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Queer (hi)stories

Fabio Kühnemuth
Fabio Kühnemuth

Whether in the past, in the all-too-familiar present, or on a surreal parallel plane, the theme of queerness is explored by the films at FILMFEST MÜNCHEN this year in diverse but always contemporary ways.

Queer (hi)stories

Bright sunshine, a glorious French beach, and an adolescent’s first whirlwind romance are the ingredients in François Ozon’s SUMMER OF 85. The queer love affair between 16-year-old Alexis and David, who is slightly older, is given a sensitive and witty treatment peppered with quotations from Ozon’s own cinematic universe. The director has brought queer themes to the big screen in almost all of his films. In this latest work, Ozon alternates playfully between romance, melodrama, and comedy, while the fantastic soundtrack clearly places the story in the 1980s.

The two other films in this competition which deal with queerness also take a fictional look at the past while saying something about the here and now. SAINT-NARCISSE, for example, is set in early 1970s Québec, but could not be more topical in the age of selfies and incessant self-promotion. Self-absorbed Dominic constantly takes pictures of himself with his Polaroid camera. He’s in love with the man in the mirror, who suddenly takes on physical form. In a Filmmakers Live! talk, cult director Bruce LaBruce talks about the background to this anarchistic, queer trip.

 

Saint Narcisse Online 03

Saint-Narcisse

Tove Online 05

TOVE

 

The intimate biopic TOVE is calmer, but no less powerful. Director Zaida Bergroth tells of the eventful and moving life of Finnish cartoonist Tove Jansson, creator of the world-famous “Moomins”. Despite her international success, the sensitive artist is plagued by doubts about her work. This doesn’t stop her from deliberately defying the conservative societal and artistic conventions of the postwar period, not least by embracing her own bisexuality as a matter of course — which was certainly not a conventional thing at the time.

Queerness also plays an important part in the other series and competitions at this year’s edition of the festival, but in very contemporary contexts. A decidedly zeitgeisty approach is found, for example, in SHIVA BABY, the celebrated feature-film debut by young Canadian director Emma Seligman that is screening in the Spotlight section. In this virtuosically directed and performed Jewish cringe comedy, bisexual student Danielle runs the interpersonal gauntlet at a funeral service, where not only her nagging parents, but also the presence of her ex-girlfriend and her current sugar daddy make her life difficult. Amid generational conflicts, religious rituals, and the quest for sexual self-determination, this film contains plenty for millennials and Gen Z alike to identify with.

Ana, the protagonist in Karen Cinorre’s MAYDAY (CineVision competition) is subjected to similar, generally sexist bullying at the start of the film, so it is rather opportune that a portal to another dimension unexpectedly opens up. It is fitting for this film full of metaphorically charged dialogues and images that this portal is, of all things, a stovepipe. On the other side of the portal, a hyperfeminist parallel world awaits, in which Ana joins a group of female guerrilla fighters. But even though she experiences a lot of solidarity, freedom, and self-empowerment there, this seemingly utopian sisterhood also holds some nasty surprises in store. Although queerness is not really addressed openly, it is always implicit.

Back to reality: What is the state of queerness in German productions? In the third season of the award-winning youth series WE ARE NOW (directed by Christian Klandt), we’ve come full circle, as it were, because like Ozon’s SUMMER OF 85, it’s all about discovering romance, wild parties, insecurity, confused emotions, and strokes of fate. The series is now focusing on Hannes, who is becoming ever more convinced that he’s not who he wants to be. On Tinder, Hannes switches back and forth between guys and girls. Only Kim has the right advice for him: being trans herself, she finds the right words to encourage Hannes.

 

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MAYDAY

Wir Sind Jetzt Online 01

WE ARE NOW

Trans Online 01

TRANS - I GOT LIFE

 

The documentary TRANS – I GOT LIFE focuses on seven real-life trans people. Directors Doris Metz and Imogen Kimmel focus on the fears and problems they encounter during the process of gender reassignment (surgery). The protagonists speak openly about their very personal, often disparate, experiences with those around them and their own conflicts of identity.

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