The UW-Madison’s Reel Love LGBT Film Festival, now in its fourth year, is still the only Wisconsin film festival (and one of the few campus-based festivals nationwide) exclusively devoted to films with gay, lesbian and transgender subject matter.
The free, 15-film festival runs Thursday through Sunday at the Union South Marquee Theatre, 1308 W. Dayton St. Once scheduled in the fall, the festival has moved to the spring this year, but is otherwise another terrific collection of new films, including many Madison premieres, that show the wide range of LGBT filmmaking out there. Whether you like broad comedies, tender dramas or hot-button documentaries, they’re represented at this festival.
Each day during the festival, I’ll feature a new review of one of the films playing that day, along with capsules of the others and links to my previous reviews where available. For a full schedule, visit wudfilm.com. And, once again, it’s FREE, people!
“The Way He Looks” (7 p.m. Friday) — This sensitive coming-of-age drama from Brazilian writer-director Daniel Ribeiro tells a story that’s both familiar and fresh, that of a shy teen learning to find his way in the world.
Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) doesn’t seem to fit in at his Sao Paolo — the fact that he’s blind makes him the target of bullies. His close friend is Giovana (Tess Amorim), who describes to him what his fellow classmates look like, shares gossip, and walks him home from school. At home, his parents are fearful of letting Leonardo do anything without their express supervision.
That starts to change when another student, Gabriel (Fabio Audi), arrives at the school. He and Leonardo take a shine to each other (they look like twins), and the kind Gabriel takes Leonardo to the movies, turns him on to Belle & Sebastian, and lets him ride on his bike handlebars late at night. One of the key things Ribeiro doesn’t do is put a label on this relationship — it’s friendship, with something under the surface that may take it to something beyond friendship.
There are moments where “The Way He Looks” skirts the edge of an after-school special, but Ribeiro generally keeps things on the right side of melodrama. The relationship between Leonardo and Gabriel is sweet, but so is the friendship between Leonardo and Giovana, who may harbor a crush on Leonardo, but is wise enough to not to let heartbreak get in the way of their bond. There’s also a nice rapport between Leonardo and his father; in one scene, late at night, his father helps him shave and suggests that, deep down, he’s proud of his son for rebelling against his parents’ strict rules.
The film’s unabashed happy ending might strike some as a little forced, but I think Ribeiro is smart enough to suggest that this swoon of first love, like so many first loves, might not be as eternal as it seems. Still, it’ll send you out of the theater with a smile on your face — hard to resist those Belle & Sebastian tunes.
“The Case Against 8” (4:30 p.m. Friday) — This acclaimed documentary looks at one of the first dominoes to fall in the fight for marriage equality, as attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies (former opponents in Bush v. Gore) tirelessly argued against California’s Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban.
“Appropriate Behavior” (9:30 p.m. Friday) — My full review is here. Fans of HBO’s “Girls” may recognize writer-director-star Desiree Akhavan from last season, but she proves a sparkling comic voice all her own in this mildly autobiographical tale of a bisexual Iranian-American woman adrift in New York after her girlfriend dumps her. Akhavan fashions some clever comic scenes (and simmering sexual ones) in this engaging film about looking for your place while in your 20s, and realizing that you’ll have to fashion one of your own.
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (11:30 p.m. Friday) — Now that Neil Patrick Harris has taken on the role of everyone’s favorite transgender rocker on Broadway, it’s time to revisit the original John Cameron Mitchell film version in all its raucous glory.