Both of the Chicago International Film Festival films I watched are about people on the fringes of society. Some are privileged enough to be outcasts by choice, while others are forced into it by circumstance, and are desperately trying to cling to some semblance of stability to keep from sinking into an abyss. Both these films, in their way, are about how people navigate such a life. Some keep going because they love the rush of being on the outside. Others keep going because they hope against all that things will somehow get better.
A character on Buffy once remarked, “Responsible people are always so concerned with being good all the time, that when they finally get a taste of being bad, they can’t get enough. It’s like all kablooey.” This pretty much explains the German film Tiger Girl, where a girl named Vanilla (Maria Dragus), a shy, aspiring cop, meets up with the rebellious punk Tiger, played by Ella Rumpf, who brings all the intense, anarchic energy she brought to a similar role in Raw. Tiger slowly but surely brings Vanilla over to her values, and soon the two are dressing up as security guards and taking gleeful advantage of of the power this brings them. But Vanilla soon starts craving more crime, more violence, more…everything. And Tiger has to face the fact that the force she has unleashed in Vanilla may be too much for even her to handle.
Director Jakob Laas brings this all to life in a sort of slow-building frenzy that is also a kind of celebration of female friendship that will always last, no matter what the two inflict upon each other. Whether this is due to the everyday misogyny they face together or a shared kind of insanity is an open question. It may get a bit muddled at times, but mostly it’s a intensely watchable study of two women that refreshingly values character over likability.
mr. gay syria
Mr. Gay Syria is one of those documentaries that was clearly a labor of love for everyone involved, from the director to the crew to the subjects themselves, all of whom are gay refugees from Syria. Most of them, except for Mahmoud, the founder of Syria’s LGBTI movement, live in Turkey and continue to fear for their lives. Death seems waiting for them everywhere, whether it’s from their own conservative families, similar elements in Turkish society, or the consistent presence of ISIS in their lives. Such is its power that when Mahmoud puts on the Mr. Gay Syria competition, he deliberately keeps it quiet so no one who attends is attacked.
Yet for all this, the documentary is a wonderfully uplifting experience as all the men quietly and matter-of-factly keep going about their lives. Some of them get happier endings, as in the case of one man who’s allowed to join his husband in Norway. But others simply go on because they hope for a better tomorrow against all odds. Director Ayse Toprak does a little bit too much of a good thing: she keeps herself out of the story and lets events unfold without comment, which also means little context, which can sometimes be jarring. Just how she got involved is a mystery, and a passing reference to lesbians might have been appreciated. It just barely detracts from the ardent plea for compassion and acknowledgment that Mr. Gay Syria otherwise articulates so briliantly.
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