Reel Review: New Films on Sexuality Geetanjali Misra

Geetanjali Misra

Tucked in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains at 8000 feet above sea level, is the charming town of Telluride, in Colorado. 2000 people stay in this town all year round but during several weekends each year approximately the same number of visitors come in to enjoy the various festivals held in Telluride – a jazz festival, a mushroom festival, a mountain film festival etc. In the first weekend of September every year is the Telluride Film Festival.

You can watch films after having taken a gondola ride to a theatre on top of the mountain, silent films with live accompanying orchestra, films under the stars held in the city park where you can spread your tarp and tuck yourself into a sleeping bag and watch the screen (while stars twinkle overhead), hear from great directors like Ang Lee, Pedro Almodovar and the Dardenne Brothers, bump into Catherine Deneuve, Clint Eastwood, Michael Moore and Salman Rushdie... all at the Telluride Film Festival.

This year's festival show-cased several new films focusing on issues of sexuality. Three films stood out in particular – Brokeback Mountain, Capote, and Breakfast on Pluto, all released in 2005.

Brokeback Mountain From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ang Lee comes an epic American love story, Brokeback Mountain, based on the short story by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx. Set against the sweeping vistas of Wyoming and Texas, the film tells the story of two young men – a ranch-hand and a rodeo cowboy – who meet in the summer of 1963, and unexpectedly forge a lifelong connection, one whose complications, joys, and tragedies provide a testament to the endurance and power of love.

Early one morning in Signal, Wyoming, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet, lining up for employment with local rancher Joe Aguirre. The world which Ennis and Jack have been born into is at once changing rapidly and yet scarcely evolving. Both young men seem certain of their set places in the heartland – obtaining steady work, marrying, and raising a family – and yet hunger for something beyond what they can articulate. When Aguirre dispatches them to work as sheepherders on the majestic Brokeback Mountain, they gravitate towards camaraderie and then a deeper intimacy.

At summer’s end, the two must come down from Brokeback and part ways. Remaining in Wyoming, Ennis weds his sweetheart Alma (Michelle Williams) with whom he will have two daughters as he ekes out a living. Jack, in Texas, catches the eye of rodeo queen Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway). Their courtship and marriage result in a son, as well as jobs in her father’s business.

Four years pass. One day, Alma brings Ennis a postcard from Jack who is enroute to visit Wyoming. Ennis waits expectantly for his friend, and when Jack at last arrives, in just one moment it is clear that the passage of time has only strengthened the men's attachment. In the years that follow, Ennis and Jack struggle to keep their secret bond alive. They meet up several times annually. Even when they are apart, they face the eternal questions of fidelity, commitment and trust. Ultimately, the one constant in their lives is a force of nature – love.

Capote Truman Capote was and is one the most celebrated writers in America – the author of In Cold Blood, the publishing phenomenon of the sixties, a book that has influenced the writing of non-fiction writing ever since.

Novelist, short story writer, screen writer, playwright, spellbinding raconteur, wit, superstar, genius and jetsetter, all-round delight, Truman Capote was one of the most astonishing and singular personalities of his time. During a period when homosexuality was anathema in America, Truman was nonchalantly and resplendently gay.

In November 1959, Capote read about the Clutter murders in Holcomb, Kansas on a back page of the New York Times. Thus began In Cold Blood (1966) a project which would take six years of his life. Those are the years that are explored by writer Dan Futterman and director Bennett Miller in the film Capote.

Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) believes that in the hands of the right writer, non-fiction can be as compelling as fiction. What impact have the murders had on that tiny town on the wind swept plains? With that as his subject he convinces The New Yorker magazine to give him an assignment and he sets out for Kansas. Accompanying him as a friend from his Alabama childhood: Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), who within a few months will win a Pulitzer Prize and achieve fame of her own as the author of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Though his childlike voice, fey mannerisms and unconventional clothes arouse initial hostility in a part of the country that still thinks of itself as part of the Old West, Capote quickly wins the trust of the locals, most notably Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper), the Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent who is leading the hunt for the killers. Caught in Las Vegas, the killers – Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) – are returned to Kansas, where they are tried, convicted and sentenced to die. Capote visits them in jail. As he gets to know them, he realises that what he had thought would be a magazine article has grown into a book, a book that could rank with the greatest in modern literature. The film tells the fascinating story concentrating on Capote’s tortured relationship with the doomed killer Perry Smith.

Breakfast on Pluto How does somebody survive a deeply aggressive world by being himself? This was the central question that director Neil Jordan brought to his film adaptation of Patrick McCabe's 1992 novel Breakfast on Pluto. The movie is about a boy born to be different – Patrick Brady.

Patrick Brady (Cillian Murphy) is abandoned as a baby in a small Irish town, escapes to London and, as a witty and deceptively tough young transvestite, searches for his mother, asks to be called ‘Kitten’ and learns to navigate big-city life. Androgynous-Kitten – very femme, but still recognisably male – turns heads and provokes would-be bashers in a scene when he hits the local dance club accompanied by his friends. Through his insane insistence on seeing the world as a beautiful place, Patrick never really loses even when he loses everything.

Jordan captures the excitement and political turmoil of the 1970s in a film that’s alternately hilarious, moving and magical. The cast includes Liam Neeson, Ruth Negga and Brendan Gleeson. Jordan feels that Pluto is really about a beautiful soul more than about politics and violence. Patrick wins in the end because he has more grace, more humour, and in the end, more charity than all the grotesques that confront him. And, he has better clothes…

Geetanjali Misra works on issues of sexuality, reproductive health, social justice and human rights at CREA (Creating Resources for Empowerment in Action), where she is the Executive Director. A member of the Advisory Committee of the South and Southeast Asia Resource Centre on Sexuality, Geeta is an avid film buff - this was her eighth year at the Telluride Film Festival.