Film Reviews

My father, myself

Page 2 of 3

Death haunts the film, as in most of Bergman's work, but this time a gleefully scatological motif hectors us into realizing how much these poor confused creatures are anchored to their bodies, and thus their mortality. Pu is constantly leaving a scene to urinate; people spit on each other; flies buzz around a corpse waiting for its last rites in a country church; and in one of the most memorable sequences, Pu struggles with a noisy case of diarrhea just minutes before one of the Sunday services he's grown to loathe.

Intercut throughout the childhood tales are brief flash-forwards to 1968, when the 50-year-old Ingmar (Per Myrberg) waits near the deathbed of his father, who refuses to recall his own tyrannical life as anything but misunderstood. The famous director is now a cautious, resentful middle-ager who declines to reassure the old man about the past. We're not permitted to see much in the way of character development from the adult Ingmar, but this is in keeping with the laser-like focus of the film. Ingmar Bergman doesn't want to waste time (at least not with this project) on his adult transgressions when he has such a monumental score to settle with his stern dad, who, he implies, was a primary shaper of his own self-centered disposition.

On the surface, Sunday's Children is a series of loosely connected anecdotes, but Daniel Bergman, who's only directed a few student films and some Swedish television, shows an impressive intuitiveness in linking the disparate images together. Indeed, it's difficult to imagine a stranger or even a close associate taking this chaotic patchwork of a screenplay and unearthing the enchanted psychological portrait that Ingmar Bergman has painted through myth and implication.

Filmmaker Gregg Araki's first internationally distributed feature, The Living End (1992), represented the pinnacle of gay male posturing in the much-ballyhooed New Queer Cinema. A great concept (two HIV-positive young homos take to the road on a spree of destruction) degenerated into a weakly written, shoddily staged, awfully acted exercise in aimless rage, with the pretty-boy leads stumbling their way through a script completely clueless about the real vagaries of social and viral outlawhood.

All is forgiven with Totally Fucked Up, Araki's bittersweet, knowing study of six homo high-school graduates facing their 20s in a Los Angeles cityscape filled with illicit temptations and lurking dangers. Who could have guessed this director would graduate from the whiny mannequin world of The Living End to master a genuinely taboo topic--the thoughts and habits of teenagers who've discovered and accepted their homosexual identities.

All the gritty indecisiveness, feverish role-playing, and clandestine joys of gay and lesbian young adulthood can be found here. Since society won't acknowledge that some young people are certain of same-sex desire even before they're legally old enough to drink, Araki sets himself up as an avenging equalizer, cramming every experience he can recall into a bumper-car testament to the legitimacy of post-adolescent homoeroticism.

The film manages to be essentially plotless and frenetic at the same time--in the way daily life seems to stand still yet spiral on the impulse of emotions. There is the faithless lover Steven (Gilbert Luna), a video freak who's afraid to confront the intense attachment of his boyfriend Deric (Lance May); a defiantly anti-stereotypical skate punk named Tommy (Roko Belik, who declares in one of many direct addresses to the audience, "I hate all the things gay men are supposed to love--disco, drag, Bette Midler. I fucking hate Bette Midler"); Michelle and Patricia, a lovey-dovey lesbian couple (Susan Behshid and Jenee Gill); and the film's tragic central character Andy (James Duval), who constantly declares life is a waste of time even though the need to be loved is all but tattooed on his forehead.

Totally Fucked Up focuses on the male characters' tenuous grips on romance and commitment, peppered with discussions of sex that are funny, explicit, but endearingly matter-of-fact. But even with all the invocations of freewheeling sex, Araki depicts a much deeper yearning. No matter how often these guys screw around on each other, they still yearn for fulfillment from one partner who accepts them unconditionally.

When Andy is gently kissed in a high-rise parking garage by a would-be suitor (Alan Boyce), decades of homo-denying teen romance flicks crumble to the ground. "Are you asking me out on a date?" the shy Andy asks. "I was hoping you wouldn't notice," his future boyfriend replies.

A toast to Gregg Araki for infusing innocence and sweetness into a relentlessly politicized genre, yet still managing to document the very hostile world in which his characters live.

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Jimmy Fowler