‘Sometimes it’s hard to determine a future. We’re born. We live. We die. We’re reminded of it all the time.’
Surveying the sea as the turbines serve as a visual metaphor for the swirling mechanics of one’s mind, as you wish the painful remnants of the past would be washed away, with a fading sunset a poignant representation of your hopes of living an authentic life disappearing from view.
Right from the opening frame, director Katie Smith’s beautiful short film Crossroads is immaculate in conveying isolation and sense of confinement, along with handling the often difficult thought process that can come with facing your sexuality and tragic loss.
The distance between broad-shouldered, softly-spoken office worker/son Rex (Liam Hallinan) and the melancholic demeanour of his father Adrian (Paul Dewdney) is palpable. Both reeling from the death of their mother/wife, yet accentuated by their own inner torment.
Adrian growing increasingly weary of Rex’s mental state, in the fear he’s losing him too. Whilst Rex desperately attempts to maintain a loving relationship with his openly gay work colleague Jamie (Chris Clynes), without his oblivious father knowing the truth.
From the poignant stillness of Adrian gently feeling his wedding ring as he looks up to the ceiling helplessly, to the grounded affection that is instilled into the relationship shared by Rex and Jamie, director Smith observes the scenes with such skill and adoration that conjures up a remarkable range of emotions in its lean running time.
Its central trio of Hallinan, Clynes and Dewdney are mightily impressive, displaying the crippling anguish of their past and the conflicting joy and torment of the present beautifully, with the stifling intensity of its closing moments likely to draw tears.
As subtle as it is superbly crafted, with its ‘coming out’ narrative wonderfully layered in execution. Crossroads is a tender and telling reminder that regardless of struggle, life is important. If not in that moment to us, it is to another loving other.
An Interview with Actor-Director Adi Spektor
Movie Marker Magazine sat down with award-winning actor/director, Adi Spektor to talk acting, making movies in Hollywood and his latest role in ‘The Miracle of Hanukkah’.
Can you tell us a little about your early beginnings living in Poland?
When I was growing up in communistic Poland, there weren’t many opportunities for child actors, so when I was a kid, I would create puppet shows for my sister and we would play for hours. Other times, I would come up with different characters and would interact with her as that character. She really believed that I was someone else. It was fun. Also, although my parents are supportive of my acting career now, at the time, they wanted me to become a doctor, so acting professionally wasn’t even an option for me then. So unfortunately, I never had a chance to study acting in Poland.
What inspired you to take the acting journey?
I was always interested in human beings, why they are the way they are, what drives them, what’s important to them and why. I wondered what it would be like to be someone else for a short period of time. Acting gives you an opportunity to experience that, and there is no way you could have this experience in real life. I like to see and feel what it is like to “walk in someone else’s shoes”. As an actor you can do that, and then come back safely to your regular life.
You have co-starred in some hot TV shows and movies. Can you tell us a little about your most recent roles and have you enjoyed one more than another?
I played a Latvian gangster in ‘Rizzoli & Isles’ which was really fun to play, since I had to learn Latvian dialogue for it and I don’t speak the language. In ‘Scandal’ I played a Russian art dealer, who is double crossed and killed. Recently I had the chance to work with one of Hollywood’s legendary directors in a new studio blockbuster movie that will be in the theaters all over the world in the summer 2017. That was a real treat and I learned a lot from this experience. I am usually cast as some kind of Eastern European bad guy, so I especially like the characters that I have never had a chance to play before. Like for example the role in my film ‘A Miracle of Hanukkah’, I was playing a loving, Jewish gay guy who is also into BDSM and the supernatural. Completely different!
Your recent lead role in the film ‘A Miracle on Hanukkah’ you wrote, produced, directed and starred in. Can you tell us about the film and how you came up with the idea?
I like to make films with an uncommon and unpredictable story line. I have seen many films about exorcism, but the story line in them is very similar and there is usually a priest involved as one of the characters. Since I am Jewish and I speak fluent Hebrew, I wanted to create a Jewish version of the exorcism, which would give me an opportunity to use my language skills as well. Also, I didn’t want it to be a horror. When I was visiting a friend of mine, I saw a beautiful hanukkiah (menorah made just for Hanukkah) in his house and I borrowed it. This is how I decided that my film would take place during the first day of Hanukkah. The story line just came while I was already writing the screenplay.
You have made two award-winning smartphone movies. Can you tell us how this idea came about?
I decided to produce my first iPhone film after I was a Juror at the iPhone Film Festival, and saw the quality of these films. We had a script and a director, but the rest was up to me. It was a challenge because this kind of production wasn’t very popular at the time, we had to learn as we went along. The production took 10 days and I soaked up a lot of practical knowledge. The process inspired me to want to direct my own film, so I decided to challenge myself and shoot it on iPhone 5s. It was a success. ‘How to Rob a House’ has been screened all over the world and has won multiple awards.
What type of genre of film or TV show are you drawn to traditionally?
It depends on the day. Sometimes I like to watch a fast pace action film, another time a horror or a comedy. As an actor, I am more drawn to characters than the genre of film. I like to explore new characters that I have never had a chance to perform.
When you are not acting, what do you enjoy to do?
Physical and mental fitness is very important to me. I train in the gym on average 4 days, 2-3 hours at a time. I also love to read. So, I try to read as much as possible, both in English and Polish, to keep my vocabulary up to speed. When I have time, I try to watch as many movies as I can. I enjoy watching movies, but I also watch them as an actor and as a director. When I like the specific light they are using or a camera angle, I try to remember it, so maybe I can use it later in my productions. At times, I watch interviews with well accomplished directors, trying to pick their brains. There is still so much to learn, and internet is a great source of all kinds of knowledge.
What can we expect to see you doing over the next few months?
Presently, I am writing my first feature film, which is much more complicated than writing a short. There are many more story lines that must come together, there are more characters to develop etc. Also, it’s more challenging to keep an audience’s attention for 90 minutes rather than a 7-minute short! We are hopefully starting production in 2017.
Holding The Man
Reviewer: Freda Cooper
Director: Neil Armfield
Stars: Ryan Corr, Craig Stott, Anthony LaPaglia, Guy Pearce, Kerry Fox, Geoffrey Rush, Sarah Snook
Released: June 3rd, 2016
Cast your mind back to the mid-80s, when the world became aware of AIDS. There’d been deaths among the San Francisco gay community and in the UK we had those doom laden TV commercials. Designed to inflict the maximum amount of fear, they came with a built-in stigma. But what about the rest of the world? What about Australia, home of the ‘mate’?
Which is exactly where “Holding The Man” is set, a country that doesn’t immediately come to mind when you think about gay culture or the 80s epidemic. So it gives us a different angle on a piece of social history that we think we already know.
This is director Neil Armfield’s adaptation of Timothy Conigrave’s book of the same name, about his 15 year relationship with John Caleo. After meeting at school in their teens, they stayed together until the early 90s, surviving separation while Tim (Ryan Corr) went to drama school, the occasional temptation along the way and the opposition of John’s (Craig Stott) parents. And their devotion becomes even stronger when they are both diagnosed as HIV positive.
Essentially a personal story, it’s set against the sweeping background of social change, at a time when legal and social attitudes towards the gay community started to show the first signs of shifting, but when AIDS first appeared and was viewed as a death sentence. And it’s the personal side of things that really hits you between the eyes.
Both boys are from conventional, middle class families and attend a Catholic school. John’s family are devout Catholics and he’s the more reserved of the two, taking his time over the relationship. He’s also more conscious of pressure from school and his family, especially his father (Anthony LaPaglia) who never comes to terms with the relationship. Tim’s parents (Guy Pearce and Kerry Fox) are more tolerant and eventually more accepting. And, if there’s an award for a Best Supporting Put-Up Bed, it has to go to the one in the Conigrave household, where it’s used by John on his visits: later it moves to the hospital, where it’s occupied by Tim on overnight stays.
This is a film that sneaks up on you – and how. You know in your heart of hearts how things are going to end, whether you’ve read the book or not, but the first two thirds of the film are filled with charm, laughter and warmth, regardless of the struggles faced by the couple. And they’re very appealing: showy, aspiring actor Tim, who discovers that he’s never going to set the acting world alight, and the quieter, more grounded John with those lush eyelashes and thick, dark hair. They draw you into their world, you get to know them, you laugh with them – and out of nowhere comes the hammer blow.
Knowing about their diagnosis doesn’t lessen the shock. It’s because you’re hoping against hope that maybe there’s a treatment that will mean they can stay together. But this is the late 80s and early 90s and today’s medication was a long way in the distance.
The performances are excellent, especially Ryan Corr as the irrepressible Tim, who loves to challenge attitudes. But it’s Anthony LaPaglia who really stands out in the plum role of John’s dad, a man who dearly loves his son but finds it impossible to understand, let alone tolerate, his lifestyle. His only way of coping with his son being in hospital is to quibble with Tim over the items John plans to leave his will. You instinctively despise the man for being so intransigent, but you also find a twinge of sympathy for him. As he says to Tim, everybody “knows” about him and John. They may know, but that doesn’t mean they understand. He most certainly doesn’t. He can’t. And he knows it.
Comparisons with “Brokeback Mountain” are inevitable and a touch too easy. Yes, there are parallels but real similarities between Jack and Ennis and Tim and John are few, especially when it comes to social attitudes. The ending is devastating. Especially because it’s true. And tissues are compulsory.
LGBT History Month Review – Lilting
Director: Hong Khaou
Cast: Ben Whishaw, Cheng Pei Pei, Naomi Christie, Andrew Leung, Peter Bowles
I have chosen to review the recent feature film Lilting to celebrate LGBT History Month, the first feature from London-based filmmaker Hong Khaou. Starring the endearing Ben Whishaw as Richard, Lilting tells the story of the how Richard copes when his partner Kai dies suddenly, and how he longs to share his grief with Kai’s Cambodian-Chinese mother, Junn. They do not share a common language, but Richard recruits an amateur translator who struggles to bring Richard’s profound grief to light without dealing with the secret we dance around- that Kai was gay.
The film, although clouded in grief and sorrow from beginning to end, is utterly charming. You are locked into a time warp with Kai’s mother, Junn, expertly played by Pei-pei Cheung, with heartbreaking dreamy flashbacks of Kai visiting her, that arrive unannounced to break into her day. Whishaw is greeted with frosty suspicion, and he hovers in the background, keen to hold onto any link with the ultimate love of his life. Set in contemporary London, we flit between Richard’s hectic flat and the vintage-themed care home Junn now resides in, which brings a dark comic tinge to the scenes as the characters remain unnerved and uncomfortable during the first visits.
The struggle to connect the two vastly conflicting cultures of modern day London and Junn’s traditional Chinese background palpitates throughout the film, with a concluding crescendo which burns brightly and passionately, breaking the barriers between Richard and Junn. At last, a common language is found in the grief that they share for the person they most cared about.
I chose this film because it is so much more than a film about two protagonists playing out a LGBT relationship as, indeed, that part of the narrative has already happened. It’s a universal love story centred around grief and an all-inhabiting relationship. In the way that audiences turn to Brief Encounter or Roman Holiday as their go-to classic romance, I also go to Lilting. Dealing with a subject as profound and tragic as the loss of the ‘one great love’ as delicately and as interestingly as it does is a real success, especially for a first feature. We are also able to see the struggles that Kai had with the lack of cultural understanding about his relationship within his family, which is both fascinating and significant for modern audiences. The struggle to come out to his family was a very real one, and how much did he have to sacrifice in order to keep this a secret? With such a young death, it seems to drive home to view that it’s so much better to live openly and honestly, especially as his mother fully embraces her son and his life by the end of her journey in the film.
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