The 18th Annual InsideOut Film Festival
Directed by Lucía Puenzo
Infused with a staggeringly glacial pace, XXY ultimately comes off as a well-intentioned yet hopelessly uneven effort that'll surely test the patience of even the most laid-back viewer. And although there's no denying that the movie often feels strikingly authentic, it does become increasingly difficult to muster up any real enthusiasm for the various characters and their subdued exploits. Ines Efron stars as Alex, a teenaged hermaphrodite who finds herself forced to finally choose a sex - a decision that's also causing her father (Ricardo Darin's Kraken) no small amount of worry. Filmmaker Lucía Puenzo's distinctly low-key sensibilities effectively capture the day-to-day minutia of Alex's small-town existence, with Efron's heartbreakingly compelling performance sporadically pulling the proceedings out of its gloomy doldrums. It's only as the plotless structure grows increasingly meandering as the film progresses that one starts to grow restless, and there's subsequently little doubt that the inclusion of a few wrong-headed interludes only exacerbates XXY's various problems (ie a needlessly exploitative and entirely out-of-left-field sequence in which Alex is terrorized by a gang of bullies). Still, it's hard to understate the effectiveness of individual moments within the movie - ie Darin's ambivalent character visits with a well-adjusted hermaphrodite - and Puenzo's sensitive treatment of an admittedly risky subject all-but-assures XXY's success among certain audiences.
Directed by Robert Cary
Though saddled with a premise that often threatens to drag the proceedings into movie-of-the-week territory, Save Me comes off as a sensitive, far-from-salacious indie that's nevertheless almost entirely unable to sustain one's interest for the duration of its 93-minute running time. Chad Allen's striking turn as the central character certainly proves to be one of the film's more overtly affecting elements, as the actor - cast as a rebellious young drug addict - delivers an authentic performance that's hardly indicative of his sitcom-heavy resume. The story follows Allen's Mark as he reluctantly agrees to spend a few months at a Christian-run ministry, where Gayle (Judith Light) and Ted (Stephen Lang) have made it their mission to "cure" their residents of their homosexuality. There's little doubt that Robert Desiderio's surprisingly even-handed screenplay plays a significant role in Save Me's mild success, with the scripter's refusal to demonize Light's character ensuring that the movie never entirely becomes the black-and-white endeavor one might've anticipated. There's little doubt that the deliberateness with which Save Me unfolds inevitably proves to be its undoing, however, as it becomes increasingly difficult to form any kind of a palpable emotional connection with the central character (though there's certainly no denying the strength of Allen's work here). The end result is a lamentably uneven effort that's admirable in its intentions, but ultimately stifled by its myriad of flaws.
Love My Life
Directed by Kôji Kawano
There's little doubt that Love My Life's few positive attributes are ultimately rendered moot by Hiroko Kanasugi's aggressively uneventful screenplay, as the scripter - working from Ebine Yamaji's comic - places the emphasis on mind-numbingly inconsequential conversations and sequences. The subsequent slice-of-life vibe that ensues becomes increasingly difficult to stomach as the movie progresses, although it does seem entirely likely that certain viewers just might find something relatable within the central characters' struggle. Ichiko (Rei Yoshii) is a young college student whose ongoing relationship with Eri (Asami Imajuku) has managed to withstand a series of obstacles - including Eri's disapproving father and Ichiko's brief fling with a mohawk-sporting rebel - yet things take a disastrous turn after Eri decides to take a break from the coupling to focus on her studies. While it's impossible to deny that director Kôji Kawano does possess a certain amount of talent - Love My Life's breezy sensibilities periodically echo the films of the French New Wave - the viewer is never entirely given a single reason to, at any point, genuinely care about Eri's exploits. The pervadingly plotless atmosphere is undoubtedly exacerbated by a pace that couldn't possibly be slower, and it's finally worth noting that the movie is often as enthralling as watching total strangers perform mundane tasks for a couple of hours.
Searching 4 Sandeep
Directed by Poppy Stockell
Searching 4 Sandeep is an affable yet uneven documentary revolving around Australian lesbian Poppy Stockell's efforts at meeting and eventually sustaining a relationship with a Brit named Sandeep Virdi. Stockell and Virdi, whose coupling has its origins on a internet dating site, seem to possess genuine chemistry with one another, although - in addition to the distance separating them - the two must contend with the vast differences in their respective backgrounds (something that proves to be particularly problematic for Stockell, as Virdi still hasn't come out of the closet to her conservative parents). Filmed almost entirely from Stockell's perspective, Searching 4 Sandeep generally comes off as a likeable piece of work that sporadically bears a home-video feel - though the first-time filmmaker does a surprisingly adept job at infusing the proceedings with a distinctly cinematic sensibility (a vibe that's sure assisted by Abigail Hatherley's strong score). Despite the pronounced emphasis on Stockell's shenanigans, however, there's little doubt that it's Virdi's crumbling relationship with her parents that forms the movie's emotional core (ie she's basically forced to choose between Stockell and her family). The end result is an admittedly slight piece of work that primarily stands as an intriguing look at both the contemporary internet dating scene and the struggles that remain for certain gay folks, with both Stockell and Virdi inevitably establishing themselves as sympathetic figures that are undoubtedly worthy of the viewer's continuing (and rooting) interest.
I Think We're Alone Now
Directed by Sean Donnelly
I Think We're Alone Now marks documentarian Sean Donnelly's attempt at delving deep into the minds of two thoroughly disturbed individuals, with both of the movie's subjects obsessed with pop singer Tiffany to an undeniably unhealthy degree. And while there's little doubt that the filmmaker has succeeded in offering up a chilling portrait of extreme obsession, it does become increasingly difficult to stomach Donnelly's unrelentingly bleak modus operandi (something that would, admittedly, seem to be the point). Jeff Turner is a 50-something Asperger's syndrome sufferer who's been a follower of Tiffany and her music since the late '80s, while the fiery-haired popstar would appear to be the one bright spot within 38-year-old hermaphrodite Kelly McCormick's exceedingly tortured existence. As becomes evident almost immediately, I Think We're Alone Now is only tangentially about Turner and McCormick's irrational preoccupation with Tiffany; Donnelly instead emphasizes both individuals' day-to-day struggles and their respective efforts to make a single meaningful connection with another human being (which ultimately proves impossible for Turner, as he's convinced that Tiffany is sending him psychic signals regarding her love for him). It's certainly difficult to deny the film's effectiveness as an eye-opening (and uncomfortable, to be sure) look at insanity in its purist form, yet there's simply not a whole lot here that's been designed to hold the interest of the average viewer (psych students and sociologists may find something here worth embracing, however).
Directed by Christophe Honoré
There's little doubt that Love Songs' reliance on mind-bogglingly ineffective musical numbers inevitably triggers its downfall, as the inclusion of such interludes ultimately ensures that the film's few moments of honesty are essentially rendered moot. This is despite a relatively promising opening half hour in which writer/director Christophe Honoré establishes a trio of genuinely affecting characters, with the thin storyline revolving around the efforts of a couple (Louis Garrel's Ismael and Ludivine Sagnier's Julie) to include a third party (Chiara Mastroianni's Jeanne) within their relationship. Honoré does a nice job of initially peppering the proceedings with unexpectedly authentic sequences (ie Julie frankly explains the mechanics of her arrangement with Ismael and Jeanne to her mother), yet there does reach a point at which the movie's emotional resonance is slowly-but-surely undermined by the progressively unmemorable songs - with the majority of such scenes saddled with lyrics that'll force even the most forgiving viewer to throw up their arms in exasperation (ie "the worm in the apple that slips between our teeth can make our heart fragrant." What?) The performances are fine, although the early exit of Sagnier's character does leave a void that's felt for the remainder of the proceedings - which undoubtedly exacerbates the film's many, many problems and ultimately cements Love Songs' place as a distinct and undeniable misfire.
Like a Virgin
Directed by Hae-jun Lee and Hae-yeong Lee
SOUTH KOREA/116 MINUTES
Though sporadically elevated by some decent visuals and an admittedly impressive lead performance from Deok-Hwan Ryu, Like a Virgin primarily comes off as an aimless, mind-numingly overlong effort that'll undoubtedly test the patience of most viewers. Ryu stars as Oh Dong-Ku, a transgendered teen whose desire to become a woman has alienated him from his parents and the majority of his schoolmates. Oh eventually discovers that he has a natural gift for wrestling, however, and the remainder of the film follows the character's efforts at proving himself among his fellow grapplers. Writer/directors Hae-jun Lee and Hae-yeong Lee have infused Like a Virgin with a slow and uneventful sensibility that's nothing short of disastrous, as the duo place the emphasis on increasingly superfluous elements that ultimately make it impossible to genuinely sympathize with the central character's plight. Far more problematic is the filmmakers' inability to effectively flesh out the various periphery figures and their relationships, which ensures that one inevitably winds up baffled at some of the conflicts that emerge between the characters. And while there's no denying the effectiveness of the predictably uplifting finale, Like a Virgin - in the end - simply feels like a short film that's been ungainly beefed up to a 116-minute (!) feature.