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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Men in Love’: AIDS Story Awkward, but Tender

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Men in Love” (at the New Beverly Cinema, Art Theater in Long Beach and the UA South Coast Village), a film of exceptional tenderness, tells of a young man’s coming to terms with the loss of his lover to AIDS. Occasionally awkward, sometimes silly, but always heartfelt, it develops considerable substance as well as poignance. Along with gorgeous Hawaiian scenery and handsome men, director Marc Huestis and writers Scott Catamas and Emerald Starr present us with a large chunk of New Age Consciousness. (This is one of those films in which there are more lighted candles than actors.) There is also considerable lovemaking and discreet nudity but nothing that’s hard-core.

Doug Self stars as Steven, a likable, boyish San Franciscan who fulfills his late lover Victor’s request to go to Hawaii and scatter his ashes at sea. He is taken in tow by Victor’s previous lover Robert (Starr), a rich young man who has created an earthly paradise where he and his friends spend much of their time in the sensual rituals of the Tantra. Physically and emotionally exhausted, Steven is skeptical of the commune’s ritualistic way of life yet cannot help but respond to the attentions of Peter (Joe Tolbe), a muscular native Hawaiian who is a calm and gentle man.

The heart of the matter is not so much Steven’s gradual succumbing to a healing affair with Peter but the impact of Steven and Robert upon each other, something that could have been developed more than it is.

Steven learns to be open to the ideas, philosophies and practices of the human potential movement in dealing with his terrible sense of loss while Robert comes to acknowledge that he has shut himself off to the world in the age of AIDS to the extent that he has resisted having himself tested.

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In regard to AIDS, which is so central a phenomenon in the lives of these men, the film is responsible yet could even be more so. We learn that Steven, although he practiced safe sex with Victor, shares with Robert a fear of being tested for the disease. Robert eventually gets tested but why not Steven, even though he and Peter take precautions? And what of another couple, one of whom has tested positive? We never learn whether they are practicing safe sex or not.

Self is the only professional actor in the film, and while Tolbe has considerable natural poise, the rest of the cast at times reveals its lack of experience. But Huestis, whose documentary “Chuck Solomon: Coming of Age” remains among the best documentaries dealing with AIDS, and his cinematographer Fawn Yacker, are experienced filmmakers. They are able to create images of meaning as well as beauty. “Men in Love” (Times-rated Mature) is far more affecting than countless more polished productions.


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