Author: Jon Paul Roberts

Queer Writer. Northern.

Sorry We Missed You: Film and the North

October 31, 2019

Sorry We Missed You, the latest endeavour from Ken Loach (KesI, Daniel Blake), is a harrowing addition to Loach’s specific brand of socialist realist cinema. Featuring performances from a group of largely undiscovered actors, the film is a damning condemnation of zero-hour contracts and the current ‘gig’ culture that idealizes the entrepreneur, one who grafts alone to achieve and draws us, as a country, further away from empathy and collectivism. Set in Newcastle, Ricky (Kris Hitchen) takes up work as a delivery driver for the fictional courier service PDF. In a role in which he is considered ‘self-employed’ and finically responsible for the parcels he carries, he doesn’t ‘work for’ the company he works ‘with them’. He isn’t hired but rather asked to ‘come on board’, a manipulative twist on language to appeal to those in need. Sorry We Missed You captures working life in the North and the current state of the working-class in Britain with laser-like precision. The setting and subject also lead to a revaluation of the question: What is the relationship between film and the North? 

The North of England is largely misunderstood by those that don’t live here. The thrill of hearing a Northern accent on a night out, the obsession with gravy, and the ‘correct’ word for your evening meal are all points of fascination and humour to those who didn’t grow up above Birmingham. Over in Hollywood, that misunderstanding is even worse. There’s the age-old adage that when asked by an American where you are from in England they are surprised or confused if you don’t say London yet, films from the North have often proved to be complex and intricate, writhing with history and division, with sex and sexuality.

God’s Own Country (Credit: ORION PICTURES)

Last month, I wrote about British Romantic Comedies and how they are, to their detriment, apolitical. They ignore the issues of class, sex, race, and many others that face our country today. Cinema from the North is the exact opposite: Mike Leigh’s Peterloo told a socialist story and portrayed a massacre that most had forgotten, Clio Barnard’s The Arbor is an experimental genre-blend that explored race and gender inequality on a Bradford Estate through the experience of Andrea Dunbar, Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country is a rich, political, and delightfully queer story set in the Yorkshire countryside, and William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth is an electric story of deception and desire filled with sexuality and power.

It seems cinema and the North are perfect bedfellows yet to some if you want to experience ‘the arts’ you have to perform the pilgrimage down to London and sell your soul for a Pret A Manger wrap… but creators and artists have had enough. There is a fight to create more opportunities and indeed more stories from the North with the recent move of Channel 4’s HQ to Leeds and the current construction of a film studio in Liverpool to rival Pinewood proving a good start. If the industry in place then hopefully vital voices will come through.

A Taste of Honey (Credit: BRITISH LION PICTURES.)

When Shelagh Delaney wrote A Taste of Honey (one of the most performed plays in British history and adapted into an acclaimed film in 1961) she did so after a boy trying to impress her took her to the Manchester Opera House to see a play. She wrote in a letter to theatre producer Joan Littlewood, ‘I had discovered something that means more to me than myself.’ As such, she created work that found drama and gravity in the world she came from. She found a voice and something to say and dared to push forward into a world she knew wasn’t built for her. 

Like Delaney, the North is a place talent can, if given the opportunity, thrive. It has produced writers from the working-class comedy stylings of Willy Russell to the intrigue and betrayal of Jed Mercurio. It has formed directors like Terence Davies, whose Liverpudlian self-portraits are stunning and musical. Acting-wise, it has offered some of the strongest and most memorable performances in cinematic history. This writer has issues every day knowing we live in a world in which Julie Walters did not win an Oscar for her role as the chain-smoking, brash, ballet teacher living in Thatcher’s Britain in Billy Elliot. Nor will he be able to sleep well at night ever again knowing Jane Horrocks wasn’t even nominated for her dazzling and wild performance as a shy woman with a talent for impersonating musical icons in Little Voice. He will also forever be frustrated that Maxine Peake’s talent continues to go underappreciated and that routinely that affluent actors from the South continue to gain the most acclaim

That relationship then? One in which talent has to stand out and fight for a seat at the table, to work to prove that the North is a place of art and culture, and to tackle politics and class head-on. It will strive to eviscerate British cinema’s idea of classlessness and fight to render the idea of a single ‘British accent’ entirely moot. It will not rest until the North is seen as it really is: diverse, visceral, and truly alive. 

Sorry We Missed You is released nationwide on November 1st.

Sorry We Missed You (Official Trailer)

Also Read: “Sorry We Missed You” UK Premiere Highlights & Interviews

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Review: Monsoon [London Film Festival]

October 13, 2019

Monsoon begins at a junction. The cars pass, slowly and orderly, before mopeds and vans swirl into the mix. Chaos fills the road with no markings, no sense of order, but yet there is no catastrophe only narrow misses and swerving bikes. The camera rises up, higher and higher, enlarging the scope of the madness, of the disorder, before cutting to Kit (Henry Goulding), who sits in a taxi, on his way to a hotel. 

Kit has returned to Vietnam after 30 years in England. His family escaped during the war after his father was arrested when Kit was only six. He is back in Saigon to find a location to spread his mother’s ashes but he finds that the little he does remember of his once home is gone – the small pond behind the flat he grew up in where he used to play, has been filled in and built over and the building the flat is in is likely to be knocked down in due course. He remembers flashes, brief and small images from his short time in Saigon, but he lacks more than that. When his family fled they burnt all their family photographs to protect those closest to them, so they couldn’t be identified.  

Monsoon / Peccadillo Pictures

While in Saigon, Kit meets Lewis (Parker Sawyers), an American man in Vietnam to set up his clothing company ‘Curve’ – so named because Lewis is ‘not straight’. The two meet for a drink on a rooftop bar, discussing their online dating profiles, before heading back to Kit’s hotel room. They kiss, take off their shirts, and it feels like it might be leading somewhere but the film cuts to the two men, post-sex. It’s disappointing that the sex in Monsoon is so regulated, with each scene cutting away before anything really raunchy or even tender happens. The only scene with any hint of actual sex is during a hook-up Kit has on a trip to Hanoi, as he turns his lover around and kicks aside his leg in a move of aggressive sexuality.

This is an all too common problem for queer cinema; figuring out who it is appealing to, a queer audience or a straight one? Sex scenes, like those in Call Me By Your Name or Brokeback Mountain, are short and relatively un-sexual in their sparseness to keep a straight audience interested and the former came under fire for watering down the famous ‘peach scene’ from the book. In the case of Monsoon, it feels the director and writer, Hong Khaou, wanted the sex but worried about alienating a straight audience which leaves the film feeling somewhat censored, as if there are parts missing.  Especially in contrast to the other queer film’s screening at the festival like Levan Akin’s And Then We Danced which is deeply erotic and charged, the tender nudity in Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, or the full-framed rawness of the sex in Lucio Castro’s End of the Century.

Goulding and Sawyers have good chemistry and their scenes together do feel the most real and warm, their flirting feels playful and sweet. Goulding’s performance in-particular is quiet and brooding most of the time which adds another string to the bow of a man who’s already been compared to Clark Gable. Yet something feels like it’s missing (and it’s not just the sex). 

Henry Goulding / PHOTO: GQ.

Hong Khaou’s debut film Lilting in 2014 was about a young gay man living in London trying to form a connection with the mother of his dead boyfriend. It was a deep and rich film that delicately unravelled itself before your eyes. In this way, Khaou’s films feel like they are about translation; of language, of emotion, of experience. They find themselves within a world of shifting cultures and personal hardships. They’re often quiet, still, and creeping. They look at disconnection and wonder what fills that gap between people. They look at loss and how it wraps itself around you and consumes you. Yet, Monsoon doesn’t quite live up to the emotional weight of Lilting nor does it seem to have the same focus or drive. It loses itself in what it’s trying to say and ultimately never quite makes its mark. It’s hampered by dialogue that is riddled with exposition. As such it never really feels like the film is in the moment and, as an audience, we’re being asked to catch up constantly. 

As emphasised by its impressive opening shot, Benjamin Kracun’s cinematography is the film’s strongest asset. The slow-moving or often still camera compliments Kit’s position – stuck between England and Vietnam, between past and future. He is mysterious and doesn’t reveal his cards right away and the camera does the same, its slow pans and stationary shots of skyscrapers don’t reveal their intention immediately, but cause you to wonder and guess at their meaning in a way that feels considered and intentionally vague. Kracun, whose recent credits include the dark thriller Beast and the rave oriented Beats, is certainly one to watch.

Despite its stronger moments, Monsoon unfortunately doesn’t feel like a worthy follow-up to Lilting. Instead, it finds itself lost somewhere between romance and family drama, unable to really make an impact in either category. While the chemistry of its two leads is, at times, palpable it’s not enough to turn it into the Before Sunrise or Columbus it feels like it wants to be. 

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Monsoon will be distributed by Peccadillo Pictures.

A release date has yet to be announced.

Monsoon (Film Clip)

Also Read: Understanding The British Rom-Com

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Review: Honey Boy [London Film Festival]

October 11, 2019

‘The only thing my dad gave me that was worth anything was pain and you want to take that away from me,’ says Otis, a former child actor who is currently attending court-ordered rehab. He is in the process of therapy, something that is being recorded to prove to the courts he is recovering and  Honey Boy was written from that exact place. 

Shia LaBeouf, once a famed child actor and now more commonly known for his performance art and various arrests, wrote the first draft of the script from rehab where he sent it to Alma Har’el, a friend and confidant (who would later become the film’s director). It was an unfinished draft, born from LaBeouf’s therapy sessions, and once LeBeouf was out of rehab the two finished it together. While this might sound like the kind of Hollywood vanity project fuelled by ego that you might expect from someone in LaBeouf’s position, it’s couldn’t be further from it. It’s tender, disarming, sympathetic, hypnotising, and raw. 

The film follows an adult Otis (Lucas Hedges) as he examines his past and his relationship with his father after being diagnosed with PTSD from his childhood. Through flashbacks, we see a younger Otis (Noah Jupe) on the set of his TV show (with scenes reminiscent of Even Stevens) and his life with his father, James (Shia LaBeouf). Their life, in a motel complex somewhere in LA, is not the life you’d expect a child star to live. Otis often walks himself home and steals food from the set. While his dad grows weed in secret by the freeway and attends AA meetings regularly. It is not the lifestyle that comes to mind when you think of the ‘Hollywood Elite’ who are so often pontificated about.

Writer and star Shia LaBeouf / Photo: Larry Busacca

This life couldn’t be further from that of the Kardashian’s or any other Hollywood ‘royalty’ we have become used to. Otis’s dad refuses to hold his hand anywhere people might see them, he doesn’t want to be seen to be soft or caring. He is an addict, four years sober, who didn’t achieve what he wanted. He is a  former clown and performer who, after an arrest and sexual assault allegation, found himself divorced and working for his prepubescent son. He is an abuser, emotionally and physically. He’s a man in pain. In some moments we feel his pain and at others, we detest him – sometimes feeling both simultaneously. We see his hurt, we see its roots and we see its reach. 

Can we inherit pain? If those around us, who raise us, are racked with hurt do we then carry that burden too? How do we take that on? How does it manifest within us? How does it hinder us, grip us, affect us? Some scientists believe that the trauma of our parents changes our genetic markers while others disagree. Either way, growing up near so much pain is bound to have an effect and Honey Boy wants to understand that effect, to inspect it, and portray it. 

Director Alma Har’el / Photo: AdAge

Har’el’s direction does just that by cutting right through to the essence in this, her fiction film debut. Her ability to jump from bombastic montages set to thumping hip-hop to quiet, sombre, introspection is masterful. She straddles the narrative and the avant-garde with ease, superbly creating a dreamlike, hazy, feel to the overall film while continually rooting it in reality. She makes the film feel like memory and reality are converging on each other, the line between them becoming hazier with each scene but then, all at once, plummeting back into certainty. She continually charms you with humour and light before shocking you with aggression and gloom. It’s LeBeouf’s world but Har’el weaves it into a tapestry that is complex and disarming. 

Har’el is also skilled with actors. LeBeouf’s performance is a career-best as he draws the character, based on his own father, in the grey areas. Outside of LaBeouf, there isn’t a dud performance to be seen. Relative newcomer Noah Jupe shines as a young boy managing his father’s temper and expectations while elsewhere Lucas Hedges continues to prove he’s one of cinema’s most interesting and versatile talents as the older Otis. FKA Twigs (in her film debut) exudes cosiness and melancholy as the girl growing up across the street from Otis, her performance is deeply rooted in physicality and quietness. Even Natasha Lyonne, though never seen on screen, provides audio cameo in one of the films funniest yet tragic scenes as Otis’s mother. 

Honey Boy, at its core, is a portrait of broken people. From those who are trying to build themselves again and those who have shattered beyond repair. It’s about addiction and the ways in which we become our parents. We watch their demise, their mistakes, and then do the same thing in a way that feels almost inevitable, unavoidable, and mythic in its tragic nature. The film itself feels like therapy for its writer but not in a way that feels solipsistic or melodramatic. It feels deeply personal and intimate yet never closed off. It feels like Honey Boy is an example of something not often seen, in which an artist abandons their ego, owns up to their mistakes, and cuts through all the noise to tell an honest, human, story.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Honey Boy is scheduled for release in December.

Also Read: The Lighthouse (Review)

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Too Awkward For Love: Understanding the British Rom-Com

October 8, 2019

‘[R]om coms will never die THEY WILL JUST EVOLVE INTO NEW FORMS,’ one Twitter user wrote in response to series of Tik Tok videos playing out a queer romantic fantasy. It’s true, no other genre has endured the declaration it’s dead and born again as many times at the romantic comedy. It’s withered on the vine and flourished, it’s succeeded wildly and failed gloriously. It remains one of the most beloved and hated genres in cinema. Yet, when it gets it right it can soar to unimaginable heights. 

It may seem like the UK is not a perfect fit for the hopelessly romantic. Are we too worried about causing a fuss to perform grand-gestures? Do the words our grandmothers said, ‘you’ll catch your death’, stop us kissing in the rain? They didn’t use to. Once, there was a gleaming moment of splendour when the UK was a major exporter of meet-cutes, break-ups, and running to the airport. In the nineties and early noughties films like Four Weddings and a FuneralNotting HillBridget Jones’s Diaryand Love Actually enjoyed substantial box office returns and critical success. For around fifteen years the UK produced some of the most universally recognisable romantic comedies ever made. So, in a world governed by concerns around Brexit and what do we have to offer the world, have we forgotten that once we lucratively exported romantic comedies? 

To understand the British romantic comedy and its success you have to understand how the world sees Britain. The blundering brits who inhabit these films are too awkward and well-mannered for games of love, in stories that are riddled with etiquette. It’s no wonder that Hugh Grant, the angel-faced-bumble-machine, was the heartthrob of the period. Grant typified what the wider world wanted from a British man: received pronunciation, charm, and good looks. But what about British women? 

Renée Zellweger as Bridget Jones (Credit: Working Title Films)

Bridget Jones offered that alternative, a woman to root for instead of a man to lust after. Renée Zellweger starred as the supposed British everywoman; awkward, clumsy, and chain-smoking. Prone to embarrassing encounters and passionate conundrums she resonated with a generation of women and so she returned in 2016, after a twelve-year hiatus. Bridget was, and still is, a symbol for the single woman; for better or worse. Some find comfort in Bridget’s fallibility, while others fling the name as an insult akin to ‘crazy-cat-lady’. There is no doubt, however, that the character is one of the most recognisable in British cinema and audiences want to see her return once more.

In Britain, we have a history of beloved female characters in romantic quandaries. The prolific writer (and star of the ten-pound note), Jane Austen revelled in tales of love won & lost (Bridget Jones herself was based on the quick-witted fan-favourite Elizabeth Bennet). Nevertheless, Austen is also famous for her male love interests. Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy, for example, has been co-opted by many as a slang term for the ‘perfect man’. Yet, the two most famous iterations of Darcy (both played by Colin Firth, in the BBC Mini-series and the Bridget Jones films) are sexualised ideals of the polite, if not substantially repressed, British man; someone who is brooding, quiet, and unable to open up. 

Billie Piper and Toby Wolf in Rare Beasts (2019) (Credit: Western Edge Pictures)

Where does that leave us in 2019? The Beatles infused Yesterday was, at its strongest moments, a fairly decent romantic comedy that saw Lily James and Himesh Patel as friends who might be more. The upcoming Rare Beasts, written and directed by Billie Piper, calls itself an ‘un-romantic comedy’ and casts Piper as a career-driven single mother who falls in love with a man who holds more traditional values. The film, which is screening at the London Film Festival in October, based on its description might be willing to bend those structures we’ve come to know. Then, of course, we have Last Christmaswhich sees a man and a woman fall in love in London during the festive period set to the music of George Michael and Wham… which may be the most ‘British’ sounding film ever. 

Henry Goulding and Emilia Clarke Last Christmas (2019) (Credit: Universal Pictures, Feigco Entertainment)

There are some glaring problems within the genre, of course. The characters, for example, are all so often white, without disabilities, and almost always straight – even if Last Christmas is inspired the music of a queer icon, the trailers include no suggestion of that. Britain in these films often avoids questions of sexuality along with issues like class, political unease, race, and wealth disparity that grip our country in real life. They’re made to appeal to anglophiles over-seas by presenting these beguiling men and relatable women, the idyllic countryside locations and the rainy London streets – not to represent how it actually is.

It is true that cinema can’t always reflect the times and the argument for it as escapism can be just as valid. Though, it’s sad to watch a genre continually avoid engaging with the world or represent all those who live in it. Maybe a change is due? Queer rom-coms are in the works in America and recent British films, like Animals, show a shift in perspective in the UK. Who knows who’ll be kissing in the rain in years to come…

Also Read: Is Queer Autobiographical Cinema Subtly Political?

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Review: The Farewell

September 20, 2019

‘Based on a true story’ are words even the most casual of movie-goers will recognise. They’re almost in-built into the DNA of modern filmmaking, no matter how loosely they’re used. Lulu Wang’s second feature The Farewell, however, announces it’s ‘based on an actual lie’. 

In 2013, Wang found out her grandmother (her Nai Nai) had Stage 4 Lung Cancer and was given three months to live. Her family decided not to tell Nai Nai she was sick, something that is relatively common in China, as a way to spare her the pain of knowing that her life was ending. Instead, they staged a ruse wedding as an excuse for everyone to travel home, to Changchun, and say goodbye. 

The Farwell is introspective and layered with a beautifully melancholic score by Alex Weston and gorgeous cinematography by Anna Franquesa Solano. It is a rich meditation on culture, family values, the familial bond, mortality, morality, truth, and pain. It features a cast of talented actors, who imbue the family at the centre of the story with nuance and complexity, led by a dazzling Awkwafina as Billi, a Chinese-American woman who acts as a stand-in for Wang. 

The Farewell / A24

As Billi returns to China she is forced to confront the parts of herself that have shifted since she left when she was six-years-old. It was a move that left her feeling disjointed. In China, she feels American, she speaks a language she can’t read and every so often doesn’t understand certain words or phrases. In America, she feels lonely. Her family and her happiest memories are from her childhood in Changchun. She feels as if her connection to her home is dwindling, fizzling out before her eyes. The house she lived in was sold, her Nai Nai’s old house is long gone since the neighbourhood was renovated, and she lost her Grandfather when she was younger and was unable to attend his funeral. When she hears Nai Nai’s diagnosis, she fears she’ll lose her too and her connections to her childhood, and to China, will be severed for good. 

Billi wants this visit, the one that might be her last with Nai Nai, to mean something but she’s not sure it can if Nai Nai doesn’t know the truth. In western culture, we are obsessed with knowing everything, obsessed with the truth no matter how much it hurts. We cannot conceive, even for a second, that knowing it all might not be in our best interests. We have difficulty embracing the mere idea of collectivism, as our identities are often built around the western ideal of individualism and our societies exist around the self, our histories are built on it. We live our lives within family units and social groups but ultimately we live for ourselves, first and foremost, but The Farwell lays out its delicate counter-argument. 

‘In the East, a person’s life is part of a whole,’ Billi’s uncle reminds her, that Chinese culture and family values differ significantly from her American ones. It is then, their final act of kindness, of love, to carry the emotional burden of illness for a family member. To let them live their final few months without that knowledge, without the emotional weight of such news. As the old phrase goes: what we don’t know can’t hurt us. Or, as Billi’s mother says, ‘When people get cancer they die… it isn’t the cancer that kills them, it’s the fear.’ 

Writer and director Lulu Wang / Photo credit: Elias Roman

The Farwell is not unaccompanied this year either, as 2019 has been a busy year for directors exploring their personal histories, with the past two months alone seeing the release of Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory and Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir. Yet, even in a somewhat crowded field, Wang’s film feels distinctly unique. It’s deeply particular and has emotional heft that writhes beneath the surface. The evocations of childhood, Billi’s grandfather, and her inner conflicts are exquisitely drawn yet Wang deftly weaves in moments of comedy that are tender, perfectly contrasting the sombreness of the occasion – often boldly directly juxtaposing the two. 

The Farwell is uprooting in the best ways. It modifies your thought process, dissects your preconceived notions and challenges you to let them go. It’s quiet and looming, with each character being worthy of their own two-hour film to see how they respond to the lie. The Farewell is the kind of film that demonstrates what cinema can be (powerful, moving, and specific) especially when diverse creators are able to handle their own stories, ones they draw from personal experience. It’s clear that Wang is a bold cinematic voice, one that has something distinct and nuanced to say, with a long career ahead of her. So, rather ironically, The Farewell feels like a significant arrival. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The Farewell (Official Trailer)

The Farewell is in cinemas nationwide on the 20th September.

Also Read: The Unlikely Sucess of A24


Is Queer Autobiographical Cinema Subtly Political?

August 30, 2019

‘It’s about my inability to love… but I’m fine now,’ says Benjamin, the titular filmmaker at the heart of queer comedian Simon Amstell’s latest film. It’s a film about intimacy and it’s challenges, about pressure and it’s ramifications, and it finds itself in an interesting position. It’s at the intersection between two genres; autobiographical cinema (a genre that is ever-expanding and gaining popularity) and queer cinema (a genre that has experienced a major boom since the nineties).

Autobiographical cinema is easy to explain, it’s a film based on the writer-directors own personal experience, but ‘queer cinema’ can be harder to define. In their book ‘Queer Images’, film critics Benshoff and Griffin suggest there are at least five ways to categorise queer film. Their first two categorisations, about subject matter and authorship, are the most commonly adhered to. If a film concerns itself with queer characters and focuses on a queer narrative, generally it is considered a queer film. However, if it was written, directed, or produced by queer people (regardless of subject matter), then it could also be considered queer. Often, these two things overlap with queer filmmakers commonly making films about the queer experience. 

It is this authorship though that defines Autobiographical Queer Cinema, as the filmmaker infuses a narrative with their own personal experience which will be, inherently, queer. For example, the Belgian filmmaker Chantal Ackerman’s art film News From Home (1977) features images of New York City played over Ackerman reading letters from her protective mother. The narrative itself isn’t queer but Ackerman’s identity as a queer woman could classify it as such. The same could be said of the work of Terence Davies, whose films like Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) or The Long Day Closes (1992) create a tableau of his childhood and family life in Liverpool during the 40’s and 50’s. They’re not explicitly queer, but his viewpoint is. 

Simon Amstell, writer and director of Benjamin (2018) (Photo: HARRY CARR)

Benjamin (2018) is an insight into Amstell’s own fears. As Benjamin, an avatar for Amstell himself reconciles his anxieties about the release of his second film, a romantic comedy based on a Buddhist philosophy of the self, he finds himself drawn to a French musician called Noah (Phénix Brossard). In their relationship, Benjamin is needy, insecure, and unable to fully commit but not really able to let go either (some of which has been addressed in Amstell’s stand up and subsequent memoir, Help). 

Amstell finds himself in territory that has been explored by filmmakers before; the anxiety that comes with revealing your art to the world. The same issue plagued Federico Fellini with  (1963), which in turn inspired Bob Fosse and Woody Allen’s All That Jazz (1979) and Stardust Memories (1980), respectively. Amstell himself, in a Q&A at the London Film Festival in 2018, cited Allen as an influence on Benjamin.‘It’s a bunch of people looking for love in a major city and it’s funny,’ he said. He also referenced Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale (2005), from which he found the blend of comedy and drama a point of interest. 

Desiree Akhavan, creator and writer of The Bisexual (Channel 4) and, the feature film, Appropriate Behaviour (Peccadillo Pictures) (Photo: TEREZA CERVENOVA)

It stands to reason that a lot of queer filmmakers have found inspiration in the work of cis-straight-white-male filmmakers because it is what they have been exposed to. Desiree Akhavan’s 2012 feature Appropriate Behaviour, for example, shares a lot in common with the Woody Allen comedies from the seventies and eighties, as does her TV show The Bisexualbut what makes it different is her identity as a queer Iranian woman and the experience she brings to the table. 

What does it mean then, when queer people who have contextually absorbed the mechanics of this type of film make their own? Is their response, their queering of the conventions, political? Is it postmodern or more explicitly post-heterosexual? The idea of postmodern art is that it reacted to the ideas and values of modernism, which had maintained dominance in the middle of the 20th Century. Could this style of queer filmmaking be a reaction to the kinds of films made by straight men that have enjoyed dominance since the dawn of cinema? 

There is a political connotation to any queer film. In a time in which rights can be stripped away and hate crimes are on the rise, the idea of exploring queer life in a nuanced and tender way becomes a counter-argument that people wish didn’t need to be made; that queer people are people too with intricate lives and not just statistics on the evening news. 

Benjamin, and films like it, subtly challenge the way we absorb queer identities. They are influenced by a cis-straight-white-male style of filmmaking, they even share similarities in subject matter and character types, however, they stem from a queer experience and that is key. The autobiographical nature of these films adds a level of visibility as if to say ‘This is how queer people live and it cannot be denied because this is my experience’. They use their own experience, and the building blocks of hetero-normative film, to create something that can be quietly political, distinctly queer, and specifically true.

Also Read: The Rise of Nigerian-British Filmmakers