1/15/2005

A Cause d’un Garcon

Watched a French made-for-TV movie last night: A Cause d’un Garcon. About a high school swimmer who’s outed, and all the fall-out from that. Rather limp and lifeless, but better than L'homme que j'aime. For what that’s worth. I’d rather have a coming-out story than a dying-of-AIDS story when it comes down to it, if you want to know the truth, although it’s not a choice anyone should be forced to make.

But it was worth watching for one reason: Francois Comar, who plays the outed boy’s ever-loyal best buddy. Well, he sleeps with his friend’s fag-hag, which may have crossed some line, but over-all he stands firm through the whole film. And he’s walking around in nothing but a speedo most of the time. Julien Baumgartner, who plays Vincent, the principal character, is well-cast, but not always very sympathetic. But that is part of being a budding queen.

On the whole I liked the movie. It wasn’t very challenging—it’s really a recitation of something that has become a ritual in the first world—there is an enormous difference between the civil rights movement of nearly a half-century ago and the gay rights movement of today. But there is a sense of progression—not necessarily towards a noble ideal—more like the natural or logical progression of inertia. First come the basic rights—the abolition of laws and the censure of customs against people of different races. That’s an issue steeped in class, not incidentally. Then come demands for recognition of, let’s say secondary issues or identities. In most societies one is white or black or Jewish before one is gay. Not only because racial or ethnic identity is in place before sexual identity emerges, but sexual mores are constructed, and plastic. Racial identity is more or less an absolute, at least on the superficial level. Obviously the significance of being black (or white) in South Africa (or the American South) is different now than half a century ago, but while the significance may differ, blackness and whiteness are more or less undeniable. While sex and sexuality are somehow regulated in all societies and segments of society, sexuality as an urgent public matter and homosexuality as a public identity comes about in societies—and mainly in segments of societies—that enjoy affluence. It's Maslow's hierarchy writ large.

I especially liked a part of the film where Vincent meets up with his older fuck-buddy (they’ve been hooking up for some time before his outing), who takes him out to some gay clubs in Paris. This is Vincent’s first public outing, his first time in a gay club. Inevitably, he’s getting hit on by everybody. Fresh meat. He’s understandably repulsed by the whole scene. It was very true to life. The acid cynicism of oversexed queers. The bitter “wit”. Vincent is also obviously repulsed by their camp effeminacy. The way they refer to each other and to him as a “her”. And they seem to be interested not in who he is but what he is: young, handsome, athletic-build. This is, of course, the bottom-line. When gays talk about their type, to paraphrase Quentin Crisp, they would never think to top the list of qualities with “intelligence,” “honor” or “compassion.” “Tall,” “muscular” and “well-hung” is about as close as you get.

Now there are many, many twinks out there who can match any middle-aged queen as for cynicism. But there is a certain kind of youth, more sensitive than the average, for whom this brutal hierarchy of requirements is horrifying. He has a romantic notion, a sense that sex should be married to emotions, not merely to appetites. This type—the sincere type—is most reviled and ridiculed in queer circles. Just who does she think she is? Understandably his first outing in this vicious demimonde sparks a flurry of doubts about the life in store for him. And it is an ugly, corrosive existence, full of bitterness and blame. I mean for part two, just watch L'homme que j'aime.

1/09/2005

Yossi and Jagger

I just finished this low-budget Israeli flick called Yossi and Jagger. I can’t complain about the cast. If only it were a porno. I love this Semitic type, so long as they’re under thirty and don’t have sidelocks. Jagger bites it in the end, too, but in this instance that’s what the whole plot is for. I can’t say that I cared all that much, which is a shame, but the relationship between the two title characters was not very fleshed out. There was a lot of gratuitous shit going on around them that frankly detracted from the development of the characters the title suggested the story was supposed to be about.

There was not a lot of tension in the script over the issue of the homophobia in the Israeli military, which was another thing you were led to believe the story was about. What tension there was was in a silly subplot involving a young girl with a crush on sexy young Jagger, and another soldier who had a crush on her.

You know that Jagger is going to get it when they go out ‘on ambush,’ whatever that is—the whole plot is basically about setting up the scene where he will be blown to bits by a landmine. But there’s no tension in it. We know it will happen but we don’t feel a sense of horror at the inevitability of it, we don’t feel any dread. I mean, Jagger is conspicuous by his absence in much of the film. When we do see him he’s vamping it up, or pouting, and frankly, though he’s pretty, he’s not very sympathetic. Yahuda Levi, despite the very unlovely name, is lovely to look at (he’s a soap star in Israel—and despite being compared to DeNiro, he has soap star looks), but his Jagger is a run-of-the-mill disco slut.

I didn’t get any sense that what was going on between him and the very earnest and manly Yossi (played by the much, much uglier and infinitely sexier Ohad Knoller) was a big, big love. Yossi is much more reluctant to declare his love, but that’s obviously because it’s much more serious for him. Jagger is always nagging him to tell him he loves him.

But if you translated all this into real life (and it is based on a true story), and say Jagger hadn’t got himself blown to bits, Yossi’s suffering would have been greater in the long run, and not so ennobling. They’d have left the army, moved together to Tel Aviv, and Jagger would be giving it up to every hung top he could find. He’d be throwing it in Yossi’s face. Yossi would get depressed, and start eating, and get fat, which would only encourage Jagger. Jagger would get addicted to crystal meth, and eventually contract AIDS. In a rare moment of generosity he would give it to Yossi. It would’ve been more like the last third of Before Night Falls. So it worked out better, storywise, that he died in the end.

Apparently Yossi and Jagger was a big smash hit in Israel. And although the cast was very capable, the movie was certainly not all that. It makes you wonder what it is about the film that aroused such interest, mainly among young moviegoers, if what I’ve read about it is true. Why should this tale have particular resonance with a wider audience? I mean, what is homosexuality as portrayed here shorthand for? For truths that can’t be spoken? And what truths would those be? The story of Yossi and Jagger is not compelling enough on its own to merit a movie. And certainly not compellingly enough told to merit the adulation it has received at home. So the question is, what is their story symbolic of? But honestly, I can’t be bothered to go looking for an answer.