Reviewing The XPOSED Queer Film Festival 2017

The 12th annual Xposed Queer Film Festival featured a fabulous international mix of new and old feature films, shorts, discussions and parties at Kino Moviemento, Südblock and Aquarium from the 11th to 14th of May. This year’s theme was connection – whether it be on a physical level, the more elusive emotional level or a little of both. Excellent choice, festival programmers!

The festival was bookended with two French films, opening with Jérôme Reybaud’s quirky road trip drama Jours de France (Four Days in France) and closing with Alain Guiraudie’s pan-sexual fantasy fairytale Rester vertical (Staying Vertical). The impressive shorts lineup was broken into seven distinct categories, the “Transformations” and “Feminist Film Week present – Girls < 3 Girls” were especially interesting. It’s a shame that there wasn’t enough time to see all the shorts on offer.

Special festival guest Austrian feminist icon Valie Export presented her 1977 feature Unsichtbare Gegner (Invisible Adversaries) and gave an in-depth talk on Saturday at Aquarium. Another highlight of the festival was Wieland Speck – longtime Berlinale Panorama curator – whose 1985 debut film Westler was shown with live Arabic translation as a part of CIMA Berlin’s monthly queer film series. Both Export and Speck had Q&As after their films, the former in German and the latter in English.

Jours de France (Four Days in France)

Jours de France starts with a man leaving his half-naked sleeping boyfriend in the middle of the night. He’s driving out of Paris with a single duffel bag, CDs and his cell phone to keep him company.  What he lacks in physical baggage he makes up for in emotional. With no real direction in mind, he aimlessly takes to the open road looking for lodging and sexual adventures through the gay hookup app Grindr.

The comic moments of the film, which are often unconventional and sometimes quite confusing, allow the audience to feel an odd closeness to Pierre (Pascal Cervo). Some of the scenes with strong-willed and direct women are often quite funny. A female baker offering cheap sexual favors to men in parking lots felt a bit misplaced, but the scenes with hitchhiker Diane (Fabienne Babe) and actress Judith (Liliane Montevecchi) are quite entertaining.

The music is well chosen and only includes songs that are within the story, mostly classical pieces. It almost has a documentary feel to it, allowing the story to unfold with the characters’ movements and silent glances leading the story. Most of the camera movements feel authentic and don’t fall into the trappings that make other films feel false, overediting and short takes. Even the shots from inside the cars feel real enough that it brings about a slight feeling of car sickness. Sabine Lancelin’s cinematography is lovely and moves the story along nicely. Characters seamlessly move in and out of frame with no sense of rush. It would be interesting to see Jours de France as a staged play as the characters and the dialogue often have a theatrical feel to it.

Unsichtbare Gegner (Invisible Adversaries)

There are several scenes in Valie Export’s experimental film that are funny and others that are just absurd. The fact that the woman is a photographer and she and her partner make recreations of famous photos and paintings with just her in frame is interesting. The fading out from the new image to the old image is a cool technique.

The use of the sound editing, especially when paired with the use of still photos are quite funny, one scene in a darkroom where the lead actress is developing photographs vaginas. This black and white film is a fascinating example of the female gaze. The discussion of relationships and unique dialogue from the couple stick with you once the film is over. One scene in the bathroom where the man helps the woman dry herself is particularly strange and entertaining yet feels honest.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Export’s discussion at Aquarium on Saturday was well-attended. Her reputation as an international feminist art icon was well-represented by her debut film.


Before the 1985 film Westler begins the audience is introduced to German director Wieland Speck with a short clip. It shows that he was always living in a communal, shared apartment in Berlin for the past 40 years. He explains that he never understood the desire to live alone. He’s a good poster boy for the festival’s connection theme.

This is one of the highlights of Xposed, discussing the film with Speck after the May 12th screening. It is interesting to find out that he initially wanted to make this film for his East Berlin boyfriend to get the attention of East German authorities who would likely throw him out of the East. What a surprise it was when he received a call from his boyfriend who was already in the West. Luckily for him he found the superb actor Rainer Strecker to fill in and play the role of East Berliner Thomas.
It’s funny that Speck thought that once his boyfriend was already in West Germany he didn’t have to make the film anymore. Good thing that ZDF was already on-board to produce the film. Speck says that he changed the way he approached the filmmaking because he considered his audience, how he was making it for television at a time when there were only 3 networks. He said that because the film was advertised just as a love story between a West German and East German, that many people were “forced” to come out as they watched it with their families. It makes one wonder if it was easier or more difficult this way.

The CIMA Berlin monthly film series presents Berlin films with live Arabic translation. At first, this is a bit of a shock – reading English subtitles while hearing German and the live Arabic translation simultaneously. It took some getting used to but after a while it wasn’t so bad. A big round of applause is due for CIMA’s efforts at promoting the integration of queer Arabic-speaking refugees. Perhaps they will incorporate Farsi translation for the refugees from Iran and Afghanistan who don’t speak Arabic.

Westler’s music soundtrack and score really get one into the 1980s feel. While it is a surprise to have the movie’s first scene take place in sunny and bright Los Angeles, driving around in a convertible, it somehow fits before introducing the two Berlins.

The complimentary champagne toast with Wieland Speck and Valie Export after the discussions was very nice treat, a fabulous way to end Friday night’s screenings.

La Noche (The Night)

How strange it was to start my afternoon watching an animated family film at Moviemento and end my evening watching La Noche. The two films couldn’t be farther from one another in almost every regard. The conversation that I had with my female friend about the Xposed brochure on the table was enlightening. It included a photo of two women in bed embracing each other. “Ist das eine Frau oder ein Mann?” she asks, as she points to the butch looking woman. We continued in broken German – me being from the US and her being an Afghani teen from Iran – about the presence of female couples and their existence in Germany and the US. She says that in Afghanistan and Iran two men can be together but not two women.

As the growing crowd is waiting to enter Edgardo Castro’s Argentinian film La Noche (The Night) two German-speakers – one foreigner and the other German – are eating spargel (white asparagus) and boiled potatoes. How German. I’m wondering if they know how explicit the film is that we are about to watch. Perhaps graphic cinema gives them an appetite. At 8:08pm the crowd is getting louder as they wait to enter Kino 1, maybe from excitement or maybe just from getting restless. Many of the screenings at Xposed were running a little behind schedule, usually giving the volunteers some extra time to sell more raffle tickets.

Edgardo Castro is not only the writer-director behind La Noche, but he’s also the main actor. He really throws himself into the role of Martin, a 40-year-old lonely man on an endless quest to drink, do drugs and participate in various sexual escapades with multiple partners. He lives the gritty life of a lost soul wandering around the seedy part of Buenos Aires.

It was a bit of a surprise to see 18-20 people leave the cinema throughout the duration of the film. The Xposed volunteer did warn us of the long running time, 135 minutes, before it started although he said that it’s worth it. I didn’t really notice people leaving until after some of the more explicit sex scenes. These non-simulated scenes were performed by Castro himself. Most of the sex was not that sexy but more depressing and realistic. One early scene shows Martin’s pre-op transsexual friend in a threesome, which almost felt more like watching Animal Planet because it didn’t feel like the characters were too excited. The earliest threesome to leave the theater was a group directly in front of me composed of two transsexuals and one woman; they whispered amongst themselves for at least 5-10 minutes before finally deciding to leave the theater. After they left, others excused themselves every 10-15 minutes. It’s a shame that they did not give the film a chance. The middle-aged man who sat directly to my right who had his jacket strategically placed on his lap during the sex scenes huffed and puffed during more mundane scenes before finally walking out with about 20 minutes left to the film.

The last two scenes, the former showing the complete degradation and low point for Martin was interesting and a bit comical as well. The very last shot showing Martin talking to his friend was very endearing and heartfelt, a bit of a 180 from the rest of the film. It was quite a surprise after watching the rest of the drug and sex-infused documentary-style film that did not seem optimistic and didn’t shy away from showing the depths of human depravity.

Some of the camera movements are a bit shaky and not always focus while following the action of the actors, which makes one wonder how experienced the cameraperson was. Perhaps Castro intentionally wants that feeling.

Overall, even though one could argue that there were a few too many unsimulated blow jobs and flaccid penises on-screen there was an honest and unglamorous feel to the overall cinematic experience. Overheard after leaving the theater, one man said to his partner, “Was, aber das Ende war schön.” I agree, earlier in the film it was a lot to handle but the ending was lovely.

MeTube 1: August Sings Carmen Habanera 

German filmmaker Daniel Moshel’s peculiar short that is part of his MeTube series is both mesmerizing and shocking. It’s for sure not meant for all audiences as not everyone is a fan pleather bondage suits and gag balls.

This trippy experience starts off calm enough with the Nerd (August Schram) singing Carmen Habanera in a nondescript room while his mom brings him toast and milk. It quickly morphs into a whole different mood, introducing scantily clad musicians and others in pleather bondage suits. A disco dance party ensues. The sound editing, costuming and editing make this short a visual treat that won’t let you down.

Etage X 

Francy Fabritz’s short Etage X focuses on the mise en scene and the quiet glances of its two stars. The absence of a score and very limited sounds turn up the tension and really highlights the pleasure and pain-infused sounds. If one tries to think about a bizarre situation that could take place between two strangers in a broken elevator, this scenario would still be hard to imagine. It’s refreshing to see so many films at Xposed this year that relies so heavily on what’s not being said rather than having to have a barrage of unnecessary dialogue.

Perhaps Xposed’s central theme could have also highlighted the talent of debut filmmakers as six of the eight films shown were the first features for their prospective directors – Valie Export, Wieland Speck, Edgardo Castro, co-directors Abigail Spindel and Paolo Cesar Toledo, Shu Lea Chang, Jérôme Reybaud. The programming, while being a nice mix of fleshy and quiet moments was fantastic.

by Lindsay Bellinger

Powered by Blogger.