• Matthew Baren

Queer, and...

'Who am I, who are we?' Love Queer Cinema Week (formerly Beijing Queer Film Festival) returns this month for its 10th edition with Intersections, a program of films and discussion on the myriad identities in the LGBTQ community that extend beyond the acronym alone. As the festival heads to Guangzhou this weekend, CINEMQ reviews three of the films audiences can look forward to, celebrating diversity, self, and community, with a decidedly political edge.

Rarely Normal dir. Yaoyao (2017)

For the staff at a Beijing shopping mall, the disabled bathroom is nothing more than a glorified janitors closet. "|t's here for appearances only. It makes us look good." Gouzi, the focus of filmmaker Yaoyao's ambitious three year documentary portrait, does not share their opinion. It is sobering to watch this genderqueer wheelchair user calmly harangue the mall's manager into clearing mops and brooms to make this accessible toilet actually accessible. Our community rightly focused recently on fighting for transgender bathroom rights, but would we see the same urgency in supporting our disabled queer brothers and sisters? For Gouzi, activism isn't a choice so much as a fact of life. They use their spare time to rebel against the micro-aggressions society throws at disabled people not through malice, but through sheer indifference. Gouzi's condition means they are not a constant wheelchair user, and there are points in the film when it seems like people are more willing to understand the ambiguity of their gender than the sometimes invisibility of their disability. Yaoyao asks the audience to consider appearances at every stage, resting her camera on looks of bewilderment, surprise and joy throughout the film. Whether it's needing to be carried upstairs to get into an apartment building, or sitting face-level with a pan of boiling oil in order to cook, Gouzi lives in a world not designed with wheelchair users in mind. Yet they steadfastly refuse to sit at home and watch life pass by. Loving, intelligent, funny and above all determined, they remind us what a wild and rebellious spirit truly looks like.

Freckle dir Xiong Shenqiuyue (2016)

As far as date movies go, there are better choices than Happy Together. Wong Kar-wai's tale of a violently unstable gay relationship in meltdown is the sort of anti-romance you save for your most heartbroken moments. But for tomboy Xu Ke, it feels spot on. Xiong Shenqiuyue's semi-autobiographical drama is an energetic cocktail of teen angst, delving deep beneath the surface of the conventional coming-out story to reveal a person held to together almost exclusively by their fragile sense of self and a very constrictive breast binder. Xu Ke's heartbreak isn't romantic, but entirely existential. She has a strong moral compass, railing against her con-artist mother's moneymaking schemes. The two have a fractious relationship, but when mother is attacked, Xu Ke is ready to fight the assailant. This inversion of filial piety is a simple but provocative repost to an earlier scene where mother begs her to, "be more like a girl." Can she be a good daughter without being like a girl? Xiong frames her story in the backstreets and KTVs of Chongqing; less a city and more a mess of fragments through which her characters struggle to navigate. It's a world which, like Tony Leung's Yiu-fei, Xu Ke longs to be free of; and yet the further she pushes herself away, the harder life gets. Arriving home drunk one night, she tearfully comes out to her mother as lesbian. "I'm sorry, I tried not to be." As she passes out, her mother gently removes her breast binder and places it on herself. The baptismal catharsis of the Iguazu Falls is replaced with a parent understanding who their child is for the first time in years. She may still be broken, but perhaps Xu Ke can finally begin to hold herself together.

I Am Sheriff dir. Teboho Edkins (2017)

A storm brews on the horizon, but it's the lamp of an outdoor cinema projector which lights up the nighttime in this rural patch of desert in Lesotho. "I want you to watch this film with care, and then ask me any questions you have. I will answer them all." Sheriff has returned to his village to screen a series of interviews he has conducted with various religious and community leaders about their views on transgender people. An assembled audience of peers, elders and children watch with rapt attention. They have questions, as does everyone that we encounter in Teboho Edkin's gentle documentary on developing awareness of LGBT in this small southern African nation. Sheriff is an educator, traveling to schools around the country to speak with students about his trans identity, asking them to reflect on their perceptions of sexual and gender minorities. Ask questions, is his constant message. He confronts without being confrontational, and is met in return with a genuine curiosity. Addressing him after the screening in his village, one old woman explains, "We always wondered why you were different. Now I understand, and I am happy." Sometimes the best way to be accepted is to simply make yourself known.

Rarely Normal, Freckle and I Am Sheriff are screening in Guangzhou November 10th-12th as part of Love Queer Cinema Week. I Am Sheriff is part of a special program to exploring the growing relationship between China and African nations. Tickets are free, and screening details can be found at bjqff.com or on their wechat account: lovequeercinemaweek

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Words: Matthew Baren

Translation: Annabel Lee

Article originally written in English.


CINEMQ is a queer short film screening + party series. It is run by a group of queers with too much on their mind to sit still for long. We’re publishing articles on queer cinema and screen culture every week. Want to contribute? Message our account.

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