Alien Sex

I’ve honestly got mixed feelings abound Alien Sex, the Queer Arts Festival show I saw on Thursday. I’d tweeted previously that I didn’t really know what to expect—but it turns out that wasn’t true: I came in expecting weird queer/genderqueer sexy sci-fi, and I was naturally all over that. Also, I think I was expecting an overall narrative or at least overarching themes. Because I usually do, and I always look for it anyway even when it’s not there, because that’s how my brain works.

What I actually saw was a number of loosely connected vignettes, some dealing with the topics of alien life/love (but not so much with alien sex) and most dealing with human love and sexuality, with a strong focus on consent or dominance/submission play. Half the material was original, half consisted of readings from Linda Smukler / Samuel Ace, and bits of David Mamet’s play All Men Are Whores.

And I’ll be honest, I definitely enjoyed the original stuff more—the silly and playful sci-fi, in particularly the intriguing conversation with an alien who has no concept of “you” or “I”, only “we”, and what death means to people like that; the high-energy dancing and drumming, the spin-the-bottle game / consent workshop. I’m not comfortable with D/S in the first place, and in some of the bits it wasn’t clear that we were dealing with people playing out or negotiating a scene. Challenging stuff for sure, but isn’t that what the Queer Arts Festival is all about?

The problem is that Alien Sex doesn’t feel like one show, it feels like at least three: the Mamet, the poetry, and the sci-fi. I understand that it’s a work in progress, and it’s supposed to be non-narrative, but I didn’t see anything tying all these scenes together into a whole. And though I definitely respect the creators’ goal to incorporate a diversity of voices, it feels like these voices right now aren’t theirs, in the sense that they’re incorporated into the show’s overall vision.

Mind you: as frustrating as the show’s disconnectedness is, I did adore this look at the creative process, and I’m very grateful to the QAF for showcasing it. One of my favourite aspects of the East Side Culture Crawl is to see artists’ studios as places of active creation: the rags, the gloves, the half-finished pieces, the artist hirself interacting with customers and with their peers. Art doesn’t spring forth fully formed from the aether. Art evolves.

And I can’t wait to see what Alien Sex will evolve into.

Sunny Drake’s “X”

I saw this hilarious fourth-wall-breaking one-man show on Saturday, as part of the Queer Arts Festival. It’s a weird little piece, cleverly self-referential, making great use of props and multimedia, with several stories evolving in parallel, occasionally meeting and influencing each other. In other words, right up my alley!

But in addition to all this, it’s very painful and personal, with the theme of addiction (specifically alcoholism) running through the main stories. And the thing is, those stories were extremely relatable, being all about the need to escape into a magical world where bullies don’t exist and you can be any beautiful pop princess you want; about it’s not just about you, and the harm you cause yourself does affect others; about how trying to quit and living in the real world will mean dealing with all the emotional issues that drove you to escape in the first place. So, check it out if you can. Whatever your vice is, this show will definitely speak to you. It made me reflect, made me feel, made my brain spin. That’s a Saturday night well spent.

PS: actually, maybe it made my brain spin a little too much because there were some parts I just couldn’t follow. The puppets in the magical world, for one were doing things that seemed unrelated to the humans’ doings. And the thing with the heart and the ribcage, what was that about? At first I relaxed and expected it all to come together eventually but it never did as far as I could tell. Part of me wants to watch it a second time to see if it might make more sense… but I think if I did it would lose its magic, so I’ll just let it go.

My 2014 Queer Film Festival Schedule

It’s that time of year again! Whoooooo!

And just FYI, I am planning to keep on writing reviews of the movies I see. I know, last year I fell way behind, though I did get them all done eventually… But I’ll do better this time, even if it means trimming the reviews themselves down a bit. Sometimes I have too many thoughts, y’know?

Thursday, August 14

Just the opening gala, and I am totally looking forward to it. I adored the original short, I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone / Eu Não Quero Voltar Sozinho, shown back in the 2012 VQFF.

Final choice: The Way He Looks / Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho

Friday, August 15


a) Boys / Jongens (a coming-out-slash-first-love-story between two 15-year-old boys) and Eastern Boys, “a seductive drama/thriller/love story” with hustlers and gangs and commentary on France’s immigration policies.


b) Appropriate Behavior (not sure what this one’s about. There’s lesbians and closet-related hijinks and pansexual explorations. I think it’s a comedy?); and A Street in Palermo / Via Castellana Bandiera, another lesbian comedy, this one satirising Italian society.

At this point I’m leaning towards international lesbian comedy. Besides, I’m less interested in Eastern Boys and I’ll have the chance to see Boys / Jongens later in the festival.

Final choice: Appropriate Behavior and A Street in Palermo / Via Castellana Bandiera

Saturday, August 16

I’ve got other plans that night, so I’ll only be able to see the early-early show, a documentary about Melbourne’s fat femme synchronised swim team, plus what looks like a bunch of sexy and/or funny shorts. Too bad, I would have liked to see GRIND: Hookup Shorts.

Final choice: Aquaporko! and Grrrls in Space

Sunday, August 17

Early-early show: Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People, which is exactly what it says on the tin. Then it’ll be either:

a) Drunktown’s Finest, a drama of life, love and identities on a Navajo reservation; and A Self-Made Man, a documentary about transman Tony Ferraiolo and the trans youth he inspires,


b) Test, a love story set in 1985 San Francisco; and Bad Hair / Pelo Malo, a Venezuelan story of economic inequality, intolerance, and a working-class boy who wants to straighten his hair and become a performer.

Both sets look good! However, I’m slightly leaning towards the gay stuff.

Final choice: Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People, Test and Bad Hair / Pelo Malo.

Monday, August 18


a) Boys / Jongens—see Friday above—and My Child / Benim Çocuğum, stories of families of LGBT people in Turkey. Probably not too different from last year’s Mama Rainbow,


Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty, a documentary on sexuality, beauty and disabilities; and Out in the Night, the true story of the New Jersey 4.

Right, so I do want to see Boys, and why not get an extra helping of warm fuzzies with My Child?

Final choice: Boys / Jongens and My Child / Benim Çocuğum

Tuesday, August 19


a) I Feel Like Disco, a disco-flavoured coming-of-age story, followed by Hey, Hey My Kid is Gay, a panel discussion of LGBTQ allies; and Love is Strange, a drama with older gay characters, starring John Lithgow,


b) Boy + Sikat + Das Phallometer (3 shorts, the first of which is a drama of ambition and opportunism) and Pierrot Lunaire: Butch Dandy (a “gender-bending operatic thriller” adaptation of Andy Schoenberg’s poetic melodrama Pierrot Lunaire), which looks too weird to pass up. And I don’t even know what the hell Das Phallometer is about, except it adds up to “weird and German.” Suits me fine!

Final choice: Boy + Sikat + Das Phallometer and Pierrot Lunaire: Butch Dandy

Wednesday, August 20


a) Changemakers (a selection of local queer documentary makers) and The Coast is Queer (films by local queer filmmakers)


b) Test (see Sunday above) and Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger, a look at the amazing artist and activist Kate Bornstein.

Easy decision, though. You don’t think I’d miss The Coast is Queer, do you? I mean, I’m skipping the last day of grass volleyball league to catch this show, that’s how much I want to see it.

Final choice: Changemakers and The Coast is Queer

Thursday, August 21


a) The Way He Looks (see Opening Gala above) and Eastern Boys (see Friday above)


b) The Centrepiece Gala, Children 404, an documentary on the lives of queer children and teens in Putin’s Russia, focusing on an online support forum of the same name currently under legal attack by the authorities.

This one’s easy as well: I’ll already have seen The Way He Looks and I’m not that interested in Eastern Boys.

Final choice: Children 404.

Friday, August 22


a) Tru Love, a lesbian love story set in Toronto; and Quick Change, a drama set in Manila’s underground trans women community.


b) The Third One / El Tercero, a sexy and romantic Argentinian drama; and Salvation Army / L’armée du Salut, a gay drama of identities, race, class and domestic abuse, set in Morocco and Switzerland, and based on an award-winning novel.

Final choice: tentatively, The Third One / El Tercero and Salvation Army / L’armée du Salut.

Saturday, August 23

Early-early show: POWER, “an edgy, hip-hop cabaret show” featuring a diverse youth cast, taking place in East Van with what looks like a strange meta storyline. Then it’ll be either:

a) The Dog, a documentary about John Wojtowicz the man who robbed a bank, served 20 years in prison and got played by Al Pacino in 1975’s Dog Day Afternoon; and Winter Journey, a weird Russian love/hate story between a refined opera singer and a street thug


b) Of Girls and Horses, a German coming-of-age lesbian tale set on a horse ranch; and Anita’s Last Cha Cha / Ang Huling Cha Cha ni Anita, a little rural Bulacan slice-of-life “with a few touches of magical realism thrown in”. Sounds nifty.

I think I’ll go with the lesbian stories this time around. I’m a bit curious about The Dog even though I’ve never seen Dog Day Afternoon, but Winter Journey might be too dark and gritty for me… plus I’m kind of in the mood for super-atmospheric, simple-storied German lesbian cinema.

Final choice: POWER, Of Girls and Horses and Anita’s Last Cha Cha / Ang Huling Cha Cha ni Anita

Sunday, August 24

Only one choice, the Closing Gala: a crazy rock-n-rolling musical with lesbian love triangles, the criminal underworld and a climactic battle of the bands. Fuck yeah.

Final choice: GIRLTRASH: All Night Long

TOTAL NUMBER OF SHOWS: 20. Yikes. But it’ll totally be worth it!

What I learned from playing Journey

Journey is a wonderful little PS3 game from thatgamecompany (the same people responsible for flOw and Flower). It’s got breathtaking visuals, immersive gameplay, and a unique story. Basically a platformer puzzle game, what really makes it come alive is the interaction with the world’s… inhabitants, and one’s interpretation of what the journey actually means. What’s at the end? Enlightenment? Apotheosis? Heaven? Hell? Personally, I think the end doesn’t matter. It’s the journey that matters, and it’s taught me some very important life lessons.

1) Go with the flow. This is common to all exploration games, that there’s always something to see, and if you think you’re stuck there’s always a way out. But here it was taken up to eleven. Heading for the nearest landmark (or the Mountain itself) was always the right answer—or, in a couple of scenes, following the cloth creatures. Bottom line: always head towards whatever looks interesting.

2) Be thankful. I have no idea how sapient the cloth creatures are supposed to be, but I like to think they helped me along purely out of affection and generosity. When I sang and the little ones swarmed in, giving me a boost, I always made sure to thank them. Because you never journey alone.

3) Have fun. A life-changing spiritual journey is no excuse to not cut loose and relax. Stop and smell the flowers. Or slide down massive sandy slopes with your newfound kite creature friends, jumping and floating and running through stony arches.

4) Don’t give up. Again, adventure / puzzle game. But not all such games have the character struggling up a gigantic mountain, freezing to death in a blizzard. I was so immersed in the game that it never occurred to me to go back down, and when he finally collapsed, I just sat there in shock until the Ancients came. Bottom line: push yourself to your limit, even if there are no benevolent astral beings waiting for you there.

The Culture Crawl: Hungry for inspiration

This blog post has been percolating in my brain ever since the East Side Culture Crawl a week ago. This year I revisited 1000 Parker Street and the Mergatroid Building, both excellent choices if you want to catch lots of studios in a short time. Also, it turns out, excellent choices if you want to enjoy delicious mini-donuts and peppermint hot chocolate, provided by friendly vendors outside. How long have they been there? I don’t remember them from the last time I was at 1000 Parker…

Anyway, I did more than enjoy a lot of artwork. See, in the last few weeks, I’ve taken up drawing again. That’s been an on-and-off hobby of mine; I have absolutely no natural talent for it, but I enjoy taking up a pencil and doodling whatever my hand wants to doodle. And I realise I want to practice this more regularly, see where it takes me. So I think part of me was looking for inspiration at the Crawl, some clue to help me figure out what would work for me. Maybe that’s the wrong approach—I need to find my own way, especially if I’m just starting out, or I’d just be aping other people. And it’s hard to avoid comparing myself to these excellent artists—just as I do with my web development career (the thing that pays the bills) I have to balance having something to strive for and being intimidated by superior talents.

Still, it was instructive. Some artwork resonated more with me, and this may be a clue as to what my own art will become. My favourite artist this year was Arleigh Wood. I love her subject matter, mostly quiet beachscapes it seems, but it’s her signature style that I find most attractive. There’s just something about the muted colours and rich textures, contrasted with startling touches of gold leaf… It’s something to chew on, at least. I know the answers will come.

Vancouver Queer Film Festival 2013: Final Thoughts

Well, that was fun! A lot of movies seen, a lot lovely people met! The VQFF never disappoints.

Well, that was fun! A lot of movies seen, a lot lovely people met! The VQFF never disappoints. Let’s recap, shall we?

Number of films seen: 17. I’d originally planned 19, but decided to skip In-between Days and She Said Boom at the last minute.

Number of night I did not see a film: Just one: Saturday, August 17.

Length of time between the end of the festival and my last review: 20 days. Oy. In the past I’ve always been able to post reviews a day or two after each movie. This year it didn’t work out so well due to my being insanely busy right at the wrong time, and thus having little energy for blogging. To be honest that stressed me out more than it should have, and for the first time made me see writing reviews as something of a chore. That’s no good. I’ll need to plan things out better next year.

Favourite feature film: a tie between Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish and G.B.F. The former is a deep and touching tale of identity and transformation with mythological callbacks; the latter is a pants-wettingly hilarious comedy that gleefully plays with every high school and coming-out cliché in the book.

Favourite short film: Kimchi Fried Dumplings. Honourable mentions go to Bill is a Photographer and Bill Please! (also from The Coast is Queer), as well as all those amazing porn films of yesteryear.

Least favourite film: I Do. It looked good on paper, but the execution just didn’t work. On the bright side, it did convince me to go to International Village and watch In The Name Of… and Bwakaw, so that worked out all right.

Movies I would have liked to see but didn’t: R/EVOLVE, The Outs, Head of the Class and Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf?

Percentage of subtitled films I saw: not counting shorts, 69.23% or 9 / 13. Interesting. I didn’t even notice it until a couple days into the festival when it hit me that all the films I’d seen were subtitled, the first English-language feature film being Camp Beaverton on Wednesday. (Actually, Hors les murs / Beyond the Walls was missing subtitles for the first 10 minutes or so due to a technical snafu. I speak French so I didn’t mind too much.) It’s a nice reminder that queerness is not just a North American thing, and cultures all over the world have something to say on sexuality, gender and identity.

VQFF Review: Frauensee

I’m honestly not sure what to make of Frauensee. It was an interesting movie, well-acted, with some nicely-explored characters and gorgeous shots of the German countryside. But there was no real plot, no resolution to the personal drama or even to the one minor side plotline. It left me feeling vaguely frustrated.

I’m honestly not sure what to make of Frauensee. It was an interesting movie, well-acted, with some nicely-explored characters and gorgeous shots of the German countryside. But there was no real plot, no resolution to the personal drama or even to the one minor side plotline. It left me feeling vaguely frustrated.

Maybe I’m approaching it from the wrong perspective. My only previous exposure to German lesbian cinema is To Faro, the 2011 VQFF’s opening gala film, and it was similar in a lot of ways: big focus on atmosphere, minimal plot that left lots of room for emotional drama but without any real character growth, and a very open-ended conclusion that wasn’t so much a dénouement as just an ending, and which left a bittersweet aftertaste. So maybe this is typical of the genre?

Rosa is a warden looking over a lake in the country, setting traps and watching for poachers. Her lover Kirsten is a high-powered architect from the big city who owns and fully renovated a house by the lake, which she comes down to on the weekend to relax. Though half the time, she’s still running her business over the phone anyway. I think in her eyes Rosa is just a part of her weekend getaways: she enjoys them but has no interest in making it full-time. Kirsten does care about Rosa but doesn’t know anything about her world, and doesn’t particularly care to.

Case in point: the one side plot involves some mysterious poacher stealing fish from Rosa’s traps. If she catches him, Rosa would have every right to ban him from the lake, but Kirsten advises her to talk with him, get his side of the story, maybe find some middle ground that could keep both of them happy. Not only does this come of as really condescending, it just reflects how out of touch Kirsten is: I’m sure in the big city it’s all about compromise and you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours, but in the country, it’s not okay to steal from people and damage their property.

On the weekend’s first day, Rosa catches two young college students, Evi and Olivia, stealing from her trap (because they forgot to bring enough food) and setting camp on an island that’s a nature preserve (against Rosa’s explicit instructions). Instead of throwing the book at them, Rosa joins them and then invites them back to Kirsten’s house for dinner, then allows them to stay for a few days. Evi starts to hit on Rosa almost continually whenever she thinks they’re alone, and while Rosa is kind of annoyed, she isn’t exactly saying no either. Olivia isn’t thrilled either, though she’s learned to put up with Evi’s shameless flirting.

All of their tensions and frustrations come to a boil a couple days later during a booze- and pot-fueled party at the house, where everybody spills their guts to everybody else. Nothing actually changes, though, and I don’t know if anybody has learned anything. It was all revelations that the audience and most of the characters knew anyway, the only difference is that it’s all in the open.

The last scene shows Rosa leaving for work at dawn as usual, the three other women still sleeping. But where is Rosa really headed? Is she running away from all these new revelations? Is she finally leaving Kirsten and heading off into the sunrise of a brand new life? Or doggedly going back to work just to go through this same crap over and over?

So yes, like I said, an interesting film. It didn’t really speak to me, but I did quite enjoy it, not least because of the gorgeous shots of the lake—the huge sky, the rippling water, the surrounding woods, the wind in the reeds—and the glimpse of quiet German rural life. I’m not sure if it was the best choice for a closing gala film—the last two were definitely more upbeat—but hey: a little moodiness and introspection never hurt anybody.

VQFF Review: I Do

I Do is the first dud of the festival. It looked good on paper, and was pleasant enough to watch, but I found it preachy and uninspired, and overally very forgettable.

I Do is the first dud of the festival. It looked good on paper, and was pleasant enough to watch, but I found it preachy and uninspired, and overally very forgettable.

Ten years ago, Jack’s brother Peter was on top of the world: he’d just gotten his green card (they’re both British, having lived in the States since they were teens), and his lovely wife Mya was expecting; but later that night after a celebratory dinner he was run over by a car in full view of Jack and Mya. Since then, Jack has become a surrogate father to his niece and a quasi-husband-type-person to Mya and has focused pretty much all his emotional energies on supporting them. He used to be an avid photographer but now is employed as an assistant in a photo studio, repairing cameras and so on. He has little time for relationships, instead hooking up with fuckbuddies from time to time.

Then out of the blue, two things happen: Jack’s visa is about to run out, and due to new rules put in after 9/11 there’s no way to renew it in time. He wants to stay and help take care of Mya and Tara, but how? The only option is marriage, and that has to be to a woman. Even though same-sex marriage is legal in New York State, it is not recognised by immigration law. His sister-in-law—the first logical choice—will have no part of it, since it might lead to jail time if authorities found out the fraud. His next choice is his lesbian BFF Alison, who agrees.

Around the same time, he meets someone at a gallery showing: Mano, a suave, urbane, intellectual Spanish-American architect, and it’s love at first sight. But their budding romance is complicated by Jack’s need to maintain his straight masquerade, and his constant running off to take care of Mya.

Eventually, Alison gets spooked from repeatedly dealing with Immigrations and their questioning, and sitting home alone every night while Jack is gallivanting off with Mano, and asks for a divorce. Coincidentally, Mano has to return home to take care of his ill father. He invites Jack to move to Spain with him—they could even get married!—but Jack wants to stay in the US with Mya if he possibly can. In the end he can’t, and he accepts that he needs to live for himself instead of for Mya, so he moves to Spain to be with Mano. The end.

I think part of the problem with I Do is that it tried to shoehorn two different stories together: a political one, about gay marriage in the US; and a personal one, about Jack’s relationship with Mano and their respective family responsibilities. The rest of the problem is that neither of the stories were that engaging to begin with. The romance storyline was uninspired and by-the-numbers, and the gay-marriage storyline was clunky and preachy. I guess it tried to send a Big Message about love and how it must be respected, but it just seemed to be trying too hard.

VQFF Review: Bwakaw

Bwakaw is a gorgeous movie about loss, regret and hope, a touching reminder that it’s never too late to start living.

Bwakaw is a gorgeous movie about loss, regret and hope, a touching reminder that it’s never too late to start living.

Meet Rene, a curmudgeonly old man living in a small town not too far from Manila. A retired janitor at the local post office, he still comes in to work every day in spite of barely tolerating his coworkers because hey, it beats sitting at home by himself. In fact, his home isn’t much to look at: it’s old and kind of decrepit, filled with boxes he’s never opened, with no furniture except a table and a bed—the latter half-occupied by a supposedly-miraculous statue of Christ he inherited from his mother.

Rene’s grumpiness is at first only played for laughs, but underneath there’s deep pain: he came out very late in life, has never been in love, has never even kissed another man. Though he regrets all the missed opportunities, he now feels he’s too old for love; so he’s resigned to his lot in life, to be alone amongst a bunch of loons and idiots, and reserves all his affection for his loyal dog Bwakaw who he takes everywhere he goes.

It’s Bwakaw that causes an argument with taxi driver Sol. Sol wants to charge Rene double for the extra passenger (ie: the dog), but Rene only tells him to piss off. Their paths keep crossing, with their squabble flaring up in increasingly funny ways (Sol puts up a “No dogs” sign on his windshield? Rene responds by holding up a “No baldies” sign by the side of the road—Sol is pretty sparse on top despite being in his thirties). However, the hatchet is buried when Bwakaw falls ill and Sol drives Rene to the vet.

It turns out Bwakaw has very advanced cancer; Rene never suspected since he hardly ever touched her and she never complained. At this point there’s nothing for the devastated Rene to do except give Bwakaw regular painkillers and make her as comfortable as possible until the end.

Oddly, in every other way this seems to be a time of positive change for Rene. He loosens up quite a bit; reconciles with his only gay friend (a very fey hairdresser) and even agrees to colour his hair brown to cover the grey, which looks great; Sol sticks around to help repaint the house and do other odd jobs. The two chat late into the night, and Rene discovers he has feelings for him. While Sol is sleeping, Rene tenderly starts stroking his face, and plants a couple of light kisses on his lips. But then Rene wakes up and… doesn’t take it well. Rene is left alone. Again.

Bwakaw dies soon after, but for Rene this isn’t the end. He unpacks all his boxes, bringing out flowerpots, drapes, rugs, all sorts of lovely knickknacks, and his house becomes what it should have been all along: a colourful, inviting, well-lit home. And then he leaves for a walk, taking only a walking stick. He should look lonely without Bwakaw, but there’s a certain spring in his step, and he looks free: free to explore, free to hope that there’s more to life than regret and waiting to die.

The very last scene has Rene on the road, walking along, and a taxi passes by. I think it’s meant to be Sol’s taxi; if it is, Rene pays it no mind. He’s fucked up with Sol, and that can’t be undone. But that’s life; you fuck up every once in a while, and then you move on. That’s Bwakaw‘s message, and it’s an uplifting one. No matter what your situation, no matter what you’ve done or left undone, it’s never to late to start fresh.

VQFF Review: W Imie / In The Name Of…

This is a tragic and disturbing tale of faith, shame, secrets and one man’s quest for love.

This is a tragic and disturbing tale of faith, shame, secrets and one man’s quest for love.

Adam is a Catholic priest who cares deeply about his flock. As the movie opens he is assigned to a boys’ school in the Polish coutryside—mind you, the “boys” are actually in their late teens, and looking back I’m not sure it’s really a school. They seem to spend a lot of their time digging ditches, moving heavy equipment around and other manual labour. From the dialog I think this lot seems to have come from a very harsh reform school, and the bad ones are threatened with being shipped back there.

In one scene the school director’s wife point-blank asks Adam how he could get transfered from Krakow to a nowhere shithole like this, and he calmly replies that priests do get moved around, and he goes wherever the Church chooses to send him. But in fact, he had been having sexual relations with a boy under his charge (around the same age as the boys in this place, so he was probably of legal age) and the church authorities had to move him.

Adam finds himself attracted to new student Lukasz, a very troubled boy who apparently was a bit of a pyromaniac. What complicates things is that the attraction is mutual, though for a long time the two don’t go beyond hugs and lingering looks. They do bond emotionally, though; in one awesome scene, the two of them are walking back from the lake where Adam had been teaching Lukasz how to swim, and Lukasz runs off into a nearby cornfield to play hide and seek. Instead of leaving him or acting like a stern authority figure, Adam decides to meet him on his terms and play for a while, even echoing Lukasz’ weird apelike howls.

But this delicate situation can’t last: the school director sees Adam and Lukasz parked together by the side of the road—in broad daylight, and nothing really happened, but it looks wrong enough that he reports it to the local bishop. In what is easily the creepiest scene in the movie, the bishop assures him that no, he didn’t really see anything wrong. Yes, he was right to report it, but now there’s no need to make a big deal out of it. The poor guy was asked to lie to himself to help the Church save face.

And so Adam is transferred again, his record tainted even further. Lukasz torches the local convenience store, where some local assholes used to bully him. When we catch up with them it’s at least several months later, possibly a year or two. Lukasz got his life together and is working construction not too far from the old school. He hears that Adam is living close by, and he immediately leaves work to find with him. Poor Adam has sunk even further into drink and depression, living by himself in a dingy hovel—possibly still in the priesthood, though I’m not sure. In one of the movie’s few bright spots, they kiss (awkwardly) and go on to share a tender night.

This movie could be seen as a critique of the Catholic Church. And yes, that’s part of it; but the Church authorities don’t exist in a vacuum. Do the problems start with bishops’ top-down authoritarianism, expecting not only obedience, but complete faith in their right to dictate reality? Or with lonely priests doing a mostly thankless job, held to impossibly high standards but with no real emotional support? Or with lay people’s acceptance of their doctrine? Or with these boys’ ignorance and casually homophobic bullying of each other? Under the veneer of rituals and traditions, of hymns and incense and lovely golden crosses, the roots of Catholicism are at best flawed, and at worst downright poisonous.

It’s an ugly picture all around, and we’re given no easy answers. Except maybe that, in this messed-up world, you should follow your heart and find what joy you can. Save yourself first, then worry about saving others.