The first online version of internationally adored Swiss film festival Visions du Réel concluded on Sunday and this year’s crop of LGBTQI+ documentaries did not disappoint. A few highlights:
“I had to question others’ memories so our own would appear.” The death of Frédéric Luzy haunts every frame of David Teboul’s Mon Amour, a heartbreakingly profound and deeply personal essay on love, grief and other complications. After losing his former lover to a drug overdose, Teboul’s overwhelming confusion and sadness sent the director on a journey to Siberia in the dead of winter to interview complete strangers about their lives and relationships, resulting in one of the rawest explorations of the human condition in recent memory. The three-hour running time requires a bit of patience from the audience, but one can’t help but be drawn in as Teboul’s lonely camera pans over the snow-covered landscapes while detailing his torrid and acrimonious affair with Frédéric, a painful tale of codependency that eventually ends in betrayal. Whether it’s a simple shot of two ice skaters circling each other as we learn how these lost souls met or an interview with a hopelessly devoted couple in their twilight years, Mon Amour brims with an emotional frankness rarely seen anywhere these days while finding unexpected warmth in one of the coldest corners of the planet.
Starting in Saint Petersburg and ending in a remote Siberian town called Irkutsk, San Francisco-based Irish filmmakers Paul Rice and Liam Montgomery visited six cities along the Trans-Siberian railway to make the brave new documentary A Worm in the Heart, a troubling look at the current state of affairs for the Russian LGBTQI+ population. Filmed shortly before the world learned of the “gay purge” in Chechnya, the real-life couple traveled with a female sibling to avoid detection and met with activists, drag queens, business owners and everyday folks, and most of their findings paint a rather grim portrait. By comparing their own experiences with Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28 bullshit in the UK (which prohibited schools from “promoting” homosexuality) to a similar Russian federal law, Rice and Montgomery open an important conversation that wonders if and when things will ever change in the former Soviet republic. The two have little trouble finding folks to chat with in the big cities, but as they travel deeper into Siberia, it becomes crystal clear that most queer people in the country live quietly in the shadows, deathly afraid of harassment and violence. Things end on a bittersweet note as the two catch up with a trans activist who has since been granted asylum in the U.S., but like David France’s forthcoming Welcome to Chechnya, A Worm in the Heart leaves a stinging reminder that the struggle is far from over and our continued solidarity and action is essential to the safety, livelihood and futures of our Russian family.
Also in the mix: look out for Sarah Baril Gaudet’s Passage, a beautifully photographed vérité doc about Gabrielle and Yoan, two rural Canadian teens spending one last summer together after high school, and Diako Yazdani’s Toutes les Vies de Kojin, an film that follows a brave 23-year-old queer guy from Iraqi Kurdistan as he interviews local imams, family members and random hostile men about their feelings on homosexuality. Last but not least, you know we loved Youssef Youssef’s Queens, a short about two drag queens hittin’ the city for a night out that obviously packs a shitload of conflict and drama into its brief 28 minute running time.