DO YOU LIKE sexy French dramas? Do you like charming documentaries about personable subjects? Good news: The 20th Portland Queer Film Festival has a lot of those things!
Now in its 20th year, the Portland Queer Film Festival—formerly known as the Portland Lesbian & Gay Film Festival—has a goal that’s at once clear and sprawling: to showcase “feature, documentary, and short films from all over the world that are made by, about, or of interest to the lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and questioning community.”
This year, the fest’s selections include three films that approximate a triptych of French gay romance: Paris 05:59 (screens Thurs Sep 22), Closet Monster (Mon Sep 19), and Being 17 (Tues Sept 20). Paris 05:59 unfolds like a super-hot (and gay!) Before Sunset, with its romance unveiling almost in real time. (The first 15 minutes take place in a basement sex club, where, fittingly enough, there’s no dialogue; by the 30-minute mark, our two main characters finally exchange names and walk to a bike-share spot. Just like Portlanders!) Closet Monster, meanwhile, is in English and features a Quebecois love interest, but its weakness is a too-whimsical script that, among other things, asks us to accept a talking hamster (somehow voiced by Isabella Rossellini?) and the idea that anyone could ever be attracted to a guy wearing John Lennon glasses. (A talking hamster is one thing, but being able to see past those glasses is just ludicrous.) Being 17 exists somewhere between those two: The work of post-New Wave director André Téchiné, it’s a gorgeously shot slice of life about two young men in a rural town who share smoldering classroom looks. Except the stifling nature of the boys’ lives means they don’t have the words to express that smoldering, so wrestling in a snowy field ensues.
Taking place in a totally different season is Catherine Corsini’s Summertime (Thurs Sep 22), about a young woman who visits Paris in 1971, and finds herself embroiled in a feminist rebellion in which 343 Parisian women essentially shouted their abortions in the newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur, demanding the legalization of the procedure and access to birth control. The story of the “Manifesto of the 343 Sluts” is fascinating, and in Summertime, it’s nice to see it interspersed with bouts of post-sex lounging in the beautiful countryside.
Speaking of lesbians, I should mention the festival’s documentaries, because Political Animals (Wed Sep 21) is my favorite film in the whole fest. Jonah Markowitz and Tracy Wares’ film charts the history of the four openly lesbian California lawmakers responsible for introducing the bills that created domestic partnerships in the state. Over time, they painstakingly strengthened those partnerships, paving the way for queer rights as we know them today. Working in the California legislature seems utterly thankless, but the process is broken up by insane moments like legislator Carole Migden explaining to Dianne Feinstein what a glory hole is, or California assemblyman Richard “Dick” Floyd waving around a doll of Tinky Winky the Teletubbie as he spoke in support of a bill. I came away with a ton of respect for the people who fought these important, terrifically boring battles against their closed-minded fellow lawmakers—who literally, and on the record, compared them to cattle.
Heaps of respect also go to the subject of Real Boy (Sun Sep 18, Mon Sep 19, both screenings free), director Shaleece Haas’ tender portrait of transgender folksinger Bennett Wallace. Preparing for college and dealing with parental drama are already difficult enough, but Wallace also works long hours to save for, and ultimately undergo, his FTM top surgery. If you have questions about transitioning, Real Boy might answer them—or you can just be impressed, as I was, by Wallace’s grace as he pursues that which he knows will heal him.