It may be surprising to see a Russian film nominated for the Queer Palm at the Cannes Film Festival, especially considering the country’s deeply conservative laws that effectively stop the financing of any films with LGBT themes. But director Kantemir Balagov, in just his second feature, has made something far more ambiguous, and dripping in queer subtext; a haunting tale of repressed emotion in the aftermath of the Second World War, where the conflicting desires of two women leads to a miserable, quasi-abusive relationship masquerading as a friendship.
Maxime is two weeks away from leaving his life in Canada behind to take a two year world trip, starting on the opposite side of the globe in Melbourne. He plans on spending the last couple of weeks seeing friends, and on one weekend getaway, volunteers to star in a student short film – his friend Matthias losing a bet and having to take the opposite role. The scene requires the pair to kiss, something which Maxime doesn’t think twice about, but causes Matthias to unpack a lot of suppressed emotions.
Celine Sciamma’s films are uniquely attuned to examining the female body, without a whiff of exploitation or a sexually charged agenda to be seen. After tackling films dealing with puberty and gender dysphoria, she’s taken a seemingly unusual step for her fourth feature, 18th century period drama Portrait of a Lady on Fire. No longer is she dealing with the struggles of young people as they deal with their changing bodies, but she is taking the logical next step, crafting a romance all around the very idea of capturing the essence of the female body in a work of art.
The film to which Pain and Glory has been most extensively compared is Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2, the Italian director’s genre-bending, meta textual examination of a filmmaker crafting his most ambitious project to date. Both films are excellent, but the comparisons prove to be something of a dead end; Fellini was more preoccupied with the process of filmmaking itself, while Almodovar is interested in exploring the human factors that would inspire somebody to tell a story in the first place.