetic energy of youth, but this 1998 Norwegian feature by Svend Wam focuses on the quieter moments: the long talks, the empty hours, the late-night despair. The film examines in microscopic detail the subtle but deep changes in the lives of three young men–two straight, one gay–after one is institutionalized for drug-induced psychosis and another decides to come out to his pals. Parts are quite moving, most notably a sequence in a disco where the gay friend hits it off with a beautiful man in one room while his friend boffs an eager woman in the john. But Wam loves lingering Rohmer-esque shots of people talking, and the aimless conversations that bookend the film will test the patience of all but the most generous viewers. Are Sjaastad’s art direction and Anders Leegaard’s moodily lit camera work are beautiful throughout. (JH) (9:00)


Two Women in Love

The obscure Italian filmmaker Salvatore Piscicelli directed this 1979 curiosity about an ambitious married woman and her mannish lover, who met in prison while doing time, for prostitution and attempted murder respectively. The film is a bundle of mixed messages: it has some of the earmarks of sexploitation (overheated encounters, salacious camera angles, risibly hard-boiled dialogue, abrupt plot twists), yet it clearly sides with the women, whose yearning for each other amid jealous, hostile men is both tender and believable. The tawdry realism and lack of depth eventually drag the film down, however, and its tragic conclusion seems like something imposed by censors. Even at this early date, better films on the subject–The Fox, Chabrol’s Les biches–had already punctured the taboo. (TS) (7:00)

24 Nights

The title refers to the Christmas countdown that frames this comedy by director-screenwriter Kieran Turner. Jonathan, a lovelorn loser, writes a letter to Santa asking for the man of his wet dreams and then decides that his new coworker, an adorable southern boy named Toby, is the long-awaited present. To his credit, Turner refuses to indulge our romantic expectations any more than Jonathan’s, but the plot suffers from a host of tortured coincidences and the dialogue sags under the weight of his comic cuteness and trendy TV references. Luckily his cast transcends the script’s contrivances and aggressive sentimentality: Kevin Isola is charmingly insistent as Jonathan, David Burtka teases the camera as Toby, and Aida Turturro is a standout as Jonathan’s tart-tongued sister. (LB) (9:15)



French director Francois Ozon (See the Sea) describes his creepily Kafkaesque 1998 feature as “the film of a perverse child.” A complacent French family rapidly self-destructs when papa (Francois Martrhouret) brings home a white lab rat as a pet. The rodent’s arrival unleashes all the sexual tensions repressed under the father’s dour authority: his suicidal daughter (Marina de Van) reduces her beautiful boyfriend (Stephane Rideau) to a sex slave, his closeted son (Adrian de Van) hosts orgies in his bedroom, and his hitherto passive wife (the delightfully clueless Evelyne Dandry) resorts to incest to cure her son’s homosexuality. Continually thwarting our expectations, Sitcom seems to exist more for its psychosexual shock effects than for any dark insight into the family’s denial or the father’s failure, yet its nasty story is delivered with such deadpan directness that it develops a sick logic of its own. (LB) (7:00)

Portland Street Blues

Raymond Yip’s 1998 gangland melodrama approaches the pathos, intensity, and visual punch of John Woo’s Bullet in the Head, as “Sister Thirteen,” a macho but tenderhearted gang leader (Sandra Ng), battles for control of a seedy district in Hong Kong. The chronicle of her triumphant rise plays like a traditional Chinese martial-arts saga, driven by honor, revenge, and chaste love, but Ng delivers a fierce, multifaceted performance as the stoic Thirteen; part Madame Mao, part Mercedes McCambridge, and part Mother Teresa, she’s a force as elemental as James Cagney in White Heat. (TS) (9:15)


A Ticket to Hollywood

An international anthology of shorts chosen by film commentator Matthias Strunz for their glossy production values and relatively mainstream tone. The most polished and touching is Jennifer Arnold’s Maid of Honor, a taut vignette about a young lesbian couple who redefine their relationship while attending a heterosexual wedding; the film moves beyond the old taboos (everyone treats the women as spouses) to contrast the expectations and emotional complexities of conventional and unconventional partnerships. In Seamus Rea’s Ginger Beer, a meek and closeted horticulturalist is transformed into a pink revolutionary by learning how to dance the tango. The dance-hall scenes border on camp, but for the most part Rea skillfully navigates between pathos and hilarity, capturing his character’s embarrassment and blossoming courage. John Krokidas’s Shame No More, a clever but predictable parody of 50s public service announcements, shows a gay picket-fence suburb menaced by depraved heteros. Luc Feit’s Piglets (1998) is a brief series of sight gags about a pesky mother interrupting a couple’s lovemaking. Mary-Pat Green’s sappy, campy Even Steven (1998) is riddled with stereotypes, as a 40ish man throwing a memorial party for his best friend is wooed by the deceased’s hunky young lover. (TS) On the same program: Andrew Levy’s Psycho Too, Paul Lee’s The Offering, and Huseyin Karagoz’s Makbul–His Favoured One. Green will attend the screening. (7:00)

Speedway Junky

In Nickolas Perry’s 1998 feature debut, a kid runs away from home, hoping to join the car-racing circuit in North Carolina, but falls in with a young hustler and his gang. With Jesse Bradford, Jordan Brower, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and Daryl Hannah. (9:15)


When Love Comes

Though no one could confuse this wild, sprawling 1998 New Zealand feature with cinema verite, its beguiling looseness and tang of truth do suggest a well-made documentary. Director Garth Maxwell doesn’t so much tell a story as introduce his six characters–a pair of riot grrrl rockers, their drugged-out lyricist, his middle-aged gay lover, a washed-up disco diva, and the man she’s having an affair with–and allow the events to unfold around them, yet he ends up with a tale about love, authenticity, and finding one’s voice that’s remarkably moving. The actors are skilled and subtle, capable of speaking volumes with a quick look or a half smile, and regardless of the three credited screenwriters (Maxwell, Rex Pilgrim, and Peter Wells) the film has all the wonderful messy energy of a Cassavetes improvisation. (JH) (7:00)

Lola and Bilidikid

Director Kutlug Ataman reportedly fled Istanbul to escape the death threats that followed the release of this film. A powerful and superbly acted drama about the gay and transvestite subcultures among Berlin’s immigrant Turks, the film gracefully interweaves a number of compelling story lines: a boorish, foul-mouthed gigolo falls for a prim German architect who lives with his aristocratic mother; a cross-dressing entertainer ponders a sex-change operation, pressured by his ultramacho boyfriend; a homophobic man turns to violence when he suspects his brothers of being gay. Ataman’s only misstep comes late in the film, when a fight with some neo-Nazis becomes a stylized knife-and-gun battle recalling West Side Story. For the most part, though, this is fierce, eye-opening work. (AL) (9:15)