is back in Ottawa from Nov 11 to this Sunday, Nov 13. The line-up of movies, shorts and documentaries (and events) is broad and interesting. The opening night’s second long-feature, (Original title: Quand on a 17 ans), set the tone for what promises to be a delight for movie-goers. I will review three films here, and close this brief post by reasserting the political importance and ethical relevance of queer cinema.
In order of screening, Saturday’s 7 p.m. feature was , an American independent film by director and screenwriter Deb Shoval. AWOL was first released as a short feature in 2010 with the same main actresses: Lola Kirke, playing the talented, soul-searching Joey who falls in love with the playful and neglected housewife, Rayna, played by Breeda Wool. Co-written by novelist Karolina Waclawia, Shoval slowly exposes two complex characters whose attraction for one another is complicated by the American socio-economic landscape that shapes their experiences.
By staging carefully choreographed events—including Joey’s ice-cream job, her somewhat uncanny acceptance to join the military for lack of better opportunities, her one-night stand with an upper-class young lesbian—Shoval and Waclawia expose the neoliberal, capitalist systems which shape and limit the characters’ lives.
A talented musician from a working class family, Joey doesn’t see any way to climb the social ladder other than by joining the military. Her lover, Rayna, who is married to a man that seems to embody the worst kind of neglectful and possessive masculinity, seems not only limited by her circumstance but also unwilling, or rather, unable to think of a new way of living outside of the heteronormative domestic lifestyle she’s stuck in. Their attempt to cross the border into Canada is symbolic: they are refused access, by the American system, into a new kind of life.
Though arguably a socially realistic film, I was nonetheless disappointed by its inability to imagine new forms of domestic partnerships and lifestyles for rural American lesbians. Yes, it’s true that Rayna would probably not leave her husband—whatever his name may be, whether Bob or Roy, whatever his profession, whether truck driver or drug dealer—I nonetheless feel it is time for cinema to let Rayna take the risk of coming out in rural America and live a good enough life with her lesbian partner.
We see the same kind of trope in the French film (Original title: La belle saison), where Carole, a Parisian teacher and feminist militant falls in love with Delphine, the daughter of a rural farming family. Though it is undeniably realistic that in the 1970s Delphine would chose her rural lifestyle over her urban lesbian lover, I insist that it is time for all the Delphines and Raynas in cinema to dare to confront these homophobic landscapes, even if it comes with a certain level of risk and demands courage. What would it look like if Delphine and Rayna were to fall in love in a homophobic rural setting on the big screen?
I do not know if it is due to chance and serendipity or if in fact the curators of the festival consciously selected films whose central themes were gay love and rural settings, but Sunday’s 2:15 p.m. long feature, , gives us an interesting twist on the trope. The debut feature by Argentina director Papu Curotto stands out for its aesthetic treatment of the landscape. Esteros is the physical and psychological landscape of Matias and Jeronimo, two men that reconnect after many years of absence. Matias is in a heterosexual relationship in which he seems unable to form the kind of intimacy he enjoyed with Jeromino in his childhood.
A quick but necessary note on the relevance of queer cinema and LGBTQ film festivals in a moment when the incoming American president is normalizing homophobic discourses; the threat of in the hands of the most powerful man in the world simply means that we need to keep on producing art where queer experiences are the central focus.
Perhaps that’s why many of the films document the impossibility of lesbian or gay love in rural settings—this is the troubling truth of our world. The danger is real, and not just in conservative rural areas but also in urban settings.
I invite those interested to comment and engage in a dialogue on the relationship between art and ethics, and in particular, the politics of queer films.