Two features and one short by queer filmmakers or about queer characters will screen at the 8th Nordic International Film Festival in New York, November 16-20 at Scandinavia House and other venues.
The festival presents the New York premiere of out gay writer/director Marco Berger’s “Horseplay,” (November 17, 9:00 pm) about group of twenty-something guys who share a house together over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. All of the men are straight, save for the closeted Poli (Franco de la Puente), who secretly has sex with Andy (Agustín Machta). Throughout the film, the guys are participating in various games and dares, like “homo photos,” where two sleeping guys are photographed with one’s hand on the other’s crotch, or two guys pose naked as if they were caught having sex. The men also mock oral sex with each other and have a contest to see who has the cutest ass.
These homoerotic frat boy shenanigans are all tinged with homophobia, which is Berger’s point. The film does not feature much in the way of plot, letting episodes unfold and characters reveal themselves mostly through snippets of conversations. Some men express their homophobia openly, while others indicate that a person’s sexuality is unimportant. There are many glances that can be suggestive or sinister, depending on who is looking at whom.
“Horseplay” presents a palpable hothouse atmosphere, and there is considerable sexual tension throughout the film as all the guys in the hunky cast walk around in a little more than a bathing suit. (Berger films crotches and asses specifically.) The young men are often seen frolicking together in the pool, showering, or sleeping close together. When a handful of women come to visit, as they do from time to time, there are some sexual couplings, one involving two men sharing a woman.
But there are also discussions about how these guys treat both women and each other, indicating the toxic straight male behavior on display is unacceptable and unappreciated. In fact, Nico’s (Bruno Giganti) girlfriend, Guada (Mariel Niera), calls him out on his casual bullying of Poli. The film’s gay storyline consists of a handful of scenes, such as one where Poli and Andy going off for a walk (and have sex) or discuss the status of their “relationship.” Other scenes featuring Nico interacting with Poli and/or Andy reveal his character’s feeling towards both men.
“Horseplay” builds to a finale that is surprising given the more relaxed hangout vibe the film presents, but Berger is making a shrewd commentary on these guys who like to be in control even when they are out of control.
In the compelling Danish film, “Rainbow” (November 18, 8:45 pm) Molly (Fanny Leander Bornedal) upsets her two moms, Nina (Susanne Storm) and Sonja (Ditte Maria Le-Fevre), when she investigates the identity of her biological father after she learns that the story of her conception was a lie. When Sonja clues Molly that it could be one of five men, all former classmates of Nina’s, Molly, along with her best friend Tobias (Nikolaj Groth), set out to meet each man and (secretly) collect DNA samples.
“Rainbow” explores issues of fatherhood — Tobias has an absent father as well — and how one defines “family.” The film is shot in a handheld style — Tobias is recording Molly and her encounters with a minicam — which can be a bit tedious, but it creates an intimacy that is appropriate for her story. As Molly meets men like Daniel (Casper Phillipson), who she thinks would be a great dad because they share the same taste in music, or Benjamin (Peter Plaugborg), who she thinks is a jerk because he is impatient with her, Molly sees herself in these possible fathers and wonders what life might have been like if she had been raised by one of them. (Molly is particularly cruel to Sonja when she tells her, “You’re not my real mom.”)
As Molly learns who her biological father is, “Rainbow” introduces another queer twist. While Molly can be unlikable as she lies to get what she wants without much thought for others, what she learns about herself in the process is enlightening.
The excellent short, “Mayfly” (November 19 at 6:45 pm) has Lisa (Tind Soneby) experiencing a downward spiral, having broken up with her girlfriend, Hedwig (Linn Eriksson), been fired from her job, and forced to move back in “temporarily” with her parents. Lisa’s frustration with her life is expressed in her unfiltered behavior, telling a couple in a restaurant to dial their conversation down, yelling hard truths at her parents at a party, discussing her suicide attempt, as well as stalking Hedwig and then having a shouting match with her. How Lisa finds some measure of self-worth among all her self-pity and self-destructive behavior is why “Mayfly” is so potent — and Soneby delivers a fantastic performance.
For tickets and more information https://www.nordicfilmfest.org/official-selection-2022
“The 8th Nordic International Film Festival” | November 16-20 | Scandinavia House and other locations