Pride Film Roundup: Part Two

A look at Queer Film favorites for Pride Month

Now, where were we?

The Favourite (2018) dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

Every year there’s at least one movie that leaves me speechless. In 2016 it was Moonlight. In 2017, it was The Florida Project. In 2018 it was Yorgos Lanthimos’ modern masterpiece, The Favourite. I left the theatre dumbfounded by what I’d just witnessed, ask my friend Kevin whom I first saw it with— he saw my jaw hit the floor, sprint out of the room, and take the subway uptown numerous times throughout it’s two hour runtime. The Favourite is, for lack of a better term, delicious. It is a movie-lovers wet dream in every conceivable way. It is Lanthimos’ most widely palatable film to date but at no sacrifice to his singular view, taste, and execution. The trio of women leading this psychosexual period piece of a melodramatic romp are giving career best performances and the scenes drip with an unbeatable mix of opulence and filth. Upon rewatch, I can confirm that it gets better and better the more you watch it, it’s exquisite details pistol whipping you at every ruthless turn. There is a short list of directors whose work I will run to see. At the top, there are of course my favorites, Paul Thomas Anderson and Bong Joon-ho, and now post The Favourite, add the equally exciting Yorgos Lanthimos to the list.

Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) dir. Abdellatif Kechiche

This movie is…really something. It is both explosive in its portrayal of first love, opulent in its portrayal of lust, and unforgiving in its portrayal of loss. It’s shot with precision and intimacy and the color gradient really does make blue feel like the warmest in the rainbow. But the true wonder of Blue is the Warmest Color lies in its central performances. Adèle Exarchopoulos gives a seismic performance as young Adèle while Lèa Seydoux portrays Emma, the object of her overwhelming affection, with roaring effect. Its most grading fault lies in its direction by a straight man. The sex scenes are the most intense I’ve ever seen on screen but after awhile, they become exhausting and gratuitous. They are clearly filmed from a male’s perspective and though the first one is effective in its portrayal of raw, uninhibited desire, it goes on a bit too long, giving it the feel that it’s definitely not there purely for character development. That aside, this film has one of my favorite scenes of the decade. When Emma and Adèle first start spending time together, they take an afternoon in the park, discussing Sartre and art and French literature. While that is titillating conversation, what’s going on in between the lines is what makes the scene so aggressively good. Adèle so clearly knows exactly what she wants— Emma— but is so clearly scared of wanting just that. You see this young queer girl’s desire be trampled by shame and fear. I haven’t seen the rush of emotion associated with first love portrayed so realistically on screen maybe ever and haven’t seen restraint portrayed so well since In the Mood for Love (though this aforementioned restraint is blown to pieces soon after). This scene, followed later by its explosive final twenty or so minutes, make the three hour running time of this modern tale of lust and love and everything in between seem like it’s not enough.

Happy Together (1997) dir. Wong Kar-wai

At first glance, Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together, like Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, has an unabashedly misleading title. Much like Marriage Story is a movie about divorce, Happy Together is a movie as much about sadness as it is about love. From Hong Kong, our central couple arrives in Argentina in hopes of taking a holiday road trip. When things go adrift and the relationship crumbles, one stays in Argentina, taking up a job in a tango bar, and one disappears. Like the tango, the movie stares us in the eye, invites us in, seduces us, and leads us around the dance floor with equal parts force and submission. You know that coupling of moves in the tango where the leg or foot flicks and then slowly inches down the leg of its partner? That’s what watching this movie is like. It’s a dance. It’s a roller coaster. It’s more of a movie that chooses you rather than you choosing it. It lingers on the everyday things like furniture and skin and smoke. It’s narrative isn’t necessarily driving but it certainly isn’t slight. And yet, as alluring and raw and hypnotic as it is, it’s deeply sad. You see a relationship shatter, be put back together, and shatter again, all under the watchful eye of master auteur Wong Kar-wai and his stunning sense of color, tone, and atmosphere. It’s a movie that we come to realize is actually deftly titled— it’s not about being happy together, it’s about the work it takes to be happy together.

Brokeback Mountain (2005) dir. Ang Lee

Considered a turning point for the mainstream popularity of queer cinema, the Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain is a frill-less portrait of unadulterated desire muted by the crushing weight of societal pressure.  The acting in the film is some of the finest of all time.  Led by Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway and the devastatingly good Michelle Williams, the central quartet inhabit a sprawling, bleak 1960s Wyoming that refuses to see the star-crossed love between Ennis and Jack blossom. Brokeback Mountain is truly a tragedy in the Shakespearean sense, which makes it a bit hard to watch with any frequency, but every now and then I’ll revisit it to remind myself how intimately these characters were observed amidst a production of such large scale.  The writer of the short story on which the film is based, Annie Proulx, went on to say of the film, “I feared the landscape on which the story rests would be lost, that sentimentality would creep in, that explicit sexual content would be watered down. None of that happened. The film is huge and powerful. I may be the first writer in America to have a piece of writing make its way to the screen whole and entire. And, when I saw the film for the first time, I was astonished that the characters of Jack and Ennis came surging into my mind again.”  This epic achievement, brought to life by the unparalleled mind of Ang Lee has been wrongfully sidelined as the “gay cowboy movie” when in actuality, it is so much more. Sweeping, poignant, devastating, familiar; in this movie, there is something for anyone who has ever felt anything.  

Pain and Glory (2019) dir. Pedro Almodóvar

Largely considered one of the greatest living international directors, Pedro Almodóvar pours so much of himself into this film as its roots are decidedly autobiographical. Antonio Banderas, leading the film, is the best he’s been since Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and is giving a truly career defining (and Oscar-nominated) performance. Pain and Glory explores the peaks and valleys of creating art, in this case film and a bit of theater. The valleys, or the pain, include lost love, ruined friendships, and persiguiendo al dragón (heroin), while the peaks, or the glory, include reconnection, euphoric release, and professional triumph. It’s a brilliantly realized and emotionally honest look at how soul crushing creating something meaningful always is, despite what anyone tells you, and how important it is to build a life outside of your career, no matter how much you love it. If we let one aspect of our lives take up too much of the pie chart, there’s no telling what will inhabit the other parts when that slice has been consumed. Pain and Glory is half an ode to what could have been and half an ode to what already is. And it explores youth and the familial dynamics that shape us with an easy nostalgia that packs quite the emotional punch. It’s beautifully shot and contains frame after frame of stunning tableaux dripping with that signature Almodóvar color palette. The color red is most prevalent here and it’s no surprise given that it’s the color of passion. You can tell just how much passion went into this cinematic love letter: Almodóvar truly spared no ink.

Hope you all enjoyed these selections and happy watching!  Have a safe, celebratory, inclusive Pride.