Steve August 1, 2020
from-the-vaults:-taking-the-plunge
queer movies, gay news, Washington Blade
Antonio Banderas won the top Cannes Film Festival acting prize for his work in ‘Pain and Glory.’ (Photo by Manolo Pavon; courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

As temperatures soar all over the country, it’s time for a refreshing and revitalizing dive into the water. Here’s a collection of recent queer movies where characters take the plunge, both literally and metaphorically.

“Stranger by the Lake.” This award-winning French film was billed as an erotic gay thriller and it lived up to that description. The action unfolds on the banks of a lake where men meet for sex, which is shown in graphic detail. The thriller starts when the seemingly innocent Franck watches Michel swim out into a lake with a man and swim back to shore alone. Director Alain Guiraudie skillfully captures the mundane yet thrilling rituals of cruising and the inscrutable passion that arises between Franck and Michel. (In French with English subtitles).

“End of the Century.” Ocho, an Argentinian poet, is visiting Barcelona. He goes to the beach and sees Javi. As Ocho wanders the city, he keeps noticing Javi. When the two finally meet, they realize they have met each other before, and that they may have a future together. To say any more would spoil the intriguing twists and turns that out Argentinian director Lucio Castro magically weaves into his debut feature film. Castro writes and directs with the confident flair of a master filmmaker, making bold and innovative choices that gently support the cinematic magic realism of his epic love story. (In Spanish with English subtitles).

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” This sumptuous French period drama tells the story of a young female artist who falls in love with her subject. The movie is largely set on an isolated wind-swept island in Brittany at the end of the 18th century. Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is a struggling young artist who is hired by La Comtesse (Valeria Golino) to paint a wedding portrait of her daughter Heloise (Adèle Haenel). There’s only one catch: Heloise must not know that Marianne is painting her.

The richly sensuous and thoughtful exploration of art and romance won the Queer Palm at Cannes where lesbian filmmaker Céline Sciamma also won the screenwriting award. (In French with English subtitles).

“Pain and Glory (Dolor y Gloria),” the latest movie from queer auteur Pedro Almodóvar, starts with an amazing (and somewhat disturbing) shot of Antonio Banderas sitting at the bottom of a pool. In this deeply moving story based very loosely on the filmmaker’s own life, the long-time Almodóvar collaborator plays gay filmmaker Salvador Mallo whose physical and psychological ailments have kept him away from the camera. Banderas won the Best Actor prize at Cannes; Almodóvar veterans Penelope Cruz and Julieta Serrano and a great supporting cast turn in richly nuanced performances. (In Spanish with English subtitles).

“Rocketman.” When you end up at the bottom of your swimming pool during a glamorous pool party, you may have reached the end of your yellow brick road. Using the pop superstar and gay icon’s own music, director Dexter Fletcher leads audiences on a fantastic journey through Elton John’s early life, including his childhood, his rise to international stardom, his coming out, his addictions and his decision to enter rehab. Taron Egerton is fantastic as Elton and the costumes by Julian Day are, of course, fabulous.

Finally, the power of water (both literal and metaphorical) is at the center of “The Shape of Water,” a visionary queer retelling of Cold War-era paranoid monster movies like “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” The film centers on a cleaning woman who discovers that a gentle creature is being tortured at a government research lab. She falls in love with “Amphibian Man” and with the help of her friends, she develops a plot to free him.

The movie won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Guillermo del Toro), Best Production Design and Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat). Academy Award nominee Sally Hawkins stars as Elisa Esposito; the outstanding supporting cast includes Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Michael Shuhlbarg, Doug Jones and Richard Jenkins as Giles, Elisa’s gay best friend.

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