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Boys On Film: Bad Romance



BOYS 7Released: 2011

Shorts Directed By: Alain Hain, Christopher Banks, Christopher Radcliff, Tamer Ruggli, Mysh Rozanov, Joachim Back, Christoph Scheerman, Etienne Desrosiers, Tomer Velkoff, Kim Jho Kwang-soo

Certificate: 18

Reviewed By: Timothy Breach

Yet again we find ourselves with another Boys on Film collection from Peccadillo Pictures who have scoured the globe to bring together short films which span styles and genres.

For many of you, Bad Romance may immediately conjure up one thing; Lady Gaga. It is true that the song Bad Romance proceeded this collection by two years, and maybe it was an inspiration, but this collection is not about Gaga. Thinking about the lyrics to the song and you get a good idea about what the thematic link of these shorts is; the dark side of love. It’s not always as simple as it being an abusive relationship or unrequited, as this collection explores the variations of what a bad romance is.

It opens with Curious Things, an ideal place to start with its exploration of what it’s like to be in love with a straight guy. As many of you know, it’s not as simple as that and often “things” happen, sexuality becomes blurred and lines get crossed. Whatever happens, things rarely end the way that the gay/bi guy wants. The thing that makes Curious things particularly… curious and interesting is the fact that it’s a narrative drawn from real life experiences and stories. It gives it a grounding in reality and, for many, a relatability (which apparently isn’t a word?). The confusion and feeling of being used and worthless however is universal to one sided relationships. There’s a synergy between the style and truth which almost makes it stand out. I just couldn’t escape the feeling of having seen it before, though maybe that’s because the story is too close to home? A redeeming factor however is the powerful use of dialogue and what I mean by that is the whole thing is told in voice over besides one spoken line at a crucial turning point; “I can’t”.

“I can’t” or “I can’t do it any more” could be a line from the next short; Cake and Sand (or Tortem in Sand in it’s native tongue). Ending a relationship of any kind (be it a friendship, with a boyfriend or even quitting a job) can be difficult but for many of us we see it coming and try our best to prevent it; we all at some point in time fear change. Cake and Sand shows us those final moments of a relationship when realisation has kicked in and attempts at saving it have failed. What makes it stand out is the lack of drama for the sake of it; there is no cheating, no tear, no fights. Instead it shows us the decline of the relationship through the use of sound, lighting and dialogue/lack of. At times it does really on trope to show us (but it’s a short so it don’t judge it too harshly; though a storm, come on!) but there are some standout scenes such as the rooftop conversation (which we see from both perspectives) and the interaction/lack of at the beach (whether it’s the picnic or skinny dipping!). It’s however refreshing, and though it’s not thrilling, it’s real and that makes it more emotional.

Sticking with beaches and skinny dipping brings us to Watch Over Me, though it’s not what we immediately see. One of the first things which stood out for me was the lack of budget and the poor ability of some of the actors. However, despite this, somehow it created a sense of suspense and intrigue; it successfully raises questions in your mind. Who are these people? What have they done to that man? What do they have against gays? Things are soon revealed and the overriding thing that came through to me was social commentary; it’s not force feeding you an agenda as such but the filmmaker is definitely saying something about Arab/Israeli tensions and homophobia in the Middle East. What it’s like to live within that world I don’t know (though doesn’t Tel Aviv have a huge pride event?) but it was hard to ignore. In many ways Watch Over Me reminded me of The Lair and Dante’s Cove (check them out) and maybe that’s why I liked it so much. There was an element of fantasy which you don’t often get in LGBT cinema. So for me (as a filmmaker with 0 budget) it was great. They utilised what they had and crafted something with an intriguing premise, good use of sound and though many questions were left in my mind, that wasn’t to do with plot holes, more wanting to delve deeper into the world.

I’m not going to try and think of a clever link into the next short. Why? you ask. Well because it’s an Oscar winner. Yes! An Academy Award winner. And though I don’t know what it’s competition was, it’s a deserved winner to me! In some ways instilled the same thoughts and feelings that Birdman did (a contender for film of the year for me). It was powerful and relationship driven (not that nothing happened). Dialogue and the subtleties of body movements took centre stage and created suspense and intrigue around a series of “visitors” to a charming gay couple’s new apartment. I say charming, but I personally liked neither character. Well… maybe at the end I do, but I guess that goes to show that the characters developed through the short and that was achieved due to the performances and skills of the actors (who managed to make even the most WTF moment believable). It was similar to Watch Over Me in that it left questions in my mind, though I’m not sure whether that’s in such a good way. What I will say though is the ending is totally surreal and to top it off the credits start with a cinnamon bun recipe; it’ll make sense if you watch it!

Surreal is probably a good opening point with Just Friends? The first couple of minutes bombard you with a k-pop-esque campy song with in your face on-screen graphics (I’m assuming it’s culturally specific) before delving into familiar territory (though the songs and surrealism come back towards the end with a smiling Jesus and drag). For me however this is what made it stand out; it’s a product of it’s culture but still resonates globally. Some truths are universal. Though it doesn’t necessarily tread new ground or be as emotional as the directors other short Love, 100°C, it’s sweet, almost innocent but very charming (I use charming too much!). Underlying this however is a hint of social commentary in regards to inter-generational differences and religion. This imbues it with a little depth but it’s very much light-hearted and easy to watch… the awkward moments are quite funny in fact, and one’s that wouldn’t really happen here!

Ever reflected on your own life? We all have, and I guess that’s why Mirrors is called mirrors (or Miroirs d’été to give it it’s original title). A teen reflects upon himself and his sexuality and comes to terms with it. Really? Does it? Well there was that mirror in that guy’s house and he does spend a lot of time in the lake but… I felt that it didn’t fulfill it’s premise. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful. The use of sound and light crafted a wondrous sense of exploration but I felt that it didn’t go deep enough and lacked substance. The ending was unsatisfying and there was a BIG lingering question in my mind. It’s like one of those hot guys who lacks personality.

Maybe something was lost in translation you say? Maybe, but what’s Communication’s excuse? It may not have been bad, but it certainly didn’t give me the premise I read. In fact it left me confused, uncomfortable and, though there’s nothing wrong with age gaps, Andrew preys on his students. He may be lonely and not exactly predatory, but that’s why it’s wrong; it’s a teacher/student relationship. He’s taking advantage of a confused Jewish teen. It’s mean to be about Jacob’s struggle with his sexuality and religion, not the creepy lecturer. It seemed conflicted and misaligned, with no stand out redeeming elements.

In some ways I’ve felt betrayed by the past two shorts. But The Traitor (or Haboged) certainly didn’t live up to it’s name (though it lived up to it’s premise!). What made it powerful was it’s cinematography intimately matching the tone and events; it’s intimate, focused and well executed. The performances of the actors, though not outstanding, were naturalistic enough to build upon the style and tone. Though it used the dreaded storm trope, the escalation of events certainly made it stand out. It’s shocking and disturbing due to the camera angles and style. You feel like you’re there, experiencing the anger, the pain and the outburst. I wish that I could say more about it but as I’ve said, it’s perfectly refined to give you exactly what it intended to.

Sticking with the darkness, the disturbing and the near perfect fulfillment of a premise is The Strange Ones. The title is quite ambiguous and could be the title for anything and, for me, doesn’t do the short justice, though it’s intriguing enough to draw you in without giving too much away. Like The Traitor it is refined to almost perfection and presents a focused story without anything unnecessary. The utilisation of the location, sound and lighting builds upon the sense of something being off. From the get go questions build in your mind and as you wait for them to be answered the unsettling feeling grows. This isn’t your everyday road-trip, that’s for sure. Do I judge the woman for not doing anything? I’m not sure. It’s hard to know what you’d do in a situation like this. What do you believe? But by the time the bloody and sickening truth is confirmed, it could be too late. It may be twisted but it’s executed perfectly.

And so we come to the final short of the collection, and like many people do after a meal, it ends with a coffee; Cappuccino to be exact. And like its namesake, Cappuccino plays it safe. I’m not saying that it’s boring but that best bits are that frothy beginning and the really sweet ending. It may on the surface be about a shy teen coming to terms with his sexuality (which involves him awkwardly asking a straight guy out for dinner and giving him a blowjob when he’s high) but there’s something much deeper which is only seen towards the end, and in a way, I wish the film had focused on this; the mother character. We see her throughout but it’s not until her son comes out that she shines. She steals the short and has a touching scene with herself (not as it sounds). She is inspired by her son and strips herself back and makes a greater change than he does. That’s where the heart of the story should be. Yes it was sweet watching Jérémie but that’s all been seen a thousand times. To truly be great, the mother should have been the focus.

So our meal has ended. You’ve had your 10 courses and finished them all. Do I like this food/banquet analogy? I’m not sure, but Cappuccino has put it in my head and I’m going to roll with it. So was it 5 stars or ready meal? Well it probably falls somewhere in between. There were certainly some inspiring courses such as The Strange Ones but there were also some which felt like they had just been warmed up in the microwave such as Communication. In an ideal world this banquet would be cut down to Watch Over Me, The New Tenants, The Traitor and The Strange Ones; a manageable four courses which truly resonate with the notion of a bad romance (which got lost along the way). Those four on their own would be above Protect Me From What I Want as the best collection, but with the other courses thrown in, it falls somewhere in the middle with American Boy.

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