If there’s anything that GLBT portrayal in films teaches us that conventional vanilla sex on film does not, it’s that sexuality is extremely complicated to comprehend. There is nothing fixed or definite, only possibilities. Queer Cinema in Europe explores these sexually complex situations as represented in European films. The book is editor Robin Griffiths latest collection of fourteen critical essays written by scholars of cinematic study, dealing with queer identities, queer aesthetics, queer spaces, and queer performances.
Although the latter half of the book is filled with great articles and analysis of interesting European film scenarios, Griffiths fails us with his opener by selecting an article that asks more questions than it answers. Take Michelle Chilcoat’s “Queering the Family in Francois Ozon’s Sitcom.” The film explores queer relations in family setting “that are realized upon the elimination of the father.” The son is a coming-out individual who has come into contact with a house rat. Chilcoat goes on to explain that the rat “substitutes for the penis, which is itself, according to Freud, the ‘protoype of fetishes.’” The phallic connotation of the rat lost me. I’d imagine it would confuse others. The rest of Chilcoat’s analysis includes further Freudian interpretation, which can be confusing if you don’t have any previous knowledge about Freud or his theories. Perhaps a more important question is why did Chilcoat choose to use Freud as a source when so many of his theories have been dissuaded over the years?
A far better article is Aylish Wood’s “The Animated Queer,” in which queer aesthetics and homoerotic play are discussed through Shakespearean settings and famous relationships in Greek mythology, particularly soldiers Achilles and Patrocles. Wood introduces director-animator Barry Purves’s “reinterpretation of live-action via a re-staging with stop-motion figures, and also an emphasis on performance of identity.” The overall result is something that we may have yet to see in Queer American cinema. Other notables include Baris Kilicbay’s “Queer as Turk: A journey to Three Queer Melodramas” and Louise Wallenberg’s “Transgressive Drag Kings, Defying Dildoed Dykes: A Look at Contemporary Swedish Queer Film.”
Todd W. Reeser’s “Representing Gay
Male Domesticity in French Film of the Late 1990s” also deserves some
notice. Reeser states that the two male lovers in Les Amants criminels
“carry out various domestic tasks together (hunting for food, eating,
bathing each other) before the actual sex place…coming out is moved
forward by domesticity.” This is the probably the most important thing
that this book points out (and perhaps, it’s the same one that film
scholars will use to compare European and non-European Queer portrayal)—that
having sex isn’t a part of the coming out process so much as having
a kind of domesticity within a homosexual relationship that heterosexuals
have always been allowed to express freely and publicly.
This anthology may come to use for film scholars who are interested
in comparing GLBT representations in European films to queer portrayals
in American or non-Western cinema. But despite some of the great articles,
I can’t give Queer Cinema in Europe all my love. Mainly because
most of its articles have a mildly redundant feel as they discuss films
about queer youth identity, featuring young coming-out individuals.
That is hardly progressive in terms of what is already known about homosexuality
as represented in film. Yes, in heterosexual settings, homosexuality
begins with youth. But what happens after? Where are the films about
older, established homosexual relationships where coming out or staying
in the closet isn’t the most important thing? Where are the films
in which European gay identity clashes with non-Euro gay identity? If
they exist, there’s little mention of them in this book.