Best Queer Films of 2017
It has been another milestone year for queer cinema. Perhaps Moonlight’s historical win at the Academy Awards in January anchored and inspired filmmakers, as more diverse representation keeps blossoming on the big screen this year. Taiwan took the coveted Teddy Award for Small Talk, and elsewhere in Asia, we've seen the emergence of new queer film festivals in China and Vietnam. To ring in the New Year, CINEMQ has invited film professionals from around the region to pick their favorite must-not-be-missed queer film from 2017’s festival circuit.
Of Love & Law
(Japan, 2017, Hikaru Toda)
Kazu and Fumi are lawyers and romantic partners of fifteen years. Together, they run Japan's first openly gay law practice, representing a variety of clients from all walks of life: people made invisible and silenced by their country's conservative laws. Director Hiraku Toda follows the couple over two years as they fight for basic human rights for themselves and those around them.
Kenta Kato (Rainbow Reel Tokyo) says: Of Love & Law is a lovely but insightful documentary about the private and professional lives of two lawyers in Osaka: Kazu and Fumi, partners in love and law. Director Hikaru Toda critically unveils Japan’s systematic indifference to the marginalized through the eyes of these gay lawyers, who deal with such serious cases as people without citizenship. Under this intolerant environment, charming affection between Kazu and Fumi reminds viewers of how precious it is to have partners, lovers, families: anyone who can support you. The film just won the Japanese Cinema Splash Best Picture Prize at the 30th Tokyo International Film Festival.
Smokers Die Slowly Together
(USA, 2017, Zheng Lu Xinyuan)
Smokers Die Slowly Together is the tale of two sometime lovers and the memories that drift around them like smoke from a still lit cigarette. Lily and Alina have been friends, roommates and lovers. As they wait for Alina's new boyfriend Mark to help her move out of their apartment, the two women reminisce of past and future in this dreamy and surprisingly sensual film.
Tingting Shi (Shanghai Queer Film Festival) says: An exquisite film depicting the amorous and enigmatic relationship between two young women who are soon to be ex-roommates. The detail-oriented visual storytelling, as well as strong performances from both actors (including Zhenglu Xinyuan) forms a relationship that is ambiguous in nature yet entirely believable. So much is left unspoken, as these women float in a colorful and romantic space that’s timeless but always between the lines. The warm stream-of-consciousness narrative bleeds out from its short 12-minute structure, and leaves the audience with a lasting impression to savor for days on end. Zhenglu’s work is fiercely original, and I’ll be looking forward to more future endeavors from this young writer-director from mainland China.
J. Pilapil Jacobo (Young Critics Circle Film Desk, Manila) says: The kinship that is at stake in the film Smokers Die Slowly Together is premised on a passion that surely terminates a thing that was hoped to pursue itself against all manner of death, but only after a pace that betrays the very intent of the malaise, for finally, an amorous relation need not end on the terms of separation. This is where the film becomes queerer than its predicament, by turns muted and amplified through the circumlocutions and equivocations within a screenplay that can only confess: women can desire together even when they can no longer desire each other. The circumstances of love may all be gone, but its atmosphere can linger, ashen and ethereal, like the cigarettes which hold the conversations out of time and out of place, to reveal the only conviction that remains after surrendering to one’s most cherished poison—lovers can withstand even Love, and we must believe filmmaker and actress Zhenglu Xinyuan, who delivers their truth without a single dose of cinematic reluctance!
Call Me By Your Name
(Italy/UK, 2017, Luca Guadagnino)
2017 has bristled with high profile international queer hits, but few have been as hotly anticipated as Call Me By Your Name. Set in the north of Italy in the early 1990s (the same period as the distinctly different French AIDS drama BPM, also released this year), the film follows Elio and Oliver's blossoming gay romance. Controversial for the protagonists age difference, Call Me By Your Name has nonetheless wowed audiences worldwide, and looks set to follow Moonlight's success at the Oscars in a few weeks time.
Joe Lam (Hong Kong Lesbian & Gay Film Festival) says: Italian director Luca Guadagnino adapts Andre Aciman’s novel for his wonderful feature film. Set in the 90’s, it tells the bittersweet story of Oliver, an American who comes to Italy to be an assistant for 17-year-old Elio’s dad. Elio is still exploring his sexuality, fooling around with a French Girl for a time. He also has feelings for Oliver. Their relationship grows with the knowledge that Oliver has to leave the small town after the summer. You start falling for these two characters and championing for their relationship to last. The film brings back memories of your first puppy love. Arthouse fans will love that it was shot in 35mm, adding to the romance, bringing the sweet air of the little town to life.
Goodbye Mr. B, Hello Miss. B
(Hong Kong, 2016, Beatrice Wong Suet ling)
After thirty years of living as a man, Beatrice Wong has decided to live her truth as a woman. She takes to the stage and to the streets, addressing rapt audiences with wit and honesty on the love she has for the boy-self she is saying goodbye to, and her thoughts on what it means to be a woman. When she decides to undergo gender confirmation surgery, she records the process from beginning to end in this affirmational documentary that is not for the fainthearted.
Matthew Baren (CINEMQ) says: Beatrice Wong's stream of conscience style of editing paints a nuanced dissection of trans-female identity. This film has picked up a lot of attention for the graphic footage Wong includes of her new vagina post-surgery, a revolutionary act from a storyteller who is more than aware of the taboos and fetishisation around trans bodies (something which the hit show Transparent has also touched on this year). The true power of this self-portrait documentary though is in Wong's analysis of our skewed gender perceptions. There are many ways to be a woman, and Wong is a woman both weird and wonderful.
(China, 2017, Zhao Yuanhao)
Back in July, Cityweekend magazine declared that, 'Beijing needs the beauty of Two Men right now.' Zhao Yuanhao's debut effort is part Romeo & Juliet, part Greek tragedy and all outrage, a searing indictment of the hatred that society directs towards the queer community, and that the community directs towards itself. A dance piece in a scene dominated by documentary, Two Men has become one of the most talked about Chinese queer films of the year.
Raymond Phang (ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival) says: The experimental film by a student originated from a dance project, a creative presentation and approach compared to what we have today. It showcases the existence of discrimination towards the LGBTQ community from a society which seeks to neutralize them. It reminds the audience of the importance of creating awareness and increasing acceptance in wider society and within the LGBTQ community too. The film is in black and white, allowing the audience to focus on body movements and facial expressions, and seeming simultaneously like a fond memory and a terrible nightmare.
(Pakistan, 2016, Amina Malik)
As a woman sits backstage at a theatre, she reflects on the bullying and molestation she experienced as a young boy in Pakistan, and wonders how her mother will react when she watches her child perform on stage. Amina Malik's powerful fiction boldly reflects the lived reality of trans and third gender people, musing on the performance of gender as it made waves on the 2017 festival scene.
Aks International Minorities Festival says: Katchi is an important film because it authentically mirrors the reality of a lot of people, it depicts a real story. It was made by a Pakistani filmmaker; a Lahore based film school graduate and human rights activist with close connections with the transgender community. The film has fictional yet realistic approach which is maybe how transgender people of Pakistan would like to be presented in cinema. It's not a third eye it's actually the eye within! It is part of the core mission of Aks International Minorities Festival to encourage local film makers to make films on minorities rights which is one of the most effective tools that may encourage awareness and change in the attitudes if mainstream society towards LGBTI+ people in Pakistan.
(2016, Philippines, Jun Robles Lana)
How would you want to be remembered? Transgender beauty queen Trisha asks to be dressed as her seven favorite divas for her week long wake. When she dies suddenly, her friends resolve to honor her wish in this touchingly bizarre tale of transphobia, chosen family and body snatching.
Billy Stewart (&PROUD Yangon LGBT Film Festival) says: When queer film from the Philippines goes right, it can go wonderfully right, with a glorious combination of the comedy of everyday life mixed with a profound sense of humanity and an intense colour palette. Die Beautiful has all of these elements. The story of Trisha Echevarria (Paolo Ballesteros) a trans beauty queen who struggles to win the crown, and her co-contestant and best friend Barbs, the film is structured around her funeral wake and the different looks (Miley Cyrus, Gaga) her friends give her each night, which make her a post-mortum sensation. So far so absurd. But it’s the huge heart the film possesses that makes it such a pleasure – leaving you with the sense of a community that looks out for its own, friends who honour their promises, and the promise of being fabulous even in death. This is why it will be headlining the &PROUD Yangon LGBT Film Festival in 2018.
Words: CINEMQ Editors
Translation: Will Dai
Originally written in English and Chinese. Images are from the internet.
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.