By George Barreto
It’s Pride Month, which also means it’s June: time to go outside and enjoy the sweltering Alabama heat. Many are considering passing this weather with a plethora of outdoor celebrations that scratch that summer itch. But for those looking to cool off indoors with some cold drinks, I would like to recommend some queer movies to go along with them.
Happy Together, Wong Kar-wai
In “Happy Together,” Wong Kar-wai, a pioneer of Hong Kong cinema, creates a lush and dreamlike exploration of toxic love. Two strangers decide to take a trip to Argentina to see a waterfall that they believe represents their love. The film evolves from this point in interesting ways, trapping the two and letting toxic interactions erode their passion into jealousy and lust. Imbued with energy akin to a car going 100 mph on the interstate, “Happy Together” is a beautifully tactile and aching movie about missing a special person, regardless of their flaws.
“Happy Together” can be streamed on HBO Max.
Certain Women, Kelly Reichardt
Three stories loosely threaded together by their proximity in a remote Montana town, “Certain Women” includes the story of a female farmer falling for a woman who feels as out of place in the world as she does. The movie, showcasing how its cast of women operate in a patriarchal world and make room for their pathos in such a claustrophobic environment, excels at painting an honest picture that never fails its characters. Many of the characters live seemingly average lives, but Reichardt is able to use the minutiae of things to explore the many facets of the women in the film. With exquisite performances by Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart. The movie maintains a level of sincerity that is rare to find in films. Lily Gladstone as the aforementioned farmer steals the show, becoming a gravity well that demands attention.
“Certain Women” can be streamed on the Criterion Channel and rented on Amazon Prime.
Straight Up, James Sweeney
An interesting take on the rom-com genre, “Straight Up” is the story of a man with OCD trying to navigate his sexuality while dealing with a crippling fear of being alone. He meets a woman with her own struggles and the two soon begin a journey of self-discovery. This is not a love story per se, but a story about self-love. Sexual fluidity is a more modern concept that, in mainstream media, has been relegated to a quirk for side characters. Here, it is examined in a humorous fashion while always keeping it in the realm of bittersweet reality. It challenges institutional rom-com tropes by centering the story around an unlikely protagonist finding comfort in the idea of polygamy.
“Straight Up” can be streamed on Netflix.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Céline Sciamma
Influenced by the Greek tragedy of Eurydice, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is about a female painter commissioned to create a wedding portrait of a woman who is reluctant to be trapped in a loveless marriage. The catch is that she must paint her without being seen. Observations give way to desires as the two begin to light the fire of love that is as old as time. The backdrop of a 1770 French island fuels an overwhelming sense of isolation, as if these two women were at the end of the world. There are no male characters in the movie other than a few inconsequential characters. This elicits an air of freedom for the characters while creating anxious ghosts of the men that could potentially interrupt this affair. Among other things, the movie is interested in female solidarity — a theme which is usually portrayed heavy-handedly in modern media but which Sciamma allows breathing room for. She provides restraint to a movie that could so easily overreach into fraudulence, opting instead to depict a love story with sincere conviction.
“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” can be streamed on Hulu.
God’s Own Country, Francis Lee
This movie offers the story of a rural Yorkshire farmer who indulges in binge drinking and casual sex in order to numb himself of his daily frustrations. That is until his self-sabotaging routine is upended by the arrival of a Romanian immigrant worker. The two immediately begin to share altercations that slowly evolve into quiet moments of connection. This film tenderly explores profound themes of acceptance and the problems that arise when one is unable to express one’s feelings. The film’s matter-of-fact energy and dramatic rural backdrop soak into the two men’s lives as a deepening passion between them becomes an urgent anguish for understanding.
“God’s Own Country” can be streamed on Hulu and Tubi.
I would also like to mention the incredible job that Sidewalk Film is doing in providing queer movies with a platform all year round but especially this week. Sidewalk Film is hosting Pride Week, a showcasing of movies that includes “Alabama Bound”, a film directed by Lara Embry and Carolyn Sherer that explores the dynamics of being gay in the South. 50% of all ticket sales for the movie will be given to Birmingham AIDS Outreach.