Tag Archives: LGBTQ+

When Coming Out is Hard to Do: Two of Us and Uncle Frank

Hard to believe, but there still are a number of (mostly older) people who have not come out to the public. Reasons seem to abound, from living a private life to simply, not feeling as though an explanation is due to society.

When I heard of Two of Us through film festivals six months ago I almost laughed it off because it seemed through its premise to picture a comedy of errors in the style of In and Out and many more that have come before it. It just seemed to be dead in the water from the word go, and France has submitted many, more urgent, more relevant films — Petite Fille a clear example.

Filipo Meneghetti’s movie focuses on a pair of women who have been living across from each other as neighbors for the greater part of their lives. While they are clearly a couple, one of them, Martine (Madeleine Girard), has kept this part of her life a secret from Frederic and Anne (Jerome Varanfrain and Lea Drucker), her son and daughter. A turning point in which both Martine and Nina (the great Barbara Sukowa) decide that it’s time to enjoy retirement arrives, but complications ensue when Martine suffers a stroke and is rendered disabled.

Meneghetti constructs his film much like a thriller disguised in the form of a domestic drama waiting to unfold. He makes sure to let us in on the level of intimacy and love that exists between Nina and Martine, only to have fate cruelly snatch it away from their very hands at the last minute.

The movie then takes a left turn, with Nina at the helm, as she makes every attempt to be with her love. Nina crosses the line so many times throughout the movie it is near-impossible not to champion her, and Sukowa’s supremely intense, monomaniacal performance navigates the mudder aspects of what one will do for a loved one. If the movie takes a slight chance with the suspension of disbelief, it’s with turning Martine’s sons — particularly Anne — into villains. Even so, the Two of Us is quite a compelling watch, right down to its final, emotionally impacting scene.

Sophia Lillis, Paul Bettany, and Peter Macdissi in Uncle Frank

Somewhat more uplifting but no less traumatic is Alan Ball’s Uncle Frank. Ball’s movie tells the story of 18-year-old Beth Bledsoe (Sophia Lillis), who moves from her small Southern town to NYC in the early 70s to go to college and also be near to her Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany), whom she feels close to. Upon her arrival, she learns that he’s gay and in a relationship with Wallid (Peter Macdissi). Unfazed, the drama truly begins when Frank’s father and Beth’s grandfather (Stephen Root in a vicious role) suddenly dies, forcing Frank to take a trip down memory lane and slowly confront his past.

For the most part, Uncle Frank keeps things light, which plays in its favor. Trauma is a ghost that can never truly be healed, and Frank’s is no less hurtful and reflects the rejection experienced through the suffocating bonds of the family — in this case, the family patriarch. Bettany brings an equal measure of comedy and pathos to a man tormented by a horrible past that he has tried to distance himself away from, and his performance is anchored by Lillis in a strong, feminist role. The movie does lose a bit towards its resolution, choosing to avoid the pitfalls of Southern Gothic and instead of keeping it light and airy and anachronistically forward-thinking. That can’t be a bad thing, can it?

Two of Us: B; Uncle Frank: B

Rendezvous with French Cinema 2021: Little Girl (Petite Fille)

The Lincoln Center returns with a virtual-only version of its Rendezvous with French Cinema film festival. Now in its 26th year, the film festival shows no sign of slowing down and manages to continually reinvent itself rather than present the same tired Catherine Deneuve/Isabelle Huppert movies that frankly, are just fillers and manage to say nothing new about the language of film. I’ve nothing against either one — I have always admired Huppert and know her to be the better actress — but Deneuve has mostly coasted off of her golden locks and vacuous stares that were the rage in the 60s at the height of her fame. Now she’s been whittled down to spewing out at least a film or three out for the sake of repetitive acting working. Sometimes they stick. Sometimes, it’s like chomping down on some fluff — it’s super-sugary but has no substance. The closest thing she has come to actually deliver a true performance was in last year’s The Truth, which was the film to open the 25th edition of RWFC, and which received a belated release thanks to the pandemic.

This year, if there is a movie to watch it is Sébastien Lifshitz’s documentary Little Girl (Petite Fille). If I’m not wrong, this is the first documentary to open at the French film festival. Lifshitz’s movie focuses on a special character. His subject, the mononymous Sasha, is seven years old, and while she may have been born a boy, she clearly — and openly — affirms herself as a girl. Scratch that — she is a girl, plain and simple. Her mother Karine, while in therapy early on, expresses support that is so open-hearted, so emotional and complete, that it threatens to overshadow Sasha’s own story. Karine partly blames herself for Sasha, a situation that any parent of a gay or transgender child might experience. Wanting a girl so badly, she wonders if perhaps her own intensity of desire may have caused Sasha to come into the world announcing her femininity to French society, which plays a large part of the doc, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Little Girl establishes that Sasha has nothing to fear at home. She is unequivocally supported by her father and two older siblings who practically stand up for her at any chance. [She has a younger brother but he is too young to truly understand the drama unfolding before his eyes and mostly gets relegated to being a toddler.]

The conflict of the documentary arises — or has been brewing, even before the tape has begun to roll — in the outside world. Karine has had to contend with a school system that is shockingly intolerant towards trans rights and who will not accept her as a girl. Yet, this is all Sasha wants, and her tiny face contorts into a frown that suddenly explodes with tears at a therapy session with renowned child psychologist Anne Bargiacchi. It is all that one needs to see to realize the conflicts that Sasha has been put through just because her identity doesn’t line up with her physical genitalia. Place that side-by-side to an earlier scene when Karine informs her therapist that the sheer happiness Sasha displayed when wearing her first dress was incomparable. As a viewer, as someone who is extremely sensitive to the delicate psyche of a child, I couldn’t but be furious with a system based on archaic beliefs. It seems to almost parallel the ones transgender people face here in the US — particularly in more conservative parts of the country.

Karine eventually starts to win her battle against the school, but scars and wounds remain. Sasha’s dance teacher forbids her to wear girl’s clothes simply because “in her country such a thing is illegal.” Karine fears, and is justified in feeling so, that Sasha will encounter hatred in this world and worries she may not be around to protect her when that time comes. In the middle of it, we get the more silent shots which are worth every second of their presence in the film. Sasha, simply existing, dancing to her own rhythm, running on the beach in a peach bathing suit, combing her hair which gets longer during the movie — the only indication of the passing of time. These are the snippets that matter, because they present a little girl completely at bliss in her own body and self. Little Girl, without a doubt, is one of the most delicate, sensitive documentaries to emerge in a long time and I hope that it gets the exposure it should here in the US once it hits theaters (and virtual platforms). We could all learn from Karine, but especially, from Sasha.

Little Girl will have its premiere as one of the seven movies included in the Seattle International Film Festival, Main Selection, on April 8. It will arrive later at theaters and virtual cinema. Date of release TBA.

Grade: A