It’s Pride Month. I just wanna watch a good gay movie, you know?
You can play “Moonlight” or “Call Me By Your Name” or “Carol” when you want something that comes to top of mind. Hollywood has started making (small, baby) strides in telling thoughtful LGBTQ stories in polished, high-profile films. But if you’re like me, you know there’s historically a lot more chaff than wheat when you take a spin around your favorite streaming service.
Your friendly neighborhood journalists at the American-Statesman have found themselves taking furlough weeks the past few months. For me, that’s meant digging into some deep cuts from the queer film canon lately. Mind if I share?
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A great shame of mine: I haven’t logged enough hours with the work of beloved Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar. On a trip to Montreal last year, I watched the Antonio Banderas-starring “Pain and Glory” and thought, “Oh, that’s why I was supposed to watch all those Almodóvar movies.” Why not go for a younger Banderas vehicle, I thought, with some beefcake scenes. That’s what led me to 1987 gay noir “Law of Desire.”
It’s the pulpy tale of a director, Pablo (Eusebio Poncela), whose lover leaves him, so Pablo takes up a little passion in the arms of a hunk (Banderas), who quickly becomes obsessed in that special, murder-y way. Meanwhile, Pablo’s transgender sister, Tina (Carmen Maura, a cisgender woman), is raising a young girl and also gets tangled up in the sexy web of deceit.
As you could probably guess from the title, “Law of Desire” digs deep in the human heart, giving us characters whose love, lust and compulsion manifest in both beautiful bedroom scenes and horrifying acts of abuse. The trope of homicidal gay is present, perhaps, but there’s real tenderness, too, especially with Pablo and his first lover.
And Almodóvar, who knows beauty when he sees it — again, the Banderas of it all — constructs gorgeous set pieces, from mood-lit altars to silent, towering lighthouses witnessing crime and crashing waves.
Maura’s performance also is full of life, though it would be better for a trans story to be told with a trans actor. If you want to keep things running with the Spanish cinema, I can’t recommend Sebastián Lelio’s 2017 drama “A Fantastic Woman” enough. Starring trans actress Daniela Vega in a truly exhilarating, gutting performance, this isn’t one I watched this month, so I’m cheating, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me.
Back to the 1980s. I queued up “Parting Glances” recently, from director Bill Sherwood in 1986. I would see the cover all the time in the dearly departed Vulcan Video on Elizabeth Street, with a young Steve Buscemi staring behind a pair of shades.
One of the first American films to address the AIDS crisis, “Parting Glances” is a quotidian slice of life in Reagan-era New York City. Michael (Richard Ganoung), whose partner Robert (John Bolger) is leaving the country for a work assignment still takes care of his sarcastic ex, Nick (Buscemi), who has AIDS. The characters converge at a farewell party for Robert.
There’s not a single beat that’s overwrought, with plain talk about the waking nightmar