With a glimmer of hope for a more accepting world, Serbia has gone to great lengths to lessen the pressure of it’s questionable past regarding LGBTQ issues. Long periods of great pressure are what it takes to produce diamonds, of course, and the International Queer Film Festival Merlinka is one such gem.
Named for Vjeran Miladinovic Merlinka, a transgender sex worker who was murdered 16 years ago, this festival now proudly showcases dozens of queer and LGBT themed films, including over 100 short films. Many of these works have also screened at some of the largest and most prestigious festivals in Europe. As Serbia takes steps towards making a safer world for LGBT youth, the Merlinka Festival has become more of a cultural event and source of local pride than an avant-garde film fest. As such, we were more than happy to get a sneak peek at this year’s catalogue.
Véspero (Director David Parra Zeltzer)
A lesbian couple, Nicole and Catalina, quietly enjoy a private holiday together at the shore. However, the intimacy and serenity are shaken when Nicole gets a phone call from her mother. Coming from conservative Christian roots, Nicole’s family is unaware of her sexual preferences, seeking instead to pair Nicole up with a man. Catalina is tired of hiding their love for one another, challenging Nicole to either come out or break it off.
Going nearly 3 minutes before a word is spoken, Véspero relies heavily on intimate compositions and physical character development rather than intense dialogue. Long takes and quiet, contemplative scenes convey the soul-searching Nicole and Catalina each must go through, with a natural pace and progression.
Tomboy (Marimacho) (Director Román Reyes)
One of the shortest entries in this year’s festival, Tomboy is a mesmerizing artistic film by writer and director Róman Reyes. Shot as a fashion film or modelling portrait, a young woman named Ella recalls a time from her childhood, when her mother had cut her hair short. At first alarmed by the masculinity of her appearance, she learns to embrace and enjoy it, transforming it into femininity.
Des3ngaño (Director Aniez)
Bound for heartbreak, a woman discovers she’s fallen in love with another woman, but that woman loves a man. With happiness once within her grasp, she feels a loss of love and self-control.
Overflowing with metaphor, this short film from director Aniez Atlas artistically displays emotion through thoughtful decisions on images, props, and modern interpretive dance. Rich camera direction delivers a reel of stunning shots, as an often-overpowering music bed builds and swells as the protagonist journeys through the stages of grief over her broken heart.
Prisoner of Society (Director Rati Tsiteladze)
Adelina is a young trans woman living in the country of Georgia, a nation notoriously hostile towards LGBTQ individuals. Hiding for her safety within her small apartment, Adelina’s only real connection to the outside world is through her mother, who secretly visits from time to time. Adelina’s father, however, straddles the line between supportive and dismissive, leaving Adelina with very few connections and many dead ends in life.
An insightful documentary, this short film sheds light on a global issue that too often must go into hiding in the darker corners of the world.
Uncoloured Girl (Director Charlie García Villalba)
Eli is a photography student who is less than enthusiastic about the final project in her course of study – a colour photo project that really tells the story of who she is. Colourblind, Eli best experiences the world around her under the influence of mind-altering drugs, an activity she enjoys in the company of her lover, Adrí.
Spanish writer and director Charlie García Villalba manages to pack plenty of personal journey into a fifteen minute runtime. Each shot is skilfully composed, leaning on the classic rules of cinematography, while lead actress Cintia Ballbé delivers a compelling and emotional performance of a heartsick artist on the path to self-empowerment.
Cocodrilo (Director Jorge Yúdice)
A heartfelt story by writer and director Jorge Yúdice, Cocodrilo is the story of a middle-aged woman who logs on to her computer to watch a gamer channel. In the course of the show, she discovers an opportunity to reconnect with an estranged family member.
Adeline (Director Audrey Biche)
On her deathbed and suffering from stage 5 cancer, an elderly Adeline is depressed and disconnected. When a letter from a woman named Helene arrives, she starts to remember her youth. In particular, her time as a student in an all-girls Catholic school, where she first met Helene.
Knowing Adeline does not have long to live, the nursing staff in her care facility had been instructed not to get too attached. However, attachment is the very thing Adeline needs at this stage of her life.
Ayaneh (Director Nicolas Greinacher)
Ayaneh and her family are refugees from Afghanistan living on Switzerland. Having trouble adjusting to life in a new country, Ayaneh’s father is contemplating leaving to go elsewhere. Ayaneh, on the other hand has grown to enjoy her new homeland, especially after meeting a young woman named Anna at the local swimming pool. Coming from a conservative Muslim family, however, Ayaneh must tread lightly. In Afghanistan, women are not even permitted to learn how to swim, let alone express romantic interest in another woman.
Boldly Go (Director Christopher Cosgrove)
Two young men step away from a costume party to be alone together. As things start to heat up, however, one of them throws a bucket of ice on the whole affair. Embarrassed by his body, he retreats out of fear he will be seen as disgusting or unattractive.
Writer and director Christopher Cosgrove delivers a light and surprisingly short story, without overlooking the details. From the Doctor Who costume to the assortment of vintage sci-fi toys, the setting itself goes great lengths to display the geeky outsider persona of one of the two characters.
Butterflies in Berlin – Diary of a Soul Split in Two (Director Monica Manganelli)
A lovely animated entry in this year’s festival, Butterflies in Berlin tells the story of a young man named Alex who moves to Berlin in 1933 to escape sexual discrimination he experienced in his hometown and discover who they really are. Alex meets with a doctor who is forging a new field of study in transsexualism, which gives Alex great hope and courage. However, the 1930’s were certainly the wrong time to be trans and living in Berlin.
Loosely based on true events, Monica Manganelli weaves a tale of transformation through illustrative and engaging animation. Alex’s transformation is carefully juxtaposed with the transformations affecting Germany at this time, a butterfly waking up in the middle of a forest fire.
Cousin John – The Arrival (Director Tom C J Brown)
An innovative music video, Cousin John uses music to tell the story of a man who ventures into New York City. Meanwhile, a motley group of Cousin John’s queer friends eagerly await his return to the country. Throwing casual parties and gatherings, the poetic scenes are reminiscent of the golden age of Versailles.
Lush costume design and art direction are the driving force behind this music film. Cousin John’s lanky figure steals every scene, accented by a creamy pastel suit.
Foreign (Director Mark Pinkosh)
Comedienne Ruby Welles lives in London’s Soho, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of city life, and overwhelmed by the number of foreign voices she is confronted with on a daily basis – all of whom claim to be British of course. Living a relatively repetitive life day in and day out, she finally seems to break out of a rut when she meets Emma, a fan from one of her recent stand-up shows. However, Ruby’s performance in romance is not nearly as strong and charismatic as her stage presence.
Foreign is a breakout performance for British actress, comedienne, and writer Suzi Ruffell, whose mix of line delivery and physical expressions really deliver Mark Pinkosh’s story with ease. The talented director made excellent use of editing as well, employing Ruffell’s strengths and jump cutting through segments to deliver themes and emotions throughout the film.