Five must-see films at OutFest LA

LGBTQ+ films breaking the mould

by Jennie Kermode

One of the most important LGBTQ+ film festivals on the annual calendar, OutFest Los Angeles persisted through the pandemic and returns this year with another great crop of films to grab your attention. We’ve come a long way from the days of tragic romances and coming out stories, with this year’s films taking us into much more complex and rewarding territory. These are five of the best.

Ma Belle, Ma Beauty
Ma Belle, Ma Beauty Photo: Lauren Guiteras

Ma Belle, My Beauty

Bertie, Fred and Lane were in a polyamorous relationship, back in New Orleans. Now Bertie and Fred have married and moved to rural France, where Bertie has sunk into depression. Worried – about her, and about the fate of the tour they’re supposed to be embarking on as musicians – Fred invites Lane to stay, imagining that it will cheer her up. Marion Hill’s delicately observed film is a study in relationship breakdown and in what happens when we begin to realise that the answers we need cannot be found in other people. Idyllic countryside cannot mask interior discontent and even personal identities are contested as Bertie struggle with understanding both her bisexuality and her blackness in a new context.

A Distant Place
A Distant Place Photo: Courtesy of Inside Out

A Distant Place

Despite some superficial improvements, South Korea is still a very difficult place to be gay. Jin-woo has immersed himself in a quiet life on a farm, raising young Seol among hills and sheep, but when Hyun-min comes to visit from the city, ostensibly as a friend, a secret passion is rekindled between them. It’s a love that will be challenged by rumour, prejudice and the pressures that come with trying to care for a child, as well as Jin-woo’s own subconscious shame. Meanwhile, supporting characters struggle with their own frustrations and unrequited feelings. Park Kun-Young’s sensitive drama invites viewers to set aside their preconceptions and recognise the humanity of all involved, whilst immersed in the stark beauty of the shifting seasons.

Pooya Mohseni and Lynn Chen in See You Then
Pooya Mohseni and Lynn Chen in See You Then

See You Then

Ten years after they broke up, two women get together for a drink and a chance to talk over old times. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, when Kris was living as a man and Naomi was still seriously trying to make it as an artist. It ought to be easier to talk now, and they clearly retain a deep fondness for one another, but as the evening goes on, secrets and long-buried resentments begin to emerge, along with questions they never previously dared to ask. Co-writer/director Mari Walker asks questions about continuity of identity, the degree to which we remain responsible for the deeds of our past selves, and the challenges of fitting into often narrow (and white) definitions of womanhood in this melancholy but nonetheless witty and insightful two-hander.

We Need To Do Something
We Need To Do Something

We Need To Do Something

Following a storm in which a tree crashes through the roof of their house, Melissa and her family are trapped inside the bathroom. Worrying noises continue to come from outside and when nobody arrives to rescue them tempers begin to fray – but there’s also a secondary source of worry for the teenager, who fears that something she did with her girlfriend, Amy, may have brought about this calamity. Whilst it’s ostensibly a genre piece, with some distinctly grotesque elements, Sean King O’Grady’s claustrophobic début feature, adapted by Max Booth III from the latter’s own novel, has strong undercurrents of internalised guilt around growing up different in a heterocentric society, as Melissa struggles to assert herself within her fracturing family unit.

Leading Ladies
Leading Ladies Photo: Courtesy of Inside Out

Leading Ladies

The events of a single dinner party recounted five times might not sound like thrilling stuff, but everyone involved recalls what happened slightly differently and each has secrets, creating a compelling mystery in Ruth Caudeli’s sharply observed third feature. The Spanish-born director (shooting, once again, in her adopted Colombia) draws on the improvisational talents of five highly capable actresses to present us with a group of friends – all lesbian or bisexual – who are starting to question their commitments to one another and the unexamined emotions getting in the way of real connection. It’s a skilfully delivered, intellectually complex film liable with much deeper currents at work beneath the surface.

This year’s OutFest Los Angeles runs from 13 to 22 August.

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