Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Mothers and Sons and "Queens"! Oh my!

"Queens" ("Reinas") (dir. Manuel Gomez Pereira, Spain, 2005, 107 mins.) played at the SF International Lesbian/Gay Film Festival, however I missed it as I was 'pre-occupied' with Gay Day activities. So I was thrilled with the news that it has distribution and I got a chance to see it at a preview tonight. I do not want to reduce this fabulously written and performed piece to a derivative, but I could best describe it as an Almodovar-esque version of Robert Altman's "A Wedding".

There is to be a mass gay wedding in Madrid, and this nifty farce focusses not so much on three of the gay couples as it does on their mothers. It is a huge cast, featuring some of Spain's best actresses, including Almodovar regulars Carmen Maura, Marisa Paredes and Veronica Forque', and Mercedes Sampietro and Betiana Blum. Included as one of their paramours is Lluis Homar, another Almodovar star from "Bad Education". The six sons are all quite exceptionally attractive (Daniel Hendler, Unax Ugalda, Paco Leon, Gustavo Salmeron, Raul Jimenez and Hugo Silva) and handle their roles fairly well, especially Unax Ugalda as the platinum haired, spoiled son to Carmen Maura's hotel magnate mother.

However, or at least atypical of what we see in American cinema, 'the boys' are really the subplot to the women's efforts to understand and accept their sons, their soon to be sons-in-law as well as the upcoming nuptials. I can not recall a domestic film in which a company of middle aged actresses have been gathered together in such a production since "The Women". This exceptionally talented group of women take no prisoners in their ability to work the script and their scenes to their fullest ability. It is a shared tour de force, as they are never really an ensemble as much as they appear in a series of mini-farces that will all collide in one heart warming climax. Even the silliest of the characters, Veronica Forque's 'Nuria', is performed to the brink of cartoon, yet Forque' is able to ultimately enwrap the essence of the film in a moment of breathtaking sincerity at the end.

The emphasis on the feminine influence upon gay men, as well as the gorgeously, if not brilliantly character specific costume design, as well as an unusually witty title credit sequence and a wonderful soundtrack, will draw the director Pereira's comparisons to Almodovar, which is not totally fair to either of them. Pereira's film is blissfully free of the dark, sexual and nearly misogynistic world that Almodovar creates. "Queens" is actually a tribute to the love of this group of mothers, as they work through their confusion and conflicts with their sons, as well as their own lives.

If there is anything that holds the film back from being a 'blockbuster' or remembered as a contemporary classic, it would be some of the quirky edits. Also, the script is so complicated that it necessitates some awkward time shifting in order to keep all the concurrent plots moving to the eventual collision, i.e. we go back 4 hours, then pop forward a day, only to back up another 3 hours, etc. Also, a couple of the conflict resolutions between the gay couples themselves seem a bit contrived, but that could be due to the comparison of the outstanding performances given by the women in the cast.

Ironically, "Queens" opens on September 15, while the Almodovar retrospective is in full gear across town, and only two weeks before Carmen Maura's next film, Almodovar's "Volver" opens.