Queer cinema is often incorrectly classified as its own genre — a Netflix category, “LGBTQ+ stories” — which lumps them all together, as if they’ll all appeal to any queer person. Usually headlined by the same films, with “Call Me by Your Name” or “Carol” unwittingly cast as the faces of the community, these lists are often predominantly white and vastly disappointing.
Frameline47 showed a different spin on queer film, one that was significantly more diverse and representative of reality. The 47th annual San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival ran June 14-24, with screenings at theaters in San Francisco and Oakland. In a reference to the festival’s anniversary, there were 47 screenings at the Castro Theatre alone.
The lineup’s range was wide and far-reaching: Andrew Durham’s “Fairyland,” adapted from Alysia Abbott’s memoir about growing up with her single gay father in the 1970s, was poignant, somber and evocative; in contrast, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott’s “Bottoms” brought a messier, spunkier vibe. Babatunde Apalowo’s directorial debut, “All the Colours of the World Are Between Black and White,” offered an erotic, touching Nigerian romantic drama film, while Sebastián Silva’s “Rotting in the Sun” splashed an ironic detective chase with social media influencers and satirical comedy.
The beauty of Frameline47 is that all of these films showcased the truth of the queer experience — or the many experiences that encompass it. With over 100 queer narratives, documentaries and shorts, comedies and dramas and movies about love, friendship and identity, Frameline47 was Northern California’s largest film festival in 2023.
Queer art has never been more visible or powerful. As the Frameline47 tagline appropriately reminds us, “see and be scene.”
— Vivian Stacy
“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe”
Set against the dry heat of late ’80s El Paso, Aitch Alberto’s adaptation of Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s young adult novel is warm and endearing, though it fails in places to discover its depth.
Two Mexican teens, Ari (Max Pelayo) and Dante (Reese Gonzales), form a fast and inseparable bond teaching each other to swim in the sun-speckled, chlorine-blue water of the public pool where they first meet. Their friendship is shadowed by homoerotic tension and period-typical homophobia; really, though, most of the movie is an ode to youth, the two boys slinging battered sneakers over telephone wires and walking barefoot in the rain.
The film has all the markings of a cheesy coming of age movie: corny dialogue, a period-appropriate pop soundtrack, a dramatic kiss scene set against a sunset. Even the conversations with the parents follow an overdone formula, happily unrealistic and reminiscent of “Love, Simon.” Nonetheless, “Aristotle and Dante” draws you in with the comfort of knowing what to expect out of a cute love story — on predictability, the movie delivers exactly everything it promises.
— Vivian Stacy
In“Will-o-the-Wisp,” provocateur João Pedro Rodrigues’ latest work, the young prince of Portugal, Alfredo (Mauro da Costa), enlists as a firefighter. That premise is Rodrigues’ vehicle to engage his cinematic and artistic touchstones, as well as a heap of male erotica and a gay love story — all meshed with narratives on climate change and COVID.
The film begins in 2069, a winking joke from Rodrigues, where the elderly Alfredo, king of Portugal, lies on his deathbed. A young family member leaves a toy firetruck by his bed, sparking his memory of — and our flashback to — his time as a firefighter, when he fell in love with fellow firefighter Afonso (André Cabral).
The film uses their love story to allude to erotic paintings from antiquity and, with no restraint, poet Pier Paolo Pasolini. Rodrigues’ sense of humor is sharp, but dry. It makes the film somewhat of a slog, though it’s a very stomachable 67 minutes, but Rodrigues’ provocative spirit is as focused as ever.
— Dominic Marziali
The best part of “Drifter,” a film about a young twink who moves to Berlin with no plans and no apartment and drifts between new friends’ homes, comes at the end of the film. Twenty-two-year-old Moritz (Lorenz Hochhuth) stares out of a taxi window at the sky. The camera, with a free-handed sense of care, captures the exhaustion of an all-nighter but also the bliss that Moritz has discovered in Berlin.
We’re introduced to Moritz at the beginning of the film as he gives a blowjob to his boyfriend Jonas (Gustav Schmidt). Moritz has just moved to Berlin, following his dreams for a picture-perfect life in gay utopia, but Jonas bumps him to the curb after just a few days. The film follows the path of self-discovery Moritz is set on as he looks for new friends and lovers in the city.
That path is mostly a long road of ketamine-dusted warehouse ragers, which creates a confused narrative. “Drifter” is all about how Moritz has to master Berlin’s nightlife to discover his most fabulous, slay, etc. self, which he does, but the film also suggests that the formative nightlife it promotes is detrimental to Moritz. The narrative rushes to a conclusion that’s more “Friends” than freak, and with it loses out on its opportunities for an eye-opening, shameless take on a good night out.
— Dominic Marziali
“Ask Any Buddy”
“Ask Any Buddy” couldn’t be any bigger of a leap from “Drifter.” Elizabeth Purchell’s documentary is all about the aesthetics of gay life immediately post-liberation, in that short period between legal acceptance and the outbreak of AIDS, when subway cars doubled as Bacchanalian fruit crates and decrepit industrial centers were more than playgrounds for 15-year-old skaters with iPhones.
The documentary, which is mostly about men with bruised knees, and the thick antecedents to their bruises, is lonely. It’s entirely archival — Purchell is a queer film historian and runs the film’s companion podcast of the same name — and assembled from clips of yesteryear’s most sultry gay films. Purchell chronicles a more energetic, creative era of horniness, when porn (movies) featured such imaginative surprises as anonymous hunks awaiting their next beau inside lockers.
“It is only real people doing reel things and making them real together,” an opening intertitle qualifies, hinting at Purchell’s ambitions: Porn and life aren’t as disconnected as they’ve been made out to be. This also depends on the assumption in Purchell’s statement, which is that porn is cinema, and cinema is life. “Don’t try to understand this film,” the intertitle also warns; the documentary, which is part montage, part video essay and all brilliantly edited, is vibes — and history — only.
It’s got a fascinating soundscape, with ancient synthesizers that approximate organs, lending the film a holy austerity, and elephant honks that play over clips of fisting, to make sure we’re not taking things too seriously. No strings attached, stud: The culture in “Ask Any Buddy,” and in what appeared onscreen in the early ’80s scene it pulls from, is headless, predicated on carnality and, above all, cock.
— Dominic Marziali
“In Her Words: 20th Century Lesbian Fiction”
Delving into the lesbian history of the 20th-century literary landscape, “In Her Words: 20th Century Lesbian Fiction” unearths the resilience, creativity and powerful narratives of lesbian writers, ultimately showcasing their invaluable contributions to literature.
The film interviews various authors behind the lesbian fiction it’s spotlighting and masterfully weaves a narrative about the fight to get lesbian fiction a space in publishing. As the industry continued to push for censorship of lesbian books, it details, lesbians began carving out spaces for themselves in an industry that remained bigoted and distant.
The documentary sorts through a variety of landmark moments in the history of lesbian fiction during the 20th century. “In Her Words: 20th Century Lesbian Fiction” discusses some of the first few lesbian novels that managed to hit mainstream success, the establishment of some of the first lesbian publishing houses and the important intersectionality present in some of the novels, highlighting writers of color and those from religious minorities. The documentary is a fantastic overview of lesbian fiction in the 20th century and offers insights into the struggles, triumphs and unique perspectives of lesbian authors.
“In Her Words: 20th Century Lesbian Fiction” provides a bridge between the past and the present, honoring an aspect of lesbian history that’s seldom given attention. The documentary brings attention to lesbian fiction beyond contemporary novels, recognizing the diversity and richness of lesbian voices and narratives and ultimately providing representation and validation for lesbian readers and writers alike.
— Maida Suta
“Girls Don’t Cry”
Interwoven with gorgeous shots of the Italian countryside is a delicate, personal story of adolescence and self-discovery. Ele (Emma Benini), an artsy teenager dedicated to fixing up the family camper, is still grappling with the loss of her father as her mother seemingly moves on. Mia (Anastasia Doaga) is from Romania, working to earn as much money as she can and desperate to return to her sister back home — only to end up unwittingly tangled in a violent crime that leaves her on the run. As the girls venture north through Italy, running for different reasons, they find they may share more than meets the eye as they face teenage angst and a budding intimacy.
As the girls’ road trip unfolds, it becomes evident that their budding relationship serves as a catalyst for self-discovery and growth. Mia and Ele must confront their own identities and reconcile with the ghosts that continue to haunt them — and face the danger that lurks just around the corner. With each passing mile, their shared experiences allow them to peel back layers of vulnerability and authenticity, ultimately revealing the depth of their characters.
Disorienting but touching, “Girls Don’t Cry” emerges as a bold and emotional coming-of-age story that makes a tremendous impact as Mia and Ele bond over the course of their spontaneous, tumultuous road trip. “Girls Don’t Cry” is the adventure of a lifetime that enraptures viewers from the start.
— Maida Suta