Mar 20, 2010

24FPS at LLGFF '10

The 24th London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival

DIR: Jesús Garay
CAST: Diana Gomez, Ariadna Cabrol,
Laura Conejero, Bernat Saumell

Eloïse is a very standard issue lesbian love story. The form is very familiar; straight girl Asia (Gomez) finds an advert from an art student who needs a life model. That student is gay girl Eloïse (Cabrol). The two girls become close and Asia finds herself, much to the disapproval of her controlling mother (Conejero), falling for Eloïse. This story is cross cut with the aftermath of a serious accident, which has landed a comatose Asia in hospital.

I’m not sure how the lesbian audience will respond to this film, but to me it felt like a film by a straight male for a straight male audience. Far be it from me to complain about Garay and his actresses frank approach to sex and nudity - I like naked girls as much as the next straight guy (or, I guess, lesbian woman) - but there is definitely an exploitative feel to much of this movie. That said, the nudity is, like the whole film, beautifully shot, and the love scene, while explicit, is also rather sweet and tender.

Eloïse is a hard film to sum up, because parts of it work really well, and others fall totally flat. Sadly the main problem is with the screenplay. It’s just so familiar. It feels as though writer Cristina Moncunill has watched a lot of semi-mainstream lesbian films (Water Lilies certainly comes to mind, as does Fucking Amal) and tried to follow the formula. What Eloïse misses, though, is the plausibility. The script simply doesn’t give the characters who are supposed to be falling in love enough of a connection. Despite the efforts of the actresses it feels like, when they finally kiss, and subsequently have sex, they are doing so because it’s in the script. It’s not that Diana Gomez can’t put across Asia’s feelings, it’s just that there doesn’t seem to be a scene, or series of scenes, for them to grow. In this simplistic screenplay Asia’s boyfriend (Saumell) is ill one weekend and so she calls Eloïse (for no real reason I can work out, except that it’s in the script) and their day hanging out ends up turning into a first date. It’s all clunky, grinding gear changes, going from first straight to third and from third right to fifth. Adding a few more scenes would help immeasurably, but as it is this relationship just doesn’t feel organic.

On the plus side, Jesús Garay clearly knows his way around a camera, as he should, having made his first feature in 1981. Eloïse isn’t a groundbreaking looking film, but it is certainly attractive, particularly in a pivotal scene in a swimming pool, which, underwater, has a lovely dreamlike feel about it. The acting is mixed, with Bernat Saumell rather dull as Asia’s blandly handsome boyfriend and Laura Conejero turning the melodrama up to eleven as her mother. However, the leads are both much better, and between them rescue Eloïse from total irrelevance.

Diana Gomez has a tough job as Asia. Her character is deliberately very average; almost the definition of a ‘normal’ young woman, and sadly that means that the film grants her very little personality. As this sweet, normal, girl thrown for a loop by unexpected feelings Gomez does some nice work; she’s especially good in the scene the morning after Asia and Eloïse first sleep together, waking up naked, and then suddenly embarrassed by that fact when she sees Eloïse, also naked, sleeping next to her. If she can learn English to a good standard Gomez’ talent and her astounding beauty (picture all the best bits of Maria Valverde and Scarlett Johannson, in a single, jaw-dropping body) should carry her a long way. Ariadna Cabrol has perhaps an easier time ; Eloïse is a rather more interesting character, and though she’s not very developed her artistic bent and her more fearless approach allow Cabrol to have fun with the role. Gomez, thanks to her astonishing beauty, is perhaps the most compelling thing in the film, but Cabrol has the better character and gives the better performance, making Eloïse magnetic and sexy.

At the end of the day I was surprised that this film was shown in a lesbian and gay film festival, first because its treatment of lesbianism felt like softcore wish fulfilment for men and secondly, more troublingly, because the ending could easily be read as punishing Asia for embarking on this lesbian relationship, literally hitting her with tragedy as soon as she decides to commit to Eloïse. It also wants to have its tragic cake and eat it, giving us a final shot of Asia and Eloïse literally riding off into the sunset. It’s a perfect encapsulation of a film that’s confused about what it wants to be. Is it titillation or tenderness that Garay is shooting for? Is he pitching to a lesbian audience or to straight men? He doesn’t seem sure, and while there are good things in it, his film is the worse for this confusion.

DIR: Simon Staho
CAST: Josefin Ljungman, Shima Niavarani

Here’s the headline of what the LLGFF brochure says about Warriors of Love: “Intense and dark drama about a troubled young lesbian couple who are prepared to do anything to be together”. That sounds interesting, I thought, I also liked the title and a quick scan of the extended information made this sound like an interesting, if offbeat, film. God, how I wish that Warriors of Love had been the film that was advertised.

Warriors of Love consists of 93 of the most pretentious, ponderous, minutes of cinema I’ve ever sat through. If I told you the basic story - When Ida (Ljungman) tells her girlfriend Karin (Niavarani) that her Father used to abuse her the girls determine to kill him, and then go on the run, thinking the authorities will be hot on their trail - you’d probably picture an engaging drama with some intense sequences; a little action, a few really intense, confrontational, dialogue scenes and a dramatic ending. You’d be wrong. Instead, Simon Staho’s films is built almost entirely out of endless pauses. Scenes that should last a minute run for five, solely due to the cavernous gaps between lines, time in which Staho’s camera does nothing but statically gaze at the scenery. One scene, perhaps the most dramatic argument between Ida and Karin, has the characters as tiny figures, barely visible in a long shot while, for the whole three-minute scene, the camera looks at a bridge. I’m sure it’s a nice bridge, it’s probably very well engineered, but, and I hate to have to clarify this, THIS MOVIE ISN’T ABOUT THAT FUCKING BRIDGE.

To say that Ida and Karin have no personality is, perhaps, to understate the problem that Warriors of Love has with characterisation. They are the only people we ever see and they are both complete nothings. I’ve often complained about the fact that filmmakers seem to think that one trait equals a personality, well; Ida and Karin don’t even have a single personality trait between them. All their dialogue is delivered in a sleepy monotone, which is only appropriate and effective in a single scene. Because neither of them has anything approaching a personality there is absolutely no sense of connection either to or between the characters, the actresses seem comfortable enough with each other, and with their two screen kisses, but there’s no spark there, no feeling and come the ending, when they each say that they can’t live without the other, you just don’t believe it. Not only do they not talk like a couple, they don’t talk like people, there’s barely a single conversation in this mind-bendingly boring film that wasn’t sniggered at in the cinema, largely because of the length of the pauses in dialogue. By the end I could picture Staho behind his camera, cueing each line as he decided that, this time, a 30 second pause was, perhaps, enough.

Terrible though Warriors of Love is, and difficult as it was to restrain myself from standing up in the cinema and bellowing “get on with it”, there is something in it that nags at me. It has two really good scenes. Really good scenes. The first has Ida and Karin lying in a field, Ida begins to talk, at first the silly talk of a little troll seems innocent and silly but it soon becomes clear that she’s relating the language her Father used when abused her. It is an astounding scene in a film so bad, genuinely creepy and disturbing, acted with real conviction by Josefin Ljungman, and here Staho’s unflinching camera technique is completely appropriate. Another strong moment, which also centres on a monologue by Ljungman, who I’d really like to see in a better film than this, because I suspect she’s really good, has Ida describing the first time (or perhaps the most recent time, it’s not terribly clear) she had sex with Karin. It’s the one moment that you feel any history, or any affection, between the characters.

Warriors of Love is, make no mistake, a boring, pretentious, piece of crap but there are flashes in it of the film that might have been; those two strong scenes, several beautiful shots that demonstrate that Staho does have an eye, and a few moments that indicate that at least one of these actresses is a good deal better than she’s allowed to be in this film, all in all, it feels like a missed opportunity.

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