Foreign Film Friday: 10 LGBTQ+ films from around the world
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Pride month is drawing to a close, but it’s never not a great time to expand your horizons in the field of LGBTQ+ cinema.
It’s been a brilliant year for representation — Love, Simon (2018), Call Me By Your Name (2017) and God’s Own Country (2017) all captivating audiences, but why limit ourselves to white, gay, male stories when looking for queer films to watch? Here’s a list of foreign language films that explore diverse and varied LGBTQ+ stories. Enjoy!
1. Rafiki (2018) dir Wanuri Kahiu
A smash hit at Cannes this year, we can’t wait for this English and Swahili film to be available in the UK. ”Good Kenyan girls become good Kenyan wives," but Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) long for something more. When love blossoms between them, the two girls will be forced to choose between happiness and safety. Inspired by Monica Arac de Nyeko's "Jambula Tree", which chronicles a story of two girls in love in Uganda, this film challenges deep-set perceptions about sexuality, culture, and how the two interact.
2. Y tu mamá también (2001) dir. Alfonso Cuarón
Gael García Bernal (Coco) and Diego Luna (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) play best friends, road-tripping their way into adulthood in the politically charged climate of turn-of-the-millennium Mexico. Accompanied by the older and more experienced Luisa (Maribel Verdú), the three explore sexual boundaries in this multi-award winning tale of repression, freedom, regret, and love. Cuarón’s unusual documentary-esque style turns this film into a frank observation of human emotion and sexuality, alongside it being a gripping tale of self-discovery.
3. Bird of Dusk (2018) dir. Sangeeta Datta
A fearless, elegant, and poetic insight into the career and private life of the late and legendary, proudly gender non-conforming Indian director Rituparno Ghosh. Though the doc itself is in English, it commemorates Ghosh’s boundary-breaking career in Bengali cinema and invites reflections by some of Indian cinema’s finest actors and filmmakers, who recall Ghosh’s impact on their lives. These interviews are interspersed with clips from Ghosh’s films and his interviews depicting, amongst other things, an artist’s relationship to their beloved city Kolkata and a personal crusade to find their non-gender specific identity. This doc screened earlier this month at London Indian Film Festival.
This film is an incredibly raw and gripping social drama set amongst the South African Xhosa tribe’s coming of age ritual, Ukwaluka, which involves young men being circumcised and living in the mountains until the wound is healed. The initiates are helped along the process by older mentor figures, one of whom, the sensitive Xolani (Nakhané Toure) is involved in a taboo relationship with another more traditionally masculine mentor, Vija (Bongile Mantsai). Their fragile happiness is threatened by city-boy initiate Kwanda (Niza Jay Ncoyini), and heady visuals and sensual camera work follow this tense story to its explosive conclusion.
5. A Fantastic Woman (2017) dir. Sebastián Lelio
This year’s groundbreaking Foreign Language Film Academy Award winner tells the intensely emotional story of Marina Vidal (played phenomenally by trans actress Daniela Vega), a trans waitress and singer dealing with the aftermath of her older boyfriend’s death. The dignity and grace with which Marina handles the horrific transphobic abuse she is subjected to at the hands of his family is both heartbreaking and incredibly inspiring. It’s so powerful that this trans Latina story captivated not just queer audiences, but The Academy too, elevating its reach immeasurably.
6. Thelma (2017) dir. Joachim Trier
This sci-fi / psychological horror uses mysterious and dangerous powers as a metaphor for Thelma (Eili Harboe)’s attraction to her friend Anja (Kaya Wilkins). This Norwegian film explores internalised homophobia and religion, as well as complicated and abusive relationships between parents and their gay kids. Thelma isn’t like anything you’ll see on Netflix’s LGBT section — a bleak and atmospheric indie thriller that uses a genre other than simply romance (or tragedy!) to explore lesbian experiences.
7. My Son is Gay (2018) dir. Lokesh Kumar
This Tamil feature follows Varun (Ashwinjith), a happy-go-lucky, handsome young man who is the apple of his mother Lakshmi (Anupama Kumar)’s eye. He believes his mother would be by his side no matter what, but when Lakshmi discovers Varun is gay, she is shocked and vows it is something she will never accept. As he decides to move on with his life and find love, Lakshmi decides to seek out her lost son. My Son is Gay is a poignant tale of a multilayered mother son relationship, that sensitively tackles universal themes of tolerance and acceptance. The film also had its UK premiere at London Indian Film Festival earlier this month.
8. The Handmaiden (2017) dir. Park Chan-Wook
Park’s BAFTA winning The Handmaiden (2017) is a Korean adaptation of the novel “Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters. He re-situated this British novel to explore the cultural differences between South Korea and Japan — a refreshing subversion of the all too common whitewashing of East Asian roles that happens in Hollywood. The exploration of gender and sexuality is so different from anything seen through a Western lens, and Park is so respectful of the female characters and the lesbian love story he presents. Sensual scenes are somehow devoid of the male gaze that so often haunts lesbian love scenes on screen, and the twists in the plot are impossible to predict. A razor-sharp deconstruction of toxic masculinity and cultural elitism, the film is an absolute triumph for women, and for Korean film being acknowledged for its radical statements.
9. XXY (2007) dir. Lucía Puenzo
This powerful and unique film follows 15 year old intersex protagonist Alex (Inés Efron), who medically suppresses masculine traits and lives as a girl. In a quaint beach-side town in Uruguay, Alex’s family make a new start after growing up in Argentina. Alex’s mother pushes for her to have sex reassignment surgery, but Alex’s life changes forever as she falls in love with the surgeon’s son. Discrimination and pressure to conform to gendered norms are explored in this fearless and deeply moving film that won at Cannes in 2007.
10. Les Invisibles (2013) dir. Sébastien Lifshitz
This French documentary shines a light on another often forgotten sector of the LGBT community — the elders. The film collates candid and varied interviews with LGB people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, telling stories of everything from homophobia, religious guilt, and repression, to joy, sexual experimentation, and love. Personal stories are interwoven with archive footage from 60s gay rights marches in France, and so the doc perfectly marries the personal with the political. From honouring struggle to celebrating queer lives well lived, this documentary is the perfect piece of history to inspire.
As well as these foreign language films, there are English language LGBTQ+ films to look forward to this year too: The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018) and Disobedience (2018), and everyone should go and catch Freak Show (2018) in cinemas now!