News Column

SF Frameline gay film festival highlights

June 16, 2013

YellowBrix

June 16--Frameline, the world's largest LGBT festival, starts Thursday and will screen 240 films from 29 nations.

Here is a sampling of the films that will be featured from June 21 to 25. (Next Sunday, look for highlights playing June 26 to 30.)

Valencia

United States, 100 minutes

This rambling, rollicking, riotous film adaptation of the cult book "Valencia" follows Michelle as she navigates the punk rock-riot grrrl world of the 1990s Mission District in search of love and drugs and drama, not always in that order. Each chapter of the book is filmed by a different director (Cheryl Dunye among them) and features a different Michelle, an audacious but inspired idea that suits this experimental-style project. Amid the anarchy onscreen are random bursts of insight, humor and sexual images -- all woven into a radical tapestry that captures a uniquely San Francisco milieu.

9 p.m. Friday, Castro

Free Fall

Germany, 100 minutes

Though this movie relies on a meat-and-potatoes plot of gay cinema -- "straight" boy with girlfriend meets hot boy; complications ensue -- director Stephan Lacant's romantic triangle proves to be more than a worthwhile diversion, thanks to exquisite cinematography, solid acting and a healthy dose of sensuality. The arena here is a police training academy, where Marc's safe existence goes awry when he meets a fellow officer, Kay, during a class. Their first liaisons in the forest carry a raw charge -- they're like two animals checking each other out -- and set a memorable tone for the upheaval about to transpire. It's one of the sexiest films of the festival.

7 p.m. Friday, Castro; 9:30 p.m., June 24, Elmwood

Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton

United States, 82 minutes

Underappreciated poet-filmmaker James Broughton finally gets his due in a delightful documentary that traces the madcap yet inspired pursuits of a gay man who was always ahead of the pack, whether it was leading poetry festivals in San Francisco before the Beat Generation blossomed, making nudity-filled films just in time for the Summer of Love, or becoming a charter member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The film chronicles Broughton's harsh upbringing in Modesto, his relationship to renowned film critic Pauline Kael, his unconventional movie career, and his intense 25-year relationship with a student who was four decades younger. Directors Stephen Silha and Eric Slade have created a lovely valentine to a countercultural figure whose sense of joy and adventure will win you over.

4 p.m. Saturday, Castro

Breaking the Girls

United States; 85 minutes

Frameline veteran Jamie Babbit ("But I'm a Cheerleader") returns with a sexy, lesbian homage to "Strangers on a Train." The intrigue begins as law student Sara finds her life in tatters after a jealous classmate sabotages Sara's scholarship and livelihood. Before long, Sara hooks up with nothing-but-trouble Alex, who has problems of her own with a greedy, young stepmom. Alex offers Sara a deal: She'll kill the classmate if Sara kills the stepmother. Once the plot is set in motion, this gorgeously shot film kicks into high gear, offering delicious twists until the final frames. Once again, Babbit (regardless of genre) proves to be a master of using queer femininity, with all its shadings, to help tell an entertaining story.

6:30 p.m. Saturday, Castro

Big Gay Love

United States, 85 minutes

Jonathan Lisecki (director of last year's Frameline hit "Gayby") goes in front of the camera for this cute romantic comedy, starring as a teddy bear out of the woods trying to find love in body-beautiful Los Angeles. Not helping matters is a meddling mother (a hilarious Ann Walker) and two impossibly gorgeous, gay advisers who have a combined body-fat index of 0.0001 percent. Lisecki gives an emotionally naked performance -- woefully insecure in one moment, then disarmingly tender in the next. His fearless work is nicely counterbalanced by the appealing Nicholas Brendon, who plays the more grounded love interest. Director (and San Jose native) Ringo Le has crafted an enjoyable date movie that comically explores the mind games that body issues can play, not only on our self-image, but also on our relationships.

6:30 p.m. Saturday, Victoria

C.O.G.

United States, 88 minutes

This assured, darkly comic film, based on a story by acclaimed writer David Sedaris, concerns a pretentious Yale boy who immerses himself into the working-class world of Oregon to cleanse his soul -- not to mention those nagging questions about his sexual persuasion. Things for "Samuel" (an excellent Jonathan Groff) don't quite go as planned, as he must fend for himself against antagonistic apple pickers, a lustful co-worker and a manic-depressive Bible thumper who takes him under his wing. Deft director Kyle Patrick Alvarez concocts a subtle brew of sexuality, religion and class that goes down easily, even as the world around Samuel sometimes leaves a bitter taste.

9:15 p.m. Saturday, Castro

I Am Divine

United States, 85 minutes

It's hard to go wrong with a movie about famed drag queen Divine, and director Jeffrey Schwarz certainly doesn't, crafting a serious documentary about this gloriously trashy trailblazer. The film, with an eye to history, reflects the professional approach of Divine, a disciplined artist (real name: Harris Glenn Milstead) whose work holds up today, whether it's his courageous turn eating dog feces (for real) in "Pink Flamingos" or playing the concerned mother (quite convincingly) in "Hairspray." The documentary features fun archival footage and interviews with such luminaries as John Waters, Ricki Lake, Mink Stole, Tab Hunter, San Francisco's Joshua Grannell (a.k.a. Peaches Christ), and Milstead's mother, Frances.

3:30 p.m., June 23, Castro

Melting Away

Israel; 86 minutes

Emotionally textured and beautifully conceived, this outstanding Israeli film opens with a mystery: Where is Assaf, the cross-dressing boy who was tossed out of the house by his parents? Years since disowning their child, the father is dying of cancer, and the regretful mother has hired a grizzled but humane private investigator to track down Assaf. As it turns out, though, Assaf is now Anna, the stunning headliner at a Tel Aviv trans club. What Anna does next, and how her family reacts to her, makes up the heart of this gripping film, which in convincing fashion delves into acceptance, family bonds and the power of forgiveness. As Anna, Chen Yanni is a revelation, delivering one of the best performances in the festival.

7 p.m., June 23; Roxie

The Out List

United States; 60 minutes

It sounds like a tired premise -- influential LGBT folks talk about being out and proud -- but this intimate, immaculately edited HBO documentary confounds all expectations, proving to be heartbreaking, funny and ultimately, inspiring. Director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders doesn't waste a frame, giving three to four minutes of screen time to each of his famous subjects, including Ellen DeGeneres, Cynthia Nixon, Dustin Lance Black, Larry Kramer and 12 others. Far from being tired, every segment is illuminating and exhilarating -- a testament to how far the LGBT community has come.

4:30 p.m., June 25; Castro

In the Name of

Poland, 96 minutes

Father Adam is a dedicated priest -- he runs a center for troubled youths at his parish in the Polish countryside -- but he has a problem: He has not come to terms with the sexual angst that threatens to unravel his life. In this understated, sensitive film, writer-director Malgoska Szumowska avoids making judgments about Father Adam's actions or those around him. The well-shot movie is more of a character study, and it excels most when we see Father Adam (well played by Andrzej Chyra) struggling with his vows of celibacy. Masterfully creating the homophobic atmosphere that envelopes Father Adam, the film is a stark reminder that even in modern times, being a gay priest still carries an extra-heavy burden.

7 p.m., June 25, Castro

David Lewis is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: davidlewis@sfchronicle.com

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