Boys on Film 18: Heroes – review by Jack Cline


Now celebrating its 18th volume, Peccadillo’s collection of gay shorts is officially legal! A selection of films made over the past six years, these are 10 bold, earthy shorts that explore unexpected angles on personal and political issues. There are even two films that don’t feature gay men at all (but are still resolutely queer). Here they are in order of appearance:

DANIEL (UK, 2015) is a bright, sexy little drama about a Hungarian student living in London. To pay his bills, he works as an escort, and the film crosscuts between a dinner party with his friends and a few of his encounters with clients. Balazs Csemy is superb in the title role, combining wit and sensuality as a smart young man who rather enjoys his job. Although the filmmaker kind of undermines this with a moralistic twist.

BUDDY (Netherlands, 2015) is an understated drama about a guy who agrees to go with his ex to the clinic for his test results. It’s an awkward reunion for them, obviously, even more-so as it becomes clear that one of them is hoping to rekindle their romance. What makes the film work is the way it says more about them in their silences than when they speak. And then as they do try to talk, the authenticity of the writing and acting adds an emotional kick.

HALF A LIFE (Egypt, 2018) is an unusual documentary that uses animation to recreate the experiences of gay men harassed for their sexuality in Cairo. Some of these anecdotes are shocking, revealing the darker side of police corruption and bigotry. The various styles of artful animation are entertaining and powerfully resonant, especially when combined with actual newsreel footage. The point is that gays in Egypt no longer have many human rights, so the film is a yearning plea to be allowed to live in peace.

UNDRESS ME (Sweden, 2012) is a sharp, provocative 15-minute short about a good-looking guy who pursues a young woman in a bar, then has a bizarre mood-shift when he discovers that she’s trans. What follows is aggressive and unsettling, as their interaction cleverly explores issues of body image, deep insecurities and the male ego. It’s bracingly realistic, with sometimes shockingly complex conversations, which means that it continuously crushes preconceptions.

THE COLOUR OF HIS HAIR (UK, 2017) is an ambitious half-hour short based on an unproduced 1964 script by Elizabeth Montagu, whose brother was notoriously tried for being gay a decade earlier. The drama is about two young men (God’s Own Country’s Josh O’Connor and Sean Hart) who are being blackmailed for their sexuality in the early 60s. This is intercut with documentary footage tracing the shift in laws and queer culture over the following half century. Beautifully made, and very moving.

SILLY GIRL (UK, 2016) is a loose, offbeat performance art piece that explores that moment when someone notices that you’re not like everyone else. It’s quirky and experimental, as two girls and a trans boy interact under a busy roadway, highlighting how our life changes once people see us for who we really are. It’ll also make you glad that you can’t be put in a box.

AN EVENING (Denmark, 2017) is simply exquisite to look at, as the camera beautifully explores two teens who are lounging together in the evening sunlight, gently touching each other. And it’s clear that one of them is interested in far more, so of course he becomes jealous when a girl comes between them. Understated and dreamlike, this is a vivid depiction of inner yearning.

AIDS: DOCTORS AND NURSES TELL THEIR STORIES (UK, 2017) is a half-hour documentary in which British health care workers share their memories of working with Aids patients during the 1980s epidemic. It’s pointed and informative, and very moving as they share specific anecdotes about young people they treated. This is an important collection of first-hand memories.

IT’S CONSUMING ME (Germany, 2012) is the most artful clip, a kaleidoscopic swirl of images as a young man is overwhelmed by everything about his boyfriend, listing each aspect in an obsessive stream-of-consciousness. Witty, clever, sexy and ultimately disturbing as the state of their relationship becomes eerily clear. All in just 4 minutes.

MOTHER KNOWS BEST (Sweden, 2016) saves the best for last: after a cute young guy kisses goodbye to his loving boyfriend, he has to endure a single-take 9-minute rant from his mother as she drives him home. What she says is hilariously awful, but it’s the teen’s reaction that the camera watches, vividly recording the impact of everyday, seemingly benign bigotry. Simply brilliant.

**** Jack Cline 

Boys on Film 18: Heroes is available now on DVD and VOD.

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