Cannes comes out of the closet

23rd May 2009, Comments 0 comments

From 1960s America to contemporary China and even ultra-conservatives in Israel, a host of Cannes films are putting gay men in the spotlight.

Cannes -- In the year of Sean Penn's Oscar triumph as a gay politician in Milk, Cannes is coming out with a flurry of gay-themed movies, from a jailbreak caper to a Chinese love triangle.

Gus Van Sant's masterful Academy-award biopic marked a new milestone in toppling taboos, three years after Ang Lee's gay cowboy romance Brokeback Mountain.

And the shift in mindset was on bold display in the gay-friendly line-up at the Riviera festival, which runs May 13 to 24.

From 1960s America to contemporary China and even ultra-conservatives in Israel, a host of Cannes films are about men struggling to accept their homosexuality -- or more simply about love, but between gays.

One of 20 directors running for the Palme d'Or, banned Chinese filmmaker Lou Ye set the tone early on with the sultry Spring Fever, a melancholy work about a tortured gay love triangle.

Lou said in an interview last week that love, not just gay love, was the essence of Spring Fever: "Love can happen anywhere, anytime, and here it happens between two men."

But the film, which features copious amounts of graphically shot sex, is set to prove deeply controversial in China where homosexuality is widely taboo.

Also from an unexpected quarter and in taboo-tackling vein, Eyes Wide Open by Israel's Haim Tabakman, is the story of an ultra-orthodox Jerusalem butcher who takes a young Talmudic student as a live-in apprentice -- and falls in love with him.

A married father of four trapped in a lifeless existence, he battles to control his lust, seeing it as a test sent by God, before finally accepting passion -- at the risk of being cast out from his community.

Director Tabakman, whose poignant film is seen as a strong contender for the Camera d'Or first film award, received help with the script from Orthodox Jews -- none of whom wanted to be publicly linked to the film.

"Orthodox Jews don't even say that homosexuality is bad. They consider that it doesn't exist," the 34-year-old Tabakman told AFP in an interview. "They deny your existence, your identity, your ability to love someone."

At the other end of the spectrum, Lee's crowd-pleasing Taking Woodstock counterposes the heady rebellious times of the rock festival, with the story a young man struggling to come out of the closet and break out on his own.

Even Hollywood's goofy genius Jim Carrey turns camp at Cannes in gay rom-com I Love You Phillip Morris, the true story of a conman who falls head-over-heels for a fellow prison inmate, played by Scottish heart-throb Ewan McGregor.

The fast-paced comedy, packed with gay sex romps, was a surprise hit at the Sundance festival, and has recently secured a distribution deal for the United States, quashing rumours it was unmarketable.

The film screened in the Directors' Fortnight sidebar alongside a fellow Sundance comic hit, Humpday by Lynn Shelton, which tells the improbable tale of two straight men who make a drunker wager to shoot a gay porn movie.

In town to promote his film, Carrey told festival-goers he was "compelled" when he saw the script written by first-time directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.

"It's a very complicated story and they told this tale of two men falling in love with grace, intelligence and humour, without condescending or pandering to antiquated sensibilities," Carrey said.

Ficarra and Requa -- who are both gay -- told reporters in Cannes that films such as Brokeback Mountain and Milk were landmarks for mainstream acceptance of homosexuality, but that they hoped to go a step further.

"Brokeback Mountain treats homosexuality as an affliction -- most films like that do," Glenn said.

"We like to think that this is the first movie that treats homosexuality as an afterthought, just being part of their characters,” he added. “Because it's not a big deal and it shouldn't be a big deal. This is about two people in love, it's not about being gay."

Emma Charlton/AFP/Expatica

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