Though the in-person portion of this year’s Frameline festival (previously known as the San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival) will be nearing its end by the time this column is published, its “streaming encore” is only beginning. The encore, which offers much of the festival’s programming to an online audience, runs from June 24 through July 2.
Set in 1987, Before I Change My Mind depicts that awkward time when teenagers struggle to figure out who the heck they are. The film stars non-binary actor Vaughan Murrae as Robin, an American immigrant confronted by social and personal challenges at their new Canadian middle school.
Moving to a foreign country is hard (I speak from experience), but fitting in at a new school is also no walk in the park — especially when your gender and behavior don’t fit into societal norms or expectations. “What are you?” probes school bully-in-chief Carter (Dominic Lippa) on Robin’s first day. Though Robin doesn’t have an answer, Before I Change My Mind documents their halting and uncertain efforts to find out.
A 21st century coming-of-age dramedy with the trimmings of an ‘80s brat pack feature à la John Hughes, Before I Change My Mind is an auspicious first feature from writer-director Trevor Anderson. Anderson declines to tie things up in a neat narrative bow: Like most teens, Robin makes some bad decisions, and viewers will reach different conclusions about the character’s choices.
House of Izabel is an acerbic political fable set at a remote hideaway where men live as women in an effort to momentarily forget the crimes they’ve committed as leaders of Brazil’s 1964 military coup. Coincidentally or otherwise, the house is managed by the mother of a revolutionary the residents would probably execute on sight.
Directed by Gil Baroni and blessed with a remarkable score by Fábio Peres and Jean Gabriel, House of Izabel blends elements of Fellini, Pasolini and Costa-Gavras into a grim tale of secrecy, loyalty and intrigue, and comes with my highest recommendation.
Baroni’s film was influenced in part by Casa Susanna, a Catskills resort for well heeled transgender men who needed somewhere to escape during the ultra-repressive late 1950s and early 1960s. The story of the short-lived resort is told in the outstanding documentary Casa Susanna, which reveals that science-fiction writer Donald A. Wollheim (the founder of publisher DAW Books) was one its frequent visitors. You’ll be relieved to know, however, that no fascist generals convened at the real Casa Susanna.
Finally, Silver Haze is a British kitchen-sink drama about a fire-scarred working-class nurse (Vicky Knight) engaged in an on-again/off-again relationship with an upper middle-class drifter and aspiring actor (Esme Creed-Miles). Rich with complex characters whose motivations are frequently at cross purposes, Silver Haze suggests there’s some truth to the well-worn adage that revenge is a dish best served cold.
Footnote: Oddly, arson plays a role in all three of the narrative features reviewed above. I honestly don’t know what to make of that, but felt compelled to mention this strange example of synchronicity!