Help, he’s drowning! In good movies so don’t rush to the rescue. Both the opening and closing night films of this week’s satisfying NewFest (July 24th-29th), NYC's annual LGBT film festival in partnership with OutFest, begin with a drowning. Both drownings become romantic catalysts for the lifeguard, but the films couldn’t be more different in tone or purpose so it’s surely a coincidence. NewFest got the order right, opening with the dramatic punch and ending with a sweet drive into the sunset.
In the Brazilian/German film FUTURO BEACH, which opens the annual LGBT film festival tomorrow, two tourists are hit by violent waves. Lifeguards rush in to save them but only one survives. Donato (Wagner Moura) shaken up by losing his first swimmer, seeks out the survivor's friend, a sporty motorbike enthusiast named Konrad (Clemens Schick) to explain the process for dealing with the body. Soon they're angrily rutting, caught up in the disorienting and wrenching drama. Their hookup appears destined to burn bright and die quick due to its emotionally disconnected start and its rapid and frank visual presentation — English language cinema still lags far behind European cinema in its depictions of sex; the full frontal here is presented as if it’s no big deal.
MORE ON BOTH FILMS AFTER THE JUMP…
[The Futuro Beach trailer… unfortunately without subtitles]
But Donato and Konrad’s connection takes and the film moves across that same treacherous ocean to Germany. The film transforms into a drama about the difficulties of uprooting yourself for love, cutting ties, and maintaining passion. How will Donato, who his adorably feisty little brother nicknames "Aquaman”, survive and who will he even be when he's land-locked?
Futuro Beach is divided into three chapters like a novel in bulky parts. Like Donato, the film changes in its second chapter when the steam from the hot sex dissipates. But in the final chapter a third character reenergizes the film. Futuro Beach is slightly uneven (as stories told in clearly marked chunks often are) and its definitely abrasive at times, the rock song laced soundtrack in particular grates and director Karim Äinouz is unconcerned with getting to the next scene and sometimes as cool as Konrad to displays of emotion, which may leave some moviegoers impatient. But the film is beautifully shot to maximize its important locations and character dynamics. Most importantly, for any romantic drama, the actors are well cast: Wagner and Clemens have a combustible chemistry and their dissimilarity also makes for striking visuals when they share the frame. While there may be speed bumps of pacing and rough waves of ambivalence as you progress through the chapters, the film finds a satisfying and appropriately moody way to close its book.
In the Canadian film GERONTOPHILIA, which closes the festival on July 29th, the drowning serves as comic introduction to an unusual premise. A lifeguard named Lake (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie in his feature debut), who is just out of high school, pulls an old swimmer from the neighborhood pool to save him. During mouth-to-mouth Lake gets a surprise and visible stiffy (swimsuits, you know). The old anonymous swimmer survives so it’s a happy ending. For both of them.
In a welcome turn of events for Lake, he quickly finds a job at an old folks home where he can ogle at will to his pervy delight. Lake is instantly fascinated with Mr. Peabody (Walter Borden), an 82 years young "old queen" (Mr. Peabody's own words) who he regularly bathes, visits, and plays cards with. Will they fall in love? Will the other nurses find out? Will Lake's girlfriend understand?
Gerontophilia isn't sexually explicit but it's too confrontational and risqué in its premise for any kind of mainstream crossover. That's a pity because it's both funny and romantic which is more than you can say for the bulk of what passes for romantic comedy. Lake and Mr. Peabody's situation may be highly specific but some of the details are as universal as they come; the film gets a huge laugh in a highly familiar moment at a gay bar but that's all I'll say.
In the end the most shocking thing about Gerontophilia is not Lake's rare sexual fetish or that queer provocateur Bruce LaBruce made it. Instead it's how he made it, LaBruce magically transforming this outré premise (imagine the funding meetings: "a cute twink is horny for a dying octogenarian in a rest home!") into his most accessible and endearing film (if not his best, which I might still argue is The Raspberry Reich from 2004). On the heels of two sexually explicit and gory films about gay zombies (Otto, or, Up with Dead People and L.A. Zombie starring French porn god François Sagat) we shouldn't jump to conclusions and assume that Bruce LaBruce is softening at his half-century mark. But, whatever's next, this is a welcome, surprisingly slick, and thoroughly entertaining detour for a filmmaker who has been frisky no-budget fun to keep up with since the birth of the New Queer Cinema.