Two gay-themed films are out on DVD today, and despite their radically different styles, both deal with family relations in surprisingly fresh ways.
From America comes Harry and Max (2004), the 'controversial' film by director Christopher Munch (The Hours and the Times) which caused something of a stir at the Raindance festival of that year because of the incestous relationship between the two protagonists that lend their names to the title. However, far from from being a controversy-courting outing, Harry and Max is a cool look at a complicated, but rather profound brotherly relationship.
The excellent Bryce Johnson plays the 23-year-old Harry, an ex-boy band star trying to prove himself in the adult music business. His younger teenage brother Max (Cole Williams) has followed his suit and is at the peak of his teeny-pop fame, although the film never enters the backstage of the music business; the brother's career is mostly talked about rather than shown. Instead, we go with them on a trip to the San Gabriel Mountains of Los Angeles where Max's physical feelings for his brother become evident.
Harry, who is an alcoholic, is not completely surprised at his brother's advances, and it all looks rather innocent. But when they go back to Los Angeles, feelings start to run deeper, the relationship with their mother is complicated and they embark on a journey of growth, which is no easy task when confronted with one of the last great taboos. Munch never flinchs or shies away from creating a mix of quirkiness and apparent aloofness, while developing the story with an elegant narrative economy. It may appear aimless at points, but that reflects the internal world of the two main characters and their evolving feelings. It's an intriguing film steered by a director with a confident touch.
Treading less quirky territory is the Spanish Bear Cub, a film firmly set in contemporary Spain where gay freedom and visibility is one of the highest in Europe (and probably the world). The bear of the title makes reference to a type of gay man (chunky, hairy, often past 30 years of age), who is extremely popular in contemporary queer culture, perhaps in reaction to the trim-bodied stereotype that marked the 1990s.
However, the bear scene is just a backdrop for a film that alternates between comedy and gentle family drama. Bear Cub tells the story of Pedro (José Luis Garcia-Pérez), a gay man in his 40s who finds himself with the responsibility of bringing up his nephew Bernardo (David Castillo) when his sister is arrested in Asia. Pedro at first worries about the impact that his new-found responsibility will have on his hectic social life in the gay scene of Madrid, which is also his symbolic family. To his surprise, Bernardo proves himself to be a much more perceptive child than he expected and the two rapidly strike a strong bond.
Despite its shortcomings with moments of loose direction and clichéd dialogues, Bear Cub does create a portrait of a new urban situation where friends have replaced family or at least have become as strong as blood relations. Albaladejo emphasises the close-knit ties between Pedro's circle of friends and the way they co-adopt Bernardo with him. It's a naturalist film with a certain kinship to the sitcom genre that shows that gay cinema has definitely evolved beyond the conflict based round on 'being gay'.
Harry and Max and Bear Cub are separately released on DVD today.