Written by Tom Augustine.
When we lost Terence Davies last year, too soon, before the fullness of his enormous creative talent could be exorcised, we lost one of the greatest of all of cinema’s poets. We also lost one of cinema’s greatest queer artists, a man who wrought astonishing power from hardship, abuse and self-hatred. Davies has at least two widely regarded masterworks under his belt – The Long Day Closes and Distant Voices, Still Lives, films with virtually no parallel – but the rest of his lamentably small oeuvre bursts with rapturous filmic experiences. His last film, the wondrous Benediction (2022), which screens on Rialto Channel this month for Pride, is among the best films of the 2020s. Davies, who famously expressed his inability to reconcile his own queerness, found a worthy screen avatar in the great World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon, a gay man who was left shattered and wrung out by both the war and the men he loved. Davies’ ability to blend transcendent beauty with lacerating wit and cutting cruelty allows him to enter into the life of Sassoon, allowing us to bear witness to both the traumatised biographer of the boys who lost their innocence on the front, and the all-too-vulnerable society man whose relationships roil disastrously throughout his life. The performance from Jack Lowden as the poet is staggering – the final sequence some of the finest acting I’ve seen on the screen this decade. If you’ve never encountered Davies’ work before, Benediction, though coming at the end of his career, is a fine place to start. Davies’ work is quiet, humble and ornate, much like the man himself was – and yet, there have been few auteurs more capable of leaving scars on the soul in the way he did.
For Pride Month 2024, Rialto Channel has assembled a vital and eclectic collection of some of the best and most significant queer cinema offerings of the last few years, from here, Australia and abroad. Together, they offer a picture of a community embracing the liberation of being your true self, while also confronting the scars of the past and the prejudices that remain prevalent.
Benediction is one of a number of films screening on Rialto this month for Pride worth your time. In From the Side (Carter, 2023), an under-the-radar British drama, is a worthy and moving work that explores a rarely-seen corner of the LGBTQIA+ community, that of gay rugby clubs. The film follows two men, Mark and Warren (Alexander Lincoln and Alexander King), who fall into a tumultuous and adulterous relationship that threatens to tear their beloved club apart. Director Matt Carter, drawing from his own experiences with inclusive rugby clubs, sensitively depicts the highs and lows of this burgeoning, tentative but sensual affair. Ambitious in its scope, at times to a fault, it’s a film that gets a little unwieldy in length but makes up for it with passion and heart. In a lot of ways, it’s similar to Kiwi filmmaker Welby Ings’ Punch (2022), another film that explores queer love in the heart of spaces commonly considered to be heteronormative. Exciting young local talents Jordan Oosterhof and Conan Hayes are the centre of this deeply felt work, which profiles a young boxing talent who is drawn into the orbit of an openly gay outcast in his small town community. The budding romance draws the attention not only of less savoury types in the community but of the boxer’s tortured, alcoholic father (an intriguing Tim Roth). Not everything in Punch works, but more New Zealand films could use the level of filmmaking passion that this exudes in spades.
Also worth checking out is the much buzzed-about documentary Loving Highsmith (Vitija, 2022). Drawing from her own diaries and the reflections of those that knew her, this film lays out the life of writer Patricia Highsmith, a (literary) diabolical genius whose work is often imitated but rarely bettered (see: Saltburn). This intimate documentary assembles the key points of her life but also digs insightfully into the darker corners, utilising illuminating conversations with lovers, friends and family. As with many LGBTQIA+ icons of the twentieth century, Highsmith’s sense of identity was often fractured and troubled, and Loving Highsmith does well to uncover a tellingly human figure behind the magnificence of works like The Talented Mr Ripley, Carol, Deep Water, Strangers on a Train, and so on. In its reverence, the film may fail to evoke the viciousness of Highsmith’s own work, but it is a compelling and intellectually satisfying glimpse at an artist whose work continues to impact upon our storytelling in the modern day. The Rialto Channel lineup is compellingly broad and diverse, with a range of different voices and experiences profiled. The combined effect is to suggest a community that rejects monolithic interpretation – there is no one way to be a part of the community, and Pride takes many forms. Essential artistic expression, as in the films seen here, will always be one of the most effective of those forms.
Rialto Channel celebrates Pride Month with Friday night premieres and encore screenings of the best LGBTQI+ stories.
Rialto Channel Pride Month
Movie title: Rialto Channel Pride Month
Movie description: For Pride Month 2024, Rialto Channel has assembled a vital and eclectic collection of some of the best and most significant queer cinema offerings of the last few years, from here, Australia and abroad. Together, they offer a picture of a community embracing the liberation of being your true self, while also confronting the scars of the past and the prejudices that remain prevalent.
Date published: February 9, 2024
Country: New Zealand