Savvy Roots 

Frameline31 re-examines its lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered beginnings with new eyes.

Frameline film fest has a responsibility to, in its words, "represent voices that have been silenced, ignored, or discounted." This it has done for 31 years, in the process creating one of the very few consistently surprising and unpredictable festivals — a rallying point for the amazingly diverse LGBT culture of the bay. Frameline revisits its roots this year, but those roots are more sophisticated and less innocent than ever before.

Take Kirk Shannon-Butts' Blueprint. The narrative drama of two black male college students falling in hesitant, street-smart love with each other in New York City would be a rarity in any year, but first-time director Shannon-Butts' treatment, a well-meaning, amateurish exercise with a few sparkles of genuine wit and emotion, would ordinarily doom it to the sidelines. Not this time. Keith and Nathan should be the poster boys of Frameline31 — fresh, brash, headstrong, and green as spinach.

By contrast, the French film One to Another (Chacun sa nuit) is a standard quirky European mystery with characters who just happen to be queer. Directors Jean-Marc Barr and Pascal Arnold make sure that the standardness is plenty seductive, though, with its South of France setting and elliptical tale of four guys, one girl, their rock band, and a murder. The murdered boy, Pierre (Arthur Dupont), is shown in flashback to be hustling middle-aged men and having an incestuous relationship with his sister, Lucie (Lizzie Brocheré). Continuing our tour of southern France, director Zabou Breitman's The Man of My Life plays a variation on the vacances light drama with a bit of summer-home marital peekaboo in Provence. Balding family man Frédéric (Bernard Campan, of the "nice guy" face) meets sleek neighbor Hugo (Charles Berling), a graphic designer, while running in the hills. The fascinating thing about this film is that there's no sex until the last quarter. They sit around the veranda and talk. American audiences, perhaps especially queer ones, aren't accustomed to such deferred gratification.

Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert's Canadian drama Finn's Girl is an intelligent, well-acted, well-scripted story that wraps a routine crime procedural in matter-of-fact lesbianism of the most graceful kind. Dr. Finn Jeffries (the delightful Brooke Johnson) is having trouble adjusting to her new role as stepmother to her deceased lover's daughter, spunky eleven-year-old Zelly (Maya Ritter). Finn also runs a Toronto abortion clinic that has recently come under attack by increasingly violent "pro-life" protesters, so there's the threat of death along with the pressures of relating to the kid and Finn's own love life. It's at the Parkway on Tuesday, June 19. Spider Lilies, by Zero Chou, starts off as a piece of eye candy about the infatuation of hyper-drive Taipei "Webcam girl" Jade (pop singer Rainie Yang) with taciturn tattoo artist Takeko (Isabella Leong), but boils down to a psychodrama concerned with recapturing lost innocence and love. Jade's annoying little-girl act ruins the setup. For what it's worth, Spider Lilies also screens June 19 at the Parkway.

The gay love quotient is minuscule in Daniel Sanchez Arévalo's DarkBlueAlmostBlack (AzulOscuroCasiNegro), but it's one of the strongest films. Madrileño brothers Jorge and Antonio care for their ailing father while negotiating their own love lives. Antonio is an ex-con who fell in love with fellow inmate Paula in prison (prison is different in Spain), but since he is sterile he needs Jorge to impregnate Paula during conjugal visits. Meanwhile, Jorge's friend Israel spies on a masseur giving blow jobs to his customers, among them his father. This arouses his gay-curious impulse — it's not long before he gets a crush on Jorge.

Director Eytan Fox made a splash in 2002 with Yossi and Jagger, about two gay Israeli soldiers, and his new effort, The Bubble, offers a similarly contrarian view of contemporary Israel, built around a group of young Tel Aviv residents: Noam, a gay soldier who moonlights at a record shop; Yali, a gay restaurateur; Ashraf, aka Shimi, a gay Palestinian waiter; and the lone female, Lulu, a fashion designer. It's a sort of gay Israeli Friends inside a war zone. Complex and subtly presented, The Bubble is one of the festival's best.

For the local angle, we recommend Mark Woollen's documentary Jam. It's a five-year account of the ups and downs (mostly downs) of roller derby, focused mainly on Tim Patten, a gay man whose dream of restoring the spectacle to its '60s-'70s-era glory proves as elusive as attracting paying audiences to the bouts. The skaters are a flamboyant crew of die-hard dreamers who like to tussle. Woollen accurately depicts the Bay Area as one of those places where such pursuits hang on well past their prime.


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