Our picks of the best queer movies on display at this year’s London Film Festival
There was a time not too long ago when the Venn diagram of good quality films and queer content barely overlapped at all. LGBTQ people searching for themselves on screen would have to scrape to the very bottom of the cinematic barrel, embracing with open arms films that objectively deserved little more than a shrug. So it’s surely a very promising sign indeed that at this year’s London Film Festival, to fit all the entries with at least an undercurrent of queerness into one list would be nigh-on impossible.
As such, plenty had to be left off this one – from high-profile fare such as the Billie Jean King biopic Battle Of The Sexes to low-budget indies like Anchor And Hope, which stars Oona Chaplin and Natalia Tena as a couple living on a houseboat. But of all the promising LGBTQ-related films on display at this year’s London Film Festival, here’s five that are well worth your attention.
A FANTASTIC WOMAN
Given the number of high-profile films that persist in hiring non-trans actors to play trans roles (Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl is but one example), it would have been a breath of fresh air for Sebastián Lelio’s new film, starring trans actress Daniela Vega, to simply exist – let alone thrive – among its contemporaries. But thrive it does, earning superlative-laden reviews when it premiered at Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. Vega plays Marina, a waitress and nightclub singer who has to contend with both her own grief, and the hateful suspicion of her partner’s family, when he dies suddenly. It might be in the running to make history, tipped as Vega is to become the first trans actor to receive an acting Oscar nomination.
Part paranormal horror, part romantic drama, Joachim Trier’s Thelma uses the trope of burgeoning supernatural powers as an analogy for the effect oppressive values have on a young woman’s sexuality. So far, so Carrie – but the film is resolutely Trier’s own vision. When Eili Harboe’s titular character finds herself uncontrollably drawn to her female classmate, her attraction coincides with a series of worsening seizures – incidents she hides from her strict, religious family. Given that reviews of the film seem to frequently dance around key plot points, it seems that Thelma is a film that should be watched with as blank a slate as possible.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
This coming-of-age drama, directed by Luca Guadagnino, looks poised to have a similar word-of-mouth success to last year’s Moonlight. Both are understated, delicate accounts of young men on the cusp of sexual awakening, and critics have been quick to highlight how both films transcended the label of ‘gay cinema’ – though such supposed praise tends to undermine the specificity of the queer experience. Starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, Call My By Your Name follows a young man living in Italy in the 1980s, as he develops a relationship with an academic staying at his parents’ villa. Come for the buzz around a scandalous peach scene, stay for the viscous chemistry between the two leads.
When fearlessly inquisitive teenager Cyd arrives at her introverted novelist aunt’s Chicago home to spend several weeks of the summer, the pair’s dynamic is immediately strained – though director Stephen Cone, whose work has been compared to that of Jonathan Demme, weaves a subtler tale than the odd-couple premise might suggest. Princess Cyd’s title character “is as interested in the cute gardener neighbour as she is in the cute barista, Katie,” but it’s with the latter that she eventually strikes up a romance. Katie, incidentally, is played by Malic White, whose Moth talk on their struggles with gender nonconformity is also well worth a listen.
A 14-year-old boy grappling with his sexuality and gender identity under the glare of his domineering aunt might sound like the makings of a brooding drama, but Saturday Church is actually a full-on musical. Injecting fantasy sequences and musical numbers into its gritty, poignant plotline, it’s a coming-of-age spectacle that’s garnering Luka Kain huge praise as Ulysses, who gains a lifeline when he stumbles upon an LGBTQ-friendly church, befriends a handful of older role models and falls in love.