Friday, March 19, 2010

Children of God

The Melbourne Queer Film Festival is on again, and I decided I would make the effort and go this year. I was too late to book for Children of God so I did the standby ticket thing for the first time ever. I got in, despite being 23rd in the standby queue, though I did miss the opening credits.

According to the man about town, who I ran into after I left the cinema, Children of God is the first gay feature film from the Bahamas, though IMDB indicates there was a preceding short film version. The short description in the Festival program certainly made it sound intriguing:
Openly gay filmmaker Kareem Mortimer has made a number of films in his country dealing with LGBTI issues, and Children of God is his latest, and most acclaimed, work. A sensuous and moving drama, it is highlighted by strikingly lush visuals and a remarkable cast. Jonny is a gay, white student studying art in the capital, Nassau. Withdrawn and depressed, he travels to the picturesque island of Eleuthera under the advice of his lecturer, in order to gain some inspiration. Lena is an anti-gay activist, whose preacher husband has given her a sexually transmitted disease. Distraught, she takes her young child to Eleuthera to rally the island community in her toxic cause. Also on the boat to the island is Romeo, who has similarly escaped the capital and his controlling family and girlfriend for some fresh perspective. He meets Jonny and the two handsome men are instantly attracted, embarking on an affair and restoring their love of life. But with Romeo’s family bearing down on them, and Lena’s homophobic crusade gaining momentum, will they be able to find their own piece of paradise?
I enjoyed the film a great deal. The cinematography was excellent in that "you did not notice it" sense. The dialogue was natural, the acting was terrific. I was particularly struck by the performance of Craig Pinder as Johnny's Dad for his ability to invest his few appearances with great emotional power, though there was so much fine acting it seems almost unfair to single out anyone in particular. It is a film with considerable narrative assurance, willing to go with its own story. The film has the confidence to set up expectations and then take them somewhere else without being gratuitous or remotely "look at me, aren't I clever?" about it.

A strong theme of the film is that decency has no religion or sexuality. This flowed from the way characters were themselves, not walking stereotypes. Christianity was not portrayed as an enemy, merely certain conceptions of it. Just a same-sex sexuality was depicted as varying greatly depending on context. In the film, the difference is drawn between those who care about people and those who care about their theories of people. Between a father who, however clumsily, wants to connect with his son regardless of his son's sexuality and two mothers whose theory of how a son ought to be is more important to them than their actual son. Between a reverend who see people and one who sees conveniences. Or a women who preaches against homosexuality but has no understanding of it and whose commitment to her theory of how things are is poisoning her life. Between those who change their views as they experience, even awaken, to life and those who attempt to smash life to fit their views. But not in a heavy-handed, didactic way. It just came out of the story of the characters.

You cared about the characters, and were moved (positively and negatively) by what they said and did. I am glad I took a punt, Children of God is a fine film which moved me to tears more than once.

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