five subversive films about the lgbtq+ experience
Watch these at London's BFI Flare film festival.
Be it Call Me by Your Name or Love, Simon, we seem to be discussing LGBTQ+ films as if they're something brand new. But before queer stories broke through and permeated the mainstream, films about the queer experience by and large focused on the negative elements of being gay, rather than normalising it.
While the increase of queer stories in a world dominated by heteronormative ones is certainly something to celebrate, it’s worth noting the ones that do break through are usually romanticised visions of what really happens, as we unpacked in this feature on the queer film’s the Oscars choose to recognise. Their protagonists are mainly white, and they’re almost exclusively gay men.
Thankfully, there are a handful of festivals dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community in its entirety, London’s BFI Flare being the most prevalent one. There, cinemagoers have the chance to get clued up on queer culture by revisiting blisteringly honest films from the past, or have the chance to catch some that the rest of the country hasn’t even seen yet.
To celebrate the festival’s arrival, here are five subversive cuts from the BFI Flare line-up that we consider to be required viewing. Carve them all into your calendar, if you know what’s good for you.
As the Northern hemisphere seemed to be celebrating the somewhat inclusive vision of this year’s Oscar season, conservative film boards in South Africa were controversially bundling this piercing gay drama alongside hardcore pornography, blasting it with an X18 certificate when it hit cinemas. Unsurprisingly, more explicit films with heterosexual lead stars managed to reach cinemas unscathed.
The Wound tells the story of Xholani, a teenage boy who sees his darkest romantic secrets unfurl when he’s taken into the countryside to take part in a coming-of-age ritual. We spoke to its lead star Nakhane Touré earlier in the year about his music career; he’s a fresh, charismatic wonder of a man, and it’s worth seeing The Wound for his riveting performance alone.
The protagonist of this moving and defiant queer doc once had her sights set on teaching Religious Studies in a Catholic school. But when she looked deeper into the steps she had to take to gain the Catholic Church’s approval, she chose to hide her sexuality, knowing it would stand in the way of her career ever taking off.
Marikas Missio focuses on one woman’s unwavering battle against a whole system, to fight for reform and make a decision that forces her to choose between her career and the woman she loves. It’s the kind of documentary that asks a plethora of questions about the relationship between homosexuality and faith, and will leave you asking yourself whether or not a happy middle ground truly exists.
Martyr is an intriguing inclusion on the BFI Flare line up, as it’s not strictly a film about the LGBTQ+ experience. Instead, it’s an intensely moving look at the ideas around masculinity, mortality, and how the potent nature of brotherhood can tie us together.
Shot in Lebanon on a tiny budget, Martyr first focuses on Hassane, a young man living a directionless life; a nuisance to his family and those around him. But the way he’s perceived changes drastically when he drowns unexpectedly while cliff diving with friends. They bring him home, and what unfolds on screen is a blistering, melancholic vision of both the male body and traditional rituals.
After winning the Cinefondation Prize at Cannes Film Festival for her debut short Needle, Iranian director Anahita Ghazvinizadeh returned to the festival last year to unveil They, her gentle and respectful film about a gender-neutral kid on the cusp of making the biggest decision of their life.
The film follows J, a 14-year-old on puberty blocking medication, living in the suspended moment just before they venture into adulthood – when they’re forced to decide whether or not to fully transition. At that age, every choice J makes seems pivotal, but the film seems to break down the complex nature of the subject to let the viewer learn from – rather than be confused by – the importance of respecting those who self-identify.
Silverlake Life: The View From Here
Sometimes, films catch you off guard and leave you wilted, like a shell of your former shelf. The emotional gut-punch that Silverlake Life: The View From Here provides is a prime example of that. Released in 1993, a time where the world was still trying to make sense of the severity of the HIV epidemic, the film follows a couple, Tom Joslin and Mark Massi, as they simultaneously succumb to AIDS.
It’s no surprise it won the Peabody Award and took home the Grand Jury Prize when it bowed at Sundance. Be warned though, no fictional film could ever go as deep as this. Shot on handheld camera, we’re shown every haunting, heartbreaking detail of their breakdown. And while it’s still a love story, it has an unparalleled value as a piece of art the world can learn from, too.
BFI Flare runs from Wednesday 21st March to Sunday 1st April