For complete festival information and to buy tickets, visit reelingfilmfestival.org/2020. Ratings are on a **** scale but I'm a tough grader, so nothing gets over ***.
Note: This year's installment of Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival officially takes place online and began Sept. 24. The festival lasts through Oct. 4, although select films will be available for screening for a few days past closing.
Tu Me Manques ( *** ) ( Sept. 30-Oct. 3 )
Don't let the confusion you feel in the first few minutes of this Bolivia/US production drive you away. Trust me, it's worth sticking with to see one of the festival's best films It's "inspired by a true story" and, we learn at the end, a show that was named "Play of the Year" in Bolivia. Since director Rodrigo Bellott is the only writer credited, we must assume he is Sebastian ( Fernando Barbosa ), a Bolivian living in New York in 2014. In 2015, he's back in Bolivia, trying to get his play produced. A prospective producer says he'll never find ten actors willing to play gay there, so Sebas, as he's known, ups the ante to have 30 actors playing Gabriel, his ex, who died the year before. ( Three of them also play him in the flashback sequences, sometimes switching in the same scene. ) In 2016 in Brooklyn, Sebas is being interviewed about his play, leading to a surprising revelation at the end. The main story is about Gabriel coming out and falling in love with Sebas, after being repressed in Bolivia by a conservative Catholic upbringing. After Gabriel's death, his father, Jorge ( Oscar MartÃnez ), comes to New York and asks Sebas to show and tell him what his son was really like. Each in his way blames the other for Gabriel's death, but they both loved him and try to get along. Among other stops on the gay New York tour are a drag bar and a church where the priest offers Jorge a different interpretation of Bible phrases cited as condemnations of homosexuality. Alhough Bellott is more clever than he needs to be, he does such a wonderful job with the complexity that we almost get used to it, while also developing strong feelings for the characters. You won't find the title in a Spanish dictionarybelieve me, I triedbecause it's French ( explained by Almodovar favorite Rossy de Palma at the two-thirds mark ).
Luz ( *** ) ( Oct. 1-4 )
Some guys think Grindr is the place they'll meet Mr. Right. I'm not saying Jon Garcia has a better idea, but the writer-director ( The Falls trilogy ) makes a pretty good case for prison as an alternative. Ruben ( Ernesto Reyes ) is incarcerated with Carlos ( Jesse Tayeh ), his cellmate, attacking Ruben almost immediately. When Ruben fights back he gains some respect, and yada yada, you've seen prison movies before. It's not clear how much time passes before Carlos says, "Stay here long enough, you can't tell the difference between a man and a woman," and proceeds to prove it; but after Carlos is released, Ruben serves three more years. His release is around the halfway point, leaving about an hour to resolve whether the men will pick up where they left off and, perhaps more importantly for Ruben, whether he will be able to get his young daughter back from his criminal cousin who's been taking care of her. There's bad blood between the cousins. While I have some minor issues with the script, Luz is shot and acted like an "A" movie, certainly not festival filler.
A Skeleton in the Closet ( **1/2 ) ( Oct. 1-4 )
If you've ever been to an unpleasant family reunion you may want to skip Manuel's ( Facundo Gambandé ). Or maybe not, if misery loves company. Manuel hasn't been back to his hometown from Buenos Aires, where he's studying architecture, since he came out to his family on Christmas Eve. That didn't go well. He's had consolation in the arms of his boyfriend MÃ”ximo until recently, when MÃ”ximo moved to Denmark. Hoping his parents will give him money to join MÃ”ximo is one of Manuel's reasons for going home for their anniversary party. Younger siblings Clara and Facundo still live at home, and their father's pride and joy, Luisito, is coming over from Barcelona, where he's a tennis champion. The grandparents, who don't know about Manuel, come to dinner and Grandma's homophobic remarks make everyone uncomfortable. It being a small town, everyone knows everyone else's business; yet there's still a secret within his family that Manuel soon learns. That's a lot of exposition and I've only scratched the surface. I didn't mention Manuel's cooking skills, which threaten to turn this into a foodie movie, or the former teacher he had a crush on. This would work better as the introduction to a series, because by the time we learn all the characters and their background, there's little time to go anywhere with them. I was tempted to agree with Manuel when he said of the town, "Things are boring here"; but I must admit I teared up at the end, so I must have gotten more attached to the characters and their situations than I thought I did. Incidentally, the original Spanish title, one of the longest ever, translates to "We All Have a Dead Person in the Closet or a Child in the Closet."
Minyan ( **1/2 ) ( Oct. 4-7 )
This coming-of-age story centers on David ( Samuel H. Levine ), a gay teenager who has a hard time fitting in. He was born in Russia, although he has no accent of any kind. In November 1986, he transfers from a Jewish school to public school, over his mother's objections. His newly widowed grandfather ( Ron Rifkin ) needs David's help to move to a subsidized apartment. The synagogue in the building needs an extra male body to reach the ten needed to conduct services. David notices men and notices men noticing him. He follows men in the park and the library restroom but doesn't have an all-out sexual encounter until he passes out drunk and the bartender ( Alex Hurt ) brings him home. You'd think a gay bartender at that time, especially one who keeps a list of his friends with AIDS, would know to use a condom, but that probably didn't photograph as hot; and their two sex scenes, totaling maybe five minutes, are definitely hot. David befriends two old widowers with a secret who live next door to Grandpa, and meets a girl at school he can bring home to Mother. Like this film, David can be all things to all peoplefor at least five minutes.
Sublet ( *** ) ( Oct. 4-7 )
With its intergenerational leading men, the question is whether Sublet will be a story of love or friendship. If I were Michael ( John Benjamin Hickey ), a New York Times travel writer doing a piece on Tel Aviv, I'd vote for a love story with Tomer ( Niv Nissim ), the film student half his age he sublets an apartment from but winds up rooming with because Tomer has nowhere to go. Of course, what the two men get from each other turns out to be infinitely more valuable than the sex they may or may not have. ( That won't affect what happens between Nissim and me in my dreams tonight. ) ( Hey, I'm a professional, but I'm also a gay man! ) With Tomer as his tour guide, Michael winds up seeing things aside from the usual tourist attractions in his five-day stay, from a modern dance performance to the kibbutz where Tomer's mother lives. Michael learns that his husband in New York has gone over his head in planning to have a child through a surrogate. Tomer is very casual about sex, including ordering it "like a pizza" from a website. He may be like Michael in a generation or so, but for now he's enjoying being young and beautiful. As he tells Michael, "Not all of us like cheesy romance and happy endings." Their time together reminds Michael he was young once and gives Tomer a preview of his possible future, to be taken as something to look forward to or a cautionary tale. Israeli director and co-writer Eytan Fox ( Yossi & Jagger ), who was born in New York, is making his first English-language film. He builds the story slowly and carefully, with very fine results.