Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Two Films from Frameline39

I was fortunate to get two free tickets for this year's Frameline39, the San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival. The popular festival features dozens of diverse movies, documentaries, and shorts from all over the world. At last year's festival I watched Out in East Berlin, a documentary with a wide range of viewpoints about being gay in the GDR in the years leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. This year I picked two international narrative films: Liz in September from Venezuela and All About E from Australia.

Patricia Velasquez and Eloisa Maturén in Liz in September

Liz in September/Liz en Septiembre

A few years ago, I had a type of thyroid cancer: papillary thyroid carcinoma. This is generally one of the most treatable cancers. The surgeon chops out your thyroid, maybe you get a little radiation thrown in, and you take a pill every morning. But despite how non-lethal my own brush with malignant cells was, post-thyroidectomy I cry uncontrollably at cancer movies. 50/50The Fault in Our Stars, and now Liz in September are all films that have made me wipe my eyes with my Muni-germ hands.

Liz in September is a Venezuelan film from director Fina Torres. It's based on an American play, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove by Jane Chambers. Liz (Patricia Velasquez) has had an unspecified cancer before, and now it's back and terminal. However, she keeps this diagnosis secret during the beach vacation she's having with friends (an excellent supporting cast) to celebrate her 37th birthday. The tight-knit group is interrupted by Eva (Eloisa Maturén), whose car has broken down. Liz's friends give her the challenge of seducing the apparently straight newcomer, not knowing how vulnerable Eva is: her young son has died, and her husband is having an affair. Still, romance blooms as Liz teaches Eva how to scuba dive and takes her on motorcycle and boat rides. Velasquez gives a subtle, deep performance with pain and humor. Maturén, a former ballerina, is endearing in her first acting role.

I'm not familiar with Chambers's play, but Torres's adaptation is gorgeous and warm. I wanted to be at that beach and at that inn, swimming, reading, and eating fresh fruit. As beautiful as the film is, it was apparently very hard to get made - Torres explained during the Q&A that this "labor of love" was many years in the making, and thanked producer Laura Oramas for saving the production from various last-minute emergencies. Their determination is inspiring for anyone working on their own long-term passion project.

L to R: ASL interpreter, producer Laura Oramas, Patricia Velasquez, 
Maria Luisa Flores, Eloisa Maturén, director Fina Torres, emcee

All About E

On Monday night I saw All About E, an Australian comedy/drama/romance/thriller from director Louise Wadley. E (Mandahla Rose) is a star DJ who parties hard and womanizes harder. But she's also stuck with her controlling, sleazy boss (Simon Bolton) and is so determined to stay in the closet to her Lebanese immigrant parents that she has her best friend Matt (Brett Rogers) pose as her husband. Perhaps because of these constrictions, when a duffel bag of cash appears she impulsively goes on the run with it, dragging Matt along, and we soon learn that deep down, all she really wants is to play the clarinet and settle down with a farmgirl.

The film felt tonally inconsistent to me, but this might be a quirk of Australian comedic cinema. Although they hold together better as dramedies, Muriel's Wedding and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, are similarly erratic and were both mentioned by Wadley as inspiration. All About E is a mix of realistic, authentic moments contrasted with sometimes cartoonish characters and actions fueled mainly by plot. I definitely had some questions at the end (What was up with E and her boss? Why do they still have to get in the plane?), but it's an enjoyable ride.

A lot of that enjoyment is due to the leading ladies: Rose and Julia Billington. Although Billington claimed during the Q&A that she's a "city girl," she's totally believable as a tough but heartbroken country girl riding around on a tractor. The chemistry between Rose and Billington is such that you have to root for their characters' romance, even though E is a mess. That E remains sympathetic is thanks to Rose's performance. The beautiful music by Basil Hogios and Joseph Tawadros and cinematography by Justine Kerrigan are also highlights.

L to R: Simon Bolton, Brett Rogers, Julia Billington,
Mandahla Rose, producer Jay Rutovitz, director Louise Wadley

Frameline39 continues through this Sunday, June 28. An encore presentation of All About E will screen in Piedmont on Wednesday, and it will screen at Outfest in Los Angeles on July 12. Liz in September will also be screening at Outfest on July 12.

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