Saturday, September 12, 2009

NYC Shorts ’09: Program C

What does it mean to be free? It is a complicated question for two French vagabond lovers, but for gay Iranian refugees in Britain, it is a concrete issue with life-and-death ramifications. Though radically dissimilar, itinerant protagonists trying to live on their own terms are featured in both Vincent Vesco’s La Tangente and Glen Milner’s Iranian, Gay & Seeking Asylum, two distinct highlights of the 2009 NYC Short Film Festival’s Program C, now screening at 92 Y Tribeca.

Vesco seems to have studied his Nouvelle Vague, as surely most contemporary French filmmakers have. Of course, it is impossible not to think of Godard during any film about passionate lovers, driving heedlessly (or breathlessly) through France, while occasionally contemplating the odd crime or two. However, the couple in La Tangente (trailer here) are not really criminals, despite her somewhat checkered past (which might include prostitution). He however, has a strong work ethic, but willing turns his back on conventional life to be with her on the open road.

Tangente brings to mind the French New Wave stylistically as well as thematically. With its disembodied dialogue, jarring transitions, and emblematic use of pop music, the film often seems to be tipping its cap to the celebrated French auteurs. Fortunately, Vesco maintains the energy level, keeping the audience invested in the lovers, despite their familiar bohemian vs. bourgeois conflicts.

While it would not be the end of the world if Vesco’s lovers settled down and got jobs, if the subjects of Milner’s short documentary returned to Iran, they would surely be killed. That is because they are gay, and the ruling Islamic authorities’ policy on homosexuality is simple: execution, usually by hanging. Though far from exhaustive, Milner’s subjects recount stories of lovers enduring torture to protect their identities, painting a picture of a frighteningly oppressive state.

With a running time of eight and half minutes, Milner only scratches the surface of the oppression faced by Iranian homosexuals. Instead, his primary focus falls on the challenges faced by the asylum-seeking protagonist, an Iranian flamenco guitarist. It is tough being a musician anywhere, but he must have stories that could fill a feature length documentary.

What the mad mullahs do to gay and lesbian Iranians is appalling and the lack of outrage expressed by western GLBT groups is a scandal. Asylum is a timely reminder of human rights abuses committed daily by the Iranian Islamist government. Along with Tangente, it is a memorable highlight of Program C, which screens again tonight. The NYC Short Film Festival concludes Sunday afternoon (9/13) with Program K for kids.