- The Magazine
Secrets hidden, exposed, or shared in confidence bind relationships of all sorts in the short films compiled in Boys on Film 21: Beautiful Secret (★★★★☆). The latest edition of the long-running shorts collection from Peccadillo Pictures comprises a nine-film, 143-minute journey with characters who risk safety, security, or liberty by living their queerness with complete honesty.
Remarkably, given a theme that might have veered towards shame and struggle, the prevailing sense in these films is of courage and defiance. The queer men and boys here stand up to cruelty, oppression, homophobia, peer pressure, their parents, and even the Nazis in writer-director Joe Morris’ exquisitely produced German and English-language drama We Are Dancers.
While the coming-of-age, coming-out poem Memoirs of a Geeza, by Greek-British filmmaker Theo James Krekis, establishes the compilation’s ballsy attitude, it’s the second film, We Are Dancers, that sets the standard for quality and craftsmanship. Set in 1933 Berlin, the night after the Reichstag fire, the film follows cabaret performer Frau Hansi Sturm confronting a frightening dilemma: to stifle her anti-Hitler performance, or express her views freely onstage and suffer harsh consequences.
Built around an array of tight, handheld close-ups, and the confident lead performance of Hans Piesberger as the sage elder queen, We Are Dancers strikes a nerve with its moral about self-censorship. Frau Hamsi is aghast to be warned by members of her own proud tribe to choose silence instead of resistance. The most explicitly political — and, ironically, topical — short of the bunch, Frau Hamsi’s tale is far from being the only film here to strike a nerve.
Provocative Québécois entry My Dad Works the Night Shift, directed by Zachary Ayotte, strikes a captivating balance between suspense and sensuality. And L’Homme Jetée, from Swiss filmmaker Loïc Hobi, with its dreamy synth score and brash boys with buzzcuts fighting, literally, for a spot among the crew of a cargo ship, brutally deconstructs machismo while still telling a compelling love story. Credit also to Hobi’s film for the most striking line of dialogue uttered in this whole compilation: “You wanna work at sea, but you don’t want to get wet?”
The casting for L’Homme Jetée introduces some welcome diversity into the collection, while British filmmaker Abel Rubinstein’s Dungarees goes even further to broaden the scope of stories and experiences charted on this international tour. A brief tale of friendship and self-acceptance, Dungarees delivers a tender message that queer Black boys’ and trans bois’ lives matter. The curation overall misses an opportunity by not exploring more avenues of inclusion, although Boys on Film 21 closes on a powerful note with Pierce Hadjincola & Sinclair Suhood’s Pretty Boy, an Australian drama that confronts race and class head-on in its touching coming-out story.
A relatively serious finale, Pretty Boy is preceded by a pair of comedies, Sam Peter Jackson’s Clothes & Blow, about an American voice-over actor living in London, hosting a surprise visit from his mom, and amusing Romanian short A Normal Guy, from writer-director George Dogaru. The latter provides the only glimpse of nudity across the nine films, although the character in question is straight and the moment is played for laughs.
Sex appeal, of course, matters in these boys’ shorts collections. A good portion of the audience wants to see hot guys, and not just pining away in silence, as in Jason Bradbury’s evocative romance My Sweet Prince, but really going at it with passion. Sexiness isn’t paramount, but it serves a purpose in affirming identity. On the whole, the Boys on Film reflect that, and convey a passion for living freely, acting boldly, and loving fearlessly, both in front of and from behind the camera.
Boys on Film 21: Beautiful Secret is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD. Visit www.peccapics.com.
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