by Mr Wainscotting
[This was supposed to be published the other day, but my computer is being a poo.]
In short: A brilliant gay film from the UK. Beautifully shot and constructed with incredibly real performances. Mr Wainscotting’s rating: 4/5
A more in depth spoilery review is below the fold. [Yes there are SPOILERS]
The film opens with our first protagonist, Russell, getting drunk and stoned with his straight friends before heading out to a gay bar where he pick up Glen. In the morning they realise they’re polar opposites — Russell, closeted and happy to leave well enough alone; Glen, (to quote the NZFF Dunedin booklet) “a one-man gay liberation front.”
The film itself is beautifully shot. Haigh is unafraid to just let the camera sit on a single extended shot and contrast with more intimate shots. Most of the film is set in Russell’s tiny flat, and small spaces are incredibly limiting on what you can do with a camera, but DoP Ula Pontikos makes it work and Haigh expertly chooses shots that both make the most of the space and further underscore the subtext in the scene.
Glen fancies himself as an artist, and is working on a project whereby he gets men he slept with to recount their experience on a dictaphone in the morning. While Russell obliges, he doesn’t see it as art, merely porn. In response, Glen expresses his annoyance at making gay art — “The straights don’t want to see it because it’s not about them, and the gays only go because they get to see cocks” [That’s not a verbatim quote, it’s the best my memory serves me.]
What I found brilliant is that the directing and cinematography of the film delicately underscores what the characters were explicitly saying. Just enough gay sex and sly glimpses of cock to attract the gay men, but not enough to titillation and distract from the story. The characters are very real, and the nudity and the cum is not there to be pornographic — it’s not even erotic (though I’m sure it is for the characters); it’s there because that’s what the characters are doing.
But I don’t see this as a film that “the straights” would go to see — not so much that they don’t want to see gay sex, but rather because it’s not really for them. There are lots of subtle things that a gay audience would understand, but may not even be noticed by a straight person. [I say may. Obviously I can’t speak for a ‘straight’ audience, as I’m not one]. Subtle things from the awkwardness of the closeted Russell amongst his straight friends, to cruising in the bar, to the awkward exchanging of cellphone numbers the following morning. A straight audience may not notice anything different about Russell till he goes to the gay bar, but immediately I recognised him as being in the closet, having spent many years living there myself.
The film itself makes reference to this quite explicitly. In one scene, Glen is talking about romantic fiction, and how straight people already have all the “boy meets girl” tropes established and they can just get on with telling the story. But gay fiction has to reinvent the rules and tropes every single time.
As their relationship builds (over the space of the weekend) they start to prod away at each other, and their outward personalities are revealed to be facades, fronts that they put on to deal with the world, and laid bare they have no real knowledge of what they are doing in the world.
All in all, it was a beautiful film. The right amount of funny, the right amount of sad, with a thoroughly moving ending that while melancholic, was satisfying.