“At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet / And a freight train running through the middle of my head / Only you can cool my desire / Oh oh oh, I’m on fire.” The 70th annual Berlinale wrapped up this past Sunday, and after taking in over 100 films, we can safely say that Brazilian director Daniel Nolasco’s Vento Seco (Dry Wind) was by far the best (and horniest) queer entry in the whole festival. An erotic drama that knowingly takes an over-explored topic (gay male sexuality) and gives it a startlingly progressive touch, the story revolves around Sandro (Leandro Faria Lelo), a horny bear working at a fertilizer factory in the small town of Catalão. He has a fuckbuddy relationship with co-worker Ricardo (Allan Jacinto Santana), but things change after a new piece of rough trade (Rafael Teophilo) moves into town. Vento Seco sends Sandro on a classic hero’s journey, one that forces him to look inward to explore and eventually redefine his interactions with other men. Instead of attacking the the concept of Masc4Masc, Nolasco merely pokes fun at the whole charade while deconstructing the gay male’s constantly unfulfilled ego. The smartest and most subtle touch occurs when a fit of jealousy takes hold of Sandro and the tone briefly shifts to a Brian De Palma-esque thriller, a sequence representing outdated and heteronormative ideals that could eventually lead our golden bear to ruin. Aesthetically, the film is a constant marvel to look at – the hyperbolic neon-lit fantasies might seem overly obsessed with classic gay iconography, but Nolasco always subverts the imagery while still reveling in the eroticism. The Tom of Finland-meets-David Lachapelle look of the these scenes is so gorgeously artificial and editorialized, it’s almost hard to call them pornographic (did we mention this movie has rim jobs, ass fucking and cumshots with snowballing?). Like last year’s Mr. Leather, Nolasco’s fabulous documentary on the fetish scene in São Paulo , the film also notes that modern leather men don’t always present as full-on butch – the scene is slowly evolving with the times, and femmes are represented nicely here. Additionally, Vento Seco does what everyone else should be doing at this point: casting trans people in interesting roles that have nothing to do with gender identity. Actress/activist Renata Carvalho’s adaptation of Jo Clifford’s The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven caused a firestorm in Brazil last year, and she brings a welcome touch of political ferocity as Sandro’s tirelessly pro-union pal from work. From an epic amusement park scene set to Chromatics’ cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” to the absolutely perfect ending, we could ramble on for hours about Vento Seco’s brilliance. Instead, we’ll close by calling on queer festival programmers and distributors to ignore their prudish instincts and book this thing immediately.
You’d be hard pressed to find a bigger crowdpleaser at this year’s Berlinale than Gil Baroni’s Alice Junior, a breezy Brazilian teen comedy that finds the perfect balance between cunty satire and coming-of-age drama. In a totally gaggy and noteworthy debut, Anne Celestino plays Alice, a transgender teen youtuber living her best life in the big city. Things are fine at home with her loving father until he picks up and moves the two to a small town in the south where Alice has to attend a strict Catholic school. From bullies to bathroom issues and beyond, the film’s politics are consistently on point and never give in to tired cliches. Although Alice faces all sorts of discrimination and aggression, she’s generally presented as an empowered heroine, not a victim. Foes are painted as total idiots or fascist cartoon characters, and allies come alive with strong characterization. The film even reads the queens when necessary, and reminds how depressingly often trans women will stand up and fight for gay men, and how reluctant we can be to do the same for them. Baroni, always one step ahead of the audience, even threatens to throw things off the rails a few times, but the joke is always on us. Just when a pool party scene leans toward an after-school special moment….surprise!…it’s actually a hilarious and inspiring dose of aquatic transfeminism. The story moves gently through its third act, opting to smooth out some tension in a romantic triangle without resorting to histrionics, and then prances away on an emotionally honest and hopeful note.
Winner of this year’s Teddy Award, Faraz Shariat’s energetic full-length debut Futur Drei (No Hard Feelings) takes a nuanced look at queer immigrant life in Germany. After being sentenced to community service at a refugee shelter, Parvis (Benjamin Radjaipour), a German-born son of exiled Iranians, meets closeted Amon (Eidin Jalali), and an unexpected romance blossoms between the two young men. The first half explodes with restless energy as we observe Parvis’ life as a second-generation German, including a few horny hookups and the accompanying racist micro-aggressions. The light tone gradually becomes more serious as the focus shifts to the relationship between Parvis and Amon, and his sister Banafshe’s (Banafshe Hourmazdi) complicated situation with immigration authorities. Balancing the multitude of conflicts (cultural identity, assimilation, racism, homophobia) this story puts forth is no easy task, but Shariat handles business with confidence and ease, all in less than 90 minutes. Laced with smart and sarcastic humor that takes direct aim at xenophobic German culture, the script is also cool and self-aware enough to poke fun at itself – no spoilers, but one joke in particular during a bike ride brought the haus down. A jarring change in film language during the third act briefly switches the mood from realism to music video aesthetics, and it’s the only time Futur Drei falters. There’s a big “the world is ours” moment that feels a little superfluous, only because this story of three immigrants of color blazing their own trail in a deeply racist country was already admirably defiant from the get-go.
Winner of the Panorama Audience Award for Best Documentary, David France’s harrowingly intense Welcome to Chechnya places viewers on the front lines of the gay cleansing campaign in the small Russian republic. Simultaneously enraging and inspiring, the carefully reported film gives an all-access look at two heroic activists (David Isteev and Olga Baranova) on a mission to smuggle LGBTQ people out of the region. The Putin-backed Chechen government, led by Ramzan Kadryov, claims there are no queer people in the country, but disturbing cellphone footage shown in the film paints an entirely different picture. By using “deep fake” CGI technology that provides victims with new faces and voices, France is able to tell the stories of Anya, the daughter of a government official in grave danger of an honor killing, and Grisha, a torture survivor. Frequently difficult and sometimes terrifying to watch (France cuts away just before a young women appears to be dragged from a car and murdered by family members), this is probably the most vital and urgent documentary you’ll ever see.