With the uncertainty surrounding America’s reformed political scene and reports of anti-LGBT hate crime having risen by 147% in Britain in the months following Brexit, minority groups across the globe feel neglected and threatened. In February, LGBT history month marked the occasion to celebrate the achievements of the LGBT community’s global movement and with Transgender Day of Visibility falling on March 31, the bleak realities of abuse that transgender people face will once again be brought to light.
The plight of LGBT people in film tend to be vanilla in essence, such as The Next Best Thing (2000), often showing characters entangled in predictable love triangles or gay people becoming parents. Shaked Goren and Patric Chiha’s productions that were screened at the London Gaywise festival in November 2016 and will be coming to theatres in Europe this spring, prove novel and invigorating, breaking the mould of such stereotypical representations. The protagonists at the heart of If I met a Magician and Brothers of the Night are celebrated for their marginality, which is not solely portrayed as a consequence of their sexuality, but also of their personal daily struggles as human beings.
If I met a Magician begins in the early hours of the morning on an Israeli battlefield. Sweat trickles from Omri’s brow as the screeching air raid sirens penetrate the stale air. He waits for the stillness to set in once again – he was lucky this time. But the feelings of uneasiness and dread seem to pervade the entire film. Omri is the young man at the heart of the plot set in a warzone, which we later learn is allegorical to a war that he very much feels is raging within himself. He is a reservist in Israel who is expected to attend his uncle’s memorial, but decides to go to a gay night club instead to lose himself in the colours and sounds of the euphorically mystical atmosphere, where homosexual pole dancers seduce clients who are sporting neon glow-stick bracelets and rainbow-coloured attire.
Despite his deep yearning for escapism, the soldier never quite seems to be able to release his inhibitions, as, even in the depths of a passionate kissing session with another man at the club, the sombre, yet piercing sirens of war return to torment him once again.
Scrutinising Israel’s bereavement culture and the importance the nation places on memorials is a central element in Shaked Goren’s work. While his first film Beautiful Stranger (2013) follows the life of a homosexual Israeli teenager who lives in a traditional region that holds the sacredness of the bereavement culture in high esteem, If I met a
Magician film similarly explores the ‘straight’ tradition as an attempt to establish it as one of the reasons why Omri is an outsider; he feels like a stranger towards the culture that upholds an extremely political notion of heterosexual masculinity.
In the final scene, Omri is sitting alone at a cinema screen where a musician strums away at a guitar on the stage before him – “I didn’t know what I’d want if I met a magician” are the lyrics that begin to move the soldier whose eyes are now damp – yet, instead of culminating with a meaningful grand finale, the film abruptly ends at the end of this scene, leaving the viewer slightly bewildered.
Despite the weak ending to the 20-minute film, If I met a Magician is a poignant, yet dark narrative that seeks to shed light on an array of topics from the futility of war in the context of today’s modern politics, to the effects of PTSD on an individual, the inability to free one’s self from their own constraints as well as simultaneously attempting to break free from societies’ expectations.
The second film entitled Brothers of the Night is directed by Patric Chiha. It won the 2016 Special Jury Award at the Cúritiba film festival and similarly encompasses the theme of being on the margins of society. The 1 hour and 20 minute long feature documentary follows the lives of a group of Bulgarian gypsies who travel to Austria to find work but unexpectedly end up selling their bodies for money instead. Most of the men are married to women in Bulgaria and have come to Vienna in hopes of making a living in order to financially support their families. Whilst the film delves into the physicality of sexual desire amongst the men that these prostitutes sell themselves to, there’s a deeper, underlying message in the film and it has little to do with sex.
When the men are not seducing customers in booths or pole dancing for €150 an hour at the Rüdiger bar, they are sitting alone in reflection, revealing the backstories of their lives and how they became prostitutes in Vienna. The director skilfully illustrates the juxtaposition of noise versus tranquillity and of fantasy versus reality through the use of strobe lights and cacophonous music in dance scenes, followed by intimate shots of the men talking about their lives. One man shows the viewers his phone and shows a photo of his teenage wife and their new-born child. Another man has his wife’s name tattooed across his chest and avoids facing the guilt of his profession by calling it “business”.
Brothers of the Night celebrates escapism and the need to get away from one’s troubles, yet just like in If I met a Magician, the men are never truly able to ‘escape’. Whilst the men seem to lose themselves in their promiscuously precarious lifestyles filled with sexual gratification, alcoholism and marijuana in Vienna, they are inevitably obliged to face the stresses of their realities that await them in Bulgaria. When they are together, the men unite as blood ‘brothers’ with their alternative identities. The heart-warming and artistic way in which the director visually narrates the stories of these men couldn’t have been crafted in a more imaginative way.
Both directors compellingly allow viewers a glimpse into the lives of their extraordinary characters that face hardships with the relatable qualms of life such as poverty and war, portraying their sexual orientations as far from being a limiting element to their fascinating identities. In essence, the overarching message that seamlessly runs through both films is that no matter who you are, we are not that different after all.
Want to read more on LGBT film? Check out our article Lost in Translation and our interview with Brothers of the Night director Patric Chiha.