Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mark Gillespie - Films provide masculinity insight

Mark Gillespie reviews two new films (foreign films, so we might not be able to see them except on video) that examine same-sex relationships for men. Both films sound like very real depictions of the challenges and the feelings that inform those relationships.

Films provide masculinity insight


Two remarkable yet underrated films at this year’s Mardi Gras Film Festival deserve a wide audience. The first is the fast-moving, provocative Brotherhood from Denmark directed by Nicolo Donato, a film so shocking and powerful that is too moving for words.

The second is a gentle and haunting film from Peru, Undertow, directed by Javier Fuentes-Leon. When he visited Sydney for the Sydney Film Festival in June last year Fuentes-Leon impressed all who heard his comments sizzling with sharp insight about the role of films in changing Latino attitudes to homosexuality.

Undertow is an exciting first feature film from a director worth watching.

Although very different in setting and context, both films courageously portray very sensual relationships between men of different class backgrounds and succeed in offering important and inspirational answers to the question of what it now means to be a man.

A warning is warranted for those who see Brotherhood — be prepared for an uncompromising display of fascist violence. Yet, the raw, often savage, homophobic and racist violence is justified. It is indispensable to the narrative that surprises as we witness the unfolding of a passionate love affair between the well-educated Lars and the unemployed skinhead Jimmy.

This committed film wants us to better understand the dangerous attraction of fascism that has its appeal because of the camaraderie and masculine bonding.

Key questions emerge for the characters and the viewers alike. Can we trust our own brothers or ever know where our own brothers’ loyalties lie? And who is a ‘real’ brother?

How do you know when to take a risk and act on a feeling of love? When is love right and when is the right moment for you to make a run for it with your lover and get out of the danger engulfing you?

Hours after seeing the film, you sense the authenticity and truthfulness of the central relationship which is beautifully portrayed with fine acting by the two leads. The sensual love-making scenes in the water and under the shower evoke the Derek Jarman’s imagery in the seminal film Sebastiane.

Undertow is set in a small fishing village on the dry desert-like southern coast of Peru. It is Peru’s official entry in the foreign language film category at this years Academy Awards. The film has an allegorical quality with entrancing mystical elements.

The three lead actors include the Colombian heartthrob Manolo Cardona who plays the visiting painter Santiago who sets up a studio in the village and begins a secret affair with the fisherman Miguel. Miguel is torn between Santiago and his pregnant wife, splendidly played by Tatiana Astengo. Her performance is as fine a performance you are likely to see this year and will interest any woman who has ever loved a man who has also been attracted to men.

Fuentes-Leon explores the central theme of what it means to be a man. I remember his fighting words last year: “I am a man too and because of who I am and who I make love to, I am no less a man than you.”

What is interesting here is the attempt to appeal to masculinity itself as a way to empower men who love men. If we deny those we love the respect they are due because of society’s opprobrium we cannot be considered men.

Both films are highly recommended as they provide great insights into very real questions about masculinity.

— Mark Gillespie

info: Brotherhood (Booderhood) Denmark, 101 mins. Undertow (Contracorriente) 2009, Peru, 91 mins.

For screening and ticket details head to www.queerscreen.com.au

Download your 2011 Mardi Gras Film Festival Guide HERE

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