120 BPM (2017)



In 1992, Robin Campillo joined a militant group of activists called Act Up Paris. Dedicated to battling government apathy towards the AIDS epidemic, Act Up Paris did everything it could to grab headlines and make its cause visible, no matter what the cost, in an era when the supposedly ‘gay disease’ wasn’t taken seriously.

The group’s spitfire spirit crackles through Campillo’s third feature film, 120 BPM, which is partially inspired by the French director’s time with Act Up, and sheds new light on gay militance in a time when LGBTQ+ people are enjoying more freedom than ever. The film’s plot follows a number of the group’s members, cleaving particularly closely to HIV-positive extrovert Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), and his growing closeness to new member Nathan (Arnaud Valois). Among the many other activists, all of whom get their moment, there’s a mother and her 16-year-old son Marco (Theophile Ray), who’s a haemophiliac and contracted the AIDS virus from an infected blood transfusion.

At two and a half hours long, Campillo’s film could have used a little judicious editing, but the freewheeling style and realistic delves into the group’s rowdy lecture-hall meetings are hugely seductive. As its title suggests, 120 BPM pulses with passion and anger on numerous levels. At times, it feels like an exorcism for Campillo, who lived this, and has lived with it for over 30 years. There’s hope, though, too. The sparse musical segments are euphoric, while the sense of community is warm and invigorating. For those who have watched How To Survive A Plague, 120 BPM offers a nourishing and rousing insight into gay activism outside of the US, and won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

This review originally published in Crack magazine.

Beach Rats (2017)



“I don’t know what I like,” admits Frankie (Harris Dickinson) towards the start of this dark and dreamy drama. A Brooklyn teenager spending a summer avoiding his father’s sickbed, Frankie escapes his depressing home life by smoking spliffs with his buddies and hitting the boardwalk to raise hell.

He’s also on a brooding journey of self-discovery. What /does/ Frankie like and why is it so hard for him to accept? It’s a rare film that addresses such vast questions in so uncompromising a way, but director Eliza Hittman accomplishes exactly that with Beach Rats.

We quickly learn that Frankie’s real passions lie with members of the same sex. He surfs gay webcam sites at night before agreeing to meet up with an older man. After a passionate woodsy encounter, he goes back to hanging with his surfer bros and even acquires a girlfriend in shop-worker Simone (Madeline Weinstein).

But it’s clear Frankie’s just treading water, uncertain how to process these new desires. “Two girls can make out and it’s hot,” says Simone. “Two guys make out and it’s gay.”

Though shrewd, exchanges like these are infrequent. With the bare minimum in dialogue, Hittman instead focusses on every part of Frankie’s body in a study that’s refreshingly, even brutally honest.

Brit up-and-comer Dickinson is magnetic as the young tearaway, his sea-blue eyes both curious and troubled, and the role’s exposing in every way possible, from a glimpse of a flaccid cock when Frankie fools around with Simone, to a final confrontation that fizzes with fusillade emotion. This isn’t necessarily a coming-out drama destined for a happy ending, but it’s captivating nonetheless.

This review originally appeared in Crack magazine.

God’s Own Country (2017)



You’d be forgiven for thinking that windswept Yorkshire planes aren’t the most obvious setting for a steamy love story, but there’s nothing obvious about God’s Own Country.

A remarkably restrained debut from director Francis Lee, it centres on young farmer Johnny (Josh O’Connor), who toils alone on the family farm under the watch of his sickly father (Ian Hart) and stern grandmother (Gemma Jones). At night, he has meat, potatoes and a tinny for dinner, then drinks himself unconscious. There’s a shot of a caged magpie.

Within minutes, it’s clear this is a man suffocated by duty and desolation, and newcomer O’Connor etches an extraordinary portrait of an individual in emotional arrest. Seven minutes in, he’s rutting another guy in the back of a trailer. He doesn’t smile for nearly an hour, brooding and antagonising and pushing every button he can find.

“We?” he grunts when his rutting partner suggests a date. “No.” Recalling the novels of Harper Fox, particularly Scrap Metal, Lee’s film excels at exposing the cracks in life at this remote farmstead.

Even before the arrival of Alec Secareanu’s chiselled farm hand, Gheorghe – a quiet Romanian who strikes up a clumsy romance with Johnny – God’s Own Country rivets as a study of human frailty and family tension.

In a landmark year for LGBTQ+ rights, God’s Own Country shuns ‘gay movie’ cliches – there’s no ‘coming out’ melodrama here – as, in the harsh wilds of Yorkshire, Lee uncovers affecting tenderness in the unspoken and the understated.

This review originally appeared in Crack magazine.

Call Me By Your Name (2017)



“If only you knew how little I knew about the things that matter,” drawls Elio (Timothée Chalamet) halfway through Call Me By Your Name. Seventeen, quietly creative, loudly bored, he’s talking to the handsome grad student who’s spending the summer of ’83 at his parents’ Italy home. It’s the culmination of weeks of furtive flirtation. “What things?” asks the object of his affection. “You know what things,” murmurs Elio. Indeed, we do.

In a film that floats between coming-of-age ennui and heart-stopping moments of beauty, this is the first time Elio talks openly about his feelings. Up until this point, Luca Guadagnino’s alluring adaptation of André Aciman’s 2007 novel luxuriates in ambiguity. Between bright cups of apricot juice and tins of Illy coffee, the story unspools of Elio’s crush on 24-year-old grad student Oliver (Armie Hammer), an all-American jock in tiny shorts whose breezy geniality aggravates as much as it allures.

As the duo embark on winding country bike rides and circle each other in sun-dappled courtyards, Chalamet and Hammer cast a beguiling spell. In a giant step up from playing Matthew McConaughey’s son in Interstellar, Chalamet is remarkable, etching an unshowy portrait of a boy on the cusp of adulthood; constantly pretending, seemingly unsure how to behave. Chalamet speaks fluent English, Italian and French, plays the piano and, in the film’s boldest holdover from Aciman’s novel, fearlessly enacts an unforgettable moment with a peach.

Hammer, meanwhile, is a revelation. Departing each scene with a maddening “later”, he’s a million miles from big-budget blow-outs such as The Lone Ranger and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Pivotally, he’s unafraid of allowing Oliver to be unlikeable, lending this luminously optimistic film an edge that kills sentimentality in its tracks.

Guadagnino is a master of the slow build but, unlike the mounting hysteria of I Am Love and the shock rug-pulls of A Bigger Splash, this feels more urgently personal, capturing the pleasures and pains of youth with bracing sensitivity. When Elio talks of “things that matter” it’s relatable no matter your gender or orientation. CMBYN finds a neat balance between heart and art (something Guadagnino has struggled with), whether it’s referencing Heraclitus or playing on Hellenic male relationships.

Of course, there are also Ray-Bans and ‘Love My Way’ by The Psychedelic Furs; the magic of Guadagnino’s film is in its deceptively freewheeling style. In its final moments, CMBYN offers a powerfully emotional full stop; those things that matter have rarely been more arrestingly captured.

Verdict: Peachy keen. A luminous, sun-kissed Italian love story brimming with warmth, passion and feeling. This is utterly unmissable.

This review was originally published in Total Film magazine.