LGBT fans of great international cinema in the metro D.C. area are about to get an amazing early holiday present: the 2016 AFI European Film Showcase.
Presented in partnership with the Delegation of the European Union to the United States, the 29th annual Showcase will include 47 films representing all 28 European Union member states. The Showcase runs through Dec. 18 at the AFI Silver Theatre in downtown Silver Spring. Complete details can be found at AFI.com/silver/eushowcase.
The Showcase features a wide variety of diverse films, with several movies on LGBT themes and directed by Europe’s leading queer auteurs. Spain, for example is represented by its official 2016 Oscar selection, the 29th feature film by iconoclastic openly gay director Pedro Almodóvar (“Law of Desire,” the Academy Award-winning “All About My Mother” and most recently “I’m So Excited”). In sharp contrast to his early exuberant farces and his later lush melodramas, “Julieta” is a gritty and deeply emotional exploration of the bonds between mothers and daughters. Based on three stories by Canadian writer Alice Munro, the fascinating movie follows the title character through two tumultuous periods of her life.
Along with other films, France is represented by “Frantz” by wily gay director François Ozon. In his latest film, set in the wake of World War I, French veteran Adrien Rivoire (Pierre Niney) visits the German town of Quedlinburg to place flowers on the grave fallen soldier Frantz Hoffmeister. Emotional and patriotic complications ensue when Adrien encounters Frantz’s grieving parents and former fiancé.
Two Greek films turn to the sexual and social shenanigans of middle-aged men. In “Chevalier,” an outlandish satire written and directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari, six middle-aged men meet aboard a yacht for the ridiculous annual competition for the “chevalier” victory signet ring. In “Suntan,” writer and director Argyris Papadimitropoulos tells a sensitive “coming-of-middle age” story set on the wild party island of Antiparos.
Portugal is represented by visionary queer director João Pedro Rodriques. Winner of the Best Director Award at the Locarno International Film Festival, “The Ornithologist” follows the surreal adventures of the strapping birder Fernando (Paul Hamy) as he searches for the rare black stork. Swept away by rapids, he is taken on a mystical journey of self-discovery that mirrors the legends of St. Anthony of Padua. The film features a celebration of queer sexuality, lush cinematography and fantastic wordplay and imagery.
“I choose to pay back my haters” is the haunting cry of the title character of “I, Olga Hepnarová.” In 1973, Hepnarová drove a truck down a Prague sidewalk, killing eight and injuring a dozen more. In 1975, she became the last women executed in Czechoslovakia. Written and directed by Petr Kazda and featuring a powerhouse performance by Michalina Olszanska, the film looks back on Hepnarová’s short, brutal life, including her institutionalization for psychiatric disorders under the repressive Soviet regime, her abuse by family members and bullies at school and her sexual relationships with both men and women.
Finally, Irish novelist-turned-screenwriter and director John Butler offers a fresh spin on the boarding school coming-of-age story in “Handsome Devil.” Mysterious star athlete Conor is sent to a rugby-obsessed all-boys boarding school and is forced to room with Ned, a rebellious music-loving outcast. Under the watchful eyes of the homophobic rugby coach and the secretive English teacher (Andrew Scott, “Pride”), the two form an unlikely alliance and find their own voices.