"Puccini For Beginners" Opens 30th Frameline Film Fest

by | June 15, 2006 | Comments

Maria Maggenti‘s "Puccini For Beginners" will open the 30th annual Frameline Film Festival this week in San Francisco, headlining one of the largest and longest-running LGBT festivals in the country.

Frameline30, formerly called the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, will run from June 15 – 25 in San Francisco theaters, including the popular art house Castro Theater. The over 250 feature and short films slated for the fest run the gamut from comedies to documentaries to dramas and more, and represent both local filmmakers as well as queer cinema from 32 countries.

Kicking off festivities on June 15 is "Puccini," which debuted at this year’s Sundance. A much more sophisticated follow-up to Maggenti‘s 1995 directorial breakthrough "The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love," this screwball sex comedy stars Justin Kirk, Gretchen Mol, and an electrifying Elizabeth Reaser as three New York City urbanites caught up in a tricky, sexuality-bending love triangle.

"Puccini," screened at Sundance, is a lighthearted, Woody Allen-esque romp told in three operatic parts. Beautiful, intellectual lesbian Allegra (Reaser) is unable to say “I love you” to her beautiful, intellectual girlfriend Samantha (Julianne Nicholson), prompting Samantha to leave her to navigate easier waters — heterosexual domesticity with her bonehead ex-boyfriend. Allegra finds herself single, and despite being an avowed lesbian, gives in to her reluctant attraction to nerdy professor Philip (Kirk). Philip has recently severed a stale relationship with the sweet, ditzy Grace (Mol), who, coincidentally, finds solace in the arms of a woman — Allegra.

As Allegra simultaneously juggles both boyfriend and girlfriend, she happily indulges in having her cake and eating it too — but as Philip and Grace both get more attached, things get more and more complicated, culminating in a comic turn of events when everyone realizes who is sleeping with who.

Elizabeth Reaser in "Puccini For Beginners"

It’s a cute, stylish movie that benefits enormously from the charismatic Reaser. Her Allegra is sly, smart, sexy — and as perfectly confused about love and relationships as real people can be. Although “Puccini” does skirt around the “Chasing Amy” issue of flip-flopping sexual identity (sexual fluidity seems chic in movies nowadays, especially in the upper echelons of cosmopolitan life), this openness and acceptance of boundary-free identities accents a universality in the search for love and seems to well fit the varied, poly-sexual scope of a film festival like Frameline.

Among the other notable films playing at Frameline30, “Shabnam Mousi,” a Bollywood import, will provide drama and relevance in counterpoint to the many comic, flamboyant pics screening. Directed by Yogesh Bhardwaj, “Mousi” tells the amazing real-life story of an Indian eunuch who fought for a political voice and eventually won a government seat. Add to that the signature Bollywood musical style, and this story promises “one part Xena, Warrior Princess, mixed with two parts avenging Hindu goddess Kali, seasoned with vintage Joan Crawford vinegar.”

"Hedwig" lives on in "Follow My Voice: With the Music of Hedwig"

Fans of 2001’s rock musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” may want to check out “Follow My Voice: With the Music of Hedwig,” a documentary by Katherine Linton. Linton’s camera follows a cast of indie rock stars (Yo La Tengo, Sleater-Kinney, Rufus Wainright, Yoko Ono and more) as they record a tribute album of songs from the John Cameron Mitchell cult hit to benefit the Harvey Milk High School in New York City, the first accredited LGBT school in the country. Paralleling the recording of the album are intimate video diaries of Harvey Milk students whose struggles with asserting gender and sexual identity provide the film with compelling emotional anchors.

Receiving the 2006 Frameline Award will be French filmmaker Francois Ozon (“5 x 2,” “Swimming Pool,” “Under the Sand”), whose new film “Time to Leave” will screen as the festival’s Centerpiece Film. “Time” is the sobering story of a thirty-something gay fashion photographer who learns he has a terminal illness and sets out to give closure to his dysfunctional relationships. Ozon’s 26th film stars Melvil Poupaud, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, and legendary actress Jeanne Moreau. (Ozon’s "8 Women" will also screen during the festival.)

Can’t wait til June 28 to see "Strangers With Candy?" See it a week early at Frameline30!

Other highlights of the festival include Spanish filmmaker Ramon Salazar’s “20 Centimeters,” a transvestite-musical-fantasy; Todd Stephens’ raunchy teen sex comedy “Another Gay Movie;” the Kevin Smith-produced “small town gay bar;” queer hip-hop documentary “Pick Up the Mic;” drag lounge singer and piano man Kiki and Herb in “Kiki & Herb Reloaded;” and the big-screen Amy Sedaris sketch, “Strangers With Candy.”

For the full schedule of films, check out the Frameline30 website here.

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