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Monday, November 4, 2013

Reeling Review #4: See Interior. Leather Bar and Stranger by the Lake at Chicago's LGBT Film Festival

I wouldn't describe Interior. Leather Bar. or Stranger by the Lake as pornographic films, despite the presence of actual on-screen blowjobs and masturbation. Instead, these brief scenes of explicit sex are used as an effective "storytelling tool" - as Interior's co-director and star, actor James Franco, tells us they should be. He and his directing partner Travis Mathews (whose previously helmed the sexually graphic I Want Your Love) just want to put gay sex into mainstream cinema, which has always been dominated by heterosexual romance. And Stranger's director/writer Alain Guiraudie appears to have the same mission in his own filmmaking, which I loudly applaud. I'm certainly not offended by on-camera displays of fellatio and self-gratification that give a movie a distinct sense of realism - although I seriously doubt that it will ever become the norm. Most actors probably don't want to expose themselves that much, which is understandable. But it is a refreshing change from the cinema simulations that we usually see.

So now you might be wondering if I enjoyed these two films only for their pleasant eroticism, which I can easily answer with a "No". I did find Stranger by the Lake more compelling, but I think both succeed in accomplishing what their creators set out to do.

I'll begin with Interior. Leather Bar. because you're probably curious to know if Mr. Franco engages in anything gay. I'm sorry to report that he doesn't - he keeps all his clothes on and just watches everyone else with a seemingly amused smile. I'm not sure what to make of this quirky guy, but at the very least he is a supportive friend of the LGBT community. As for his and Mathews' film, it is a work of "docufiction", which often makes it difficult to tell whether we're watching a real or fake documentary. The sex scenes are obviously real, but I was never quite sure about the rest. The premise of Interior is that the two co-directors have gathered a group of actors together to film a reimagined version of the 40 minutes of sexually explicit footage that were deleted from the 1980 Al Pacino movie, Cruising. The LGBT community was not a fan of this controversial film about a serial killer targeting gay men who frequented leather bars. Interior mainly focuses on Franco's heterosexual friend, actor Val Lauren, who has been cast as Pacino's character - and appears to be quite uncomfortable in the role as he tries to understand what exactly is going on around him. Apparently Mr. Pacino felt the same way during the filming of Cruising. Interior. Leather Bar. is an interesting movie, but with a running time of only 60 minutes, it does feel unfinished upon reaching its abrupt conclusion - but I guess Franco and Mathews said all that they wanted to say on the subject.

The French drama, Stranger by the Lake, on the other hand, clocks in at a leisurely 92 minutes as it tells the tale of Franck, a handsome young guy who enjoys spending time at a beach - a favorite cruising spot for gay men (no leather bar is needed here as strangers can become intimately acquainted in the nearby woods). Franck befriends Henri, a lonely older man, while lusting after Michel, a hot moustached hunk (who reminded me of Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz). But after he witnesses the object of his desire commit a murder (by drowning), the film slowly builds to a suspenseful end as the relationship between the two men evolves into a dangerous and very steamy liaison. I like a movie that isn't predictable, and Guiraudie's intriguing story kept me on the edge of my seat until its intense climax (so to speak). The three main actors - Pierre Deladonchamps (Franck), Christophe Paou (Michel) and Patrick d'Assumçao (Henri) - all give excellent performances, and I can definitely understand why Stranger by the Lake won the Queer Palm award at this year's Cannes Film Festival as well as a Best Director honor for Mr. Guiraudie. It's a good film that will leave you emotionally spent in the dark after its increasing sense of dread finally reaches fruition.

Interior. Leather Bar.
Show time: 7 pm, Tuesday, November 12, at the Logan Theatre (2646 N. Milwaukee)
Running time: 60 minutes

Stranger by the Lake
Show time: 9:30 pm, Saturday, November 9, at the Logan Theatre (2646 N. Milwaukee)
Running time: 92 minutes

For a complete schedule of films at Reeling31: The Chicago LGBT International Film Festival (which runs November 7 - 14), go to You can purchase tickets online (click here) or in person at Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark) Monday - Friday 10:30 am - 6 pm. You can also get the latest festival news by following Reeling on Twitter and Facebook. And click here to read all my reviews.

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