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‘Farewell,’ ‘Blue Hour’ Highlight Gay Fest Lineup

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The 11th annual Los Angeles International Gay & Lesbian Film & Video Festival continues today at 7 p.m. at the Directors Guild, 7920 Sunset Blvd., with Finnish filmmaker Tuija-Maija Niskanen’s elegant and brooding period piece “The Farewell.”

Set almost entirely in a richly appointed mansion, “The Farewell” spans 1929 to 1959 in the lives of a prominent banker, an unrepenting philanderer, his proud yet vulnerable wife and their two daughters--the elder, Valerie, in particular. The film is her story as a lesbian made to feel homely and untalented from childhood and her struggle to attain some measure of self-respect and fulfillment within her cold, unloving family.

“The Farewell” sounds bleak but is too sophisticated and absorbing to be depressing. (It should be noted that of the many lesbian films in the festival, “The Farewell” and the inept comedy “Bound and Gagged, a Love Story” were unavailable for preview.)

One of the finest films in the festival, Marcel Gisler’s “The Blue Hour” (Tuesday at 9:15 p.m.) is a beautifully told story about a handsome, self-possessed gay hustler (Andreas Herder) who discovers his vulnerability and loneliness when he befriends his next-door neighbor, an unattractive, edgy but intelligent straight woman (Dina Leipzig) caught up in an unhappy love affair with a student.

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Similarly affecting though not as assured and stylish, Israeli filmmaker Amos Gutman’s “Amazing Grace” (Wednesday at 7 p.m.) stars Gal Hoyberger as a slim, tousle-haired, 18-year-old gay trying to assert his independence and to resist the lassitude of his impoverished environment when he encounters a handsome man of 30 with an attractive, mysterious quality of despair.

Rosa Von Praunheim’s “I Am My Own Woman” (Thursday at 9:15 p.m.) is the most mature and polished film to date from this always-venturesome German filmmaker. It is a loving portrait of an indomitable 65-year-old man who for most of his life has dressed in simple women’s attire, and it is marked by a seamless flow between past and present, between documentary and dramatized events.

Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, as he calls himself, killed his brutal Nazi-officer father but escaped serving four years in a reformatory because of the war’s end. He instead wound up spending 30 years creating and maintaining, against seemingly overwhelming odds, the only private museum in former East Germany--a fine old manor furnished in turn-of-the-century artifacts; Von Mahlsdorf was long a hero to East Germany’s oppressed gays, for whom his home was a gathering place.

Wilhelm--later William--Dieterle, before turning Hollywood director, had been a top silent-era star in Germany, where in 1928 he starred in and directed “Sexuality in Chains” (Saturday at 4:30 p.m.). The film is a stunning Expressionist silent protesting the inhumanity of banning conjugal visits for prisoners and their spouses--and depicting the terrible shame experienced by straight prisoners engaging in homosexual sex.

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In Marc Huestis’ “Sex Is . . . " (Saturday at 9:15 p.m.), a cross-section of gays ranging in age from 20 to past 70 speak not only of sex but also of love with a candor that is perhaps unprecedented in film for men, gay or straight. Huestis presents their stories in the context of their times; some brief archival clips are X-rated.

Ellen Turk and Andrew Weeks’ fascinating “Split--William to Chrysis: Portrait of a Drag Queen” (Sunday at 4 p.m.) introduces us to one of Manhattan’s fabled gender-benders, a poor Brooklyn gay kid who via hormones and silicone--but no transsexual surgery--transformed himself into a lush beauty who became a cabaret performer, sometimes call girl and fascination of Salvador Dali.

Dan Bessie’s “Turnabout: The Story of the Yale Puppeteers” (Sunday at 7:30 p.m.) is a splendid account of the lives of puppeteer Harry Burnett, songwriter-playwright-novelist Forman Brown--now in their vigorous 90s--and their late business manager Roddy Brandon. They were responsible for a much-cherished Los Angeles institution, the Turnabout Theater on La Cienega, which between 1944 and 1956 presented both a puppet show and a sophisticated revue that for 12 years starred the inimitable Elsa Lanchester and attracted the likes of Garbo and Chaplin.

Burnett, Brown and Brandon--the last two were lovers for more than 50 years--were gay men in the era of the closet who nonetheless managed to live creative, fulfilled lives. Several years ago Brown won new acclaim as the once pseudonymous author of the 1934 autobiographical novel “Better Angel.”

Information: (213) 650-5133.


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