Our partner organization, Films from the Margin, operates to put on display a showcasing of films “from the margin,” often works that are difficult to find, lesser known, and considered hidden gems. From world famous filmmakers’ smaller, maybe earlier work to a surprising foreign marvel, Films from the Margin aspires to educate and inform viewers of cinematic treasures otherwise hidden by an immeasurable sea of content, while providing hours of gutsy, unique, unforgettable entertainment. This column will feature recommendations of films otherwise considered to be “from the margin,” as well as where one can locate them. For more information on Films from the Margin and how to get involved, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Tropical Malady (2004, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)
Tropical Malady begins with the Ton Nakajima quote “All of us are by nature wild beasts. Our duty as human beings is to become like trainers who keep their animals in check, and even teach them to perform tasks alien to their bestiality.” The rest of the film echoes this theme over and over, the taming of humanity, beastiality, and desire, and love that transcends form, inviting us to question which tendencies and notions are truly alien to us – the human ones, or the beast-like ones? Tropical Malady is a masterwork of Weerasethakul’s, arriving at the intersection of Thai folklore and carnal love. One young man says to another “When I gave you the Clash tape, I forgot to give you my heart. You can have it today.” The film observes the entanglement of their love for each other, their connection with other forms of being, and the surrounding jungles of mystery. Their relationship is in the jungle, the flora and fauna, as much as it is in themselves. Known for his exploration of the themes of nature and sexuality, Weerasethakul made a masterpiece of homosexuality within the natural world, and the intersection of human and beast, in Tropical Malady. –Karenna Umscheid
Tropical Malady is available to stream on Kanopy.
A Song of Love (1950, Jean Genet, France)
There is a delicate reason why esteemed novelist Jean Genet’s singular piece of erotic fiction, A Song of Love, is not titled, rather, A Song of Lust. The latter title is, perhaps, more narratively representative of a film whose content the District Court of Appeal of California spurned as ‘nothing more than hardcore pornography;’ it’s the former, however, which uniquely encompasses Genet’s thematic investigation of unconsummated love and sexual fantasy. A Song of Love, Genet’s first-and-only picture, centers the action around two male prisoners, separated and in love, and their prison guard, who takes voyeuristic pleasure in watching the inmates construct masturbatory routines for sake of intimacy. For a debut picture, Genet expertly intermixes eroticism — which, amongst numerous stated reasons, was banned for depicting acts of oral sex — with surrealist flourishes — Jean Cocteau is believed to be the film’s uncredited cinematographer, after all — that collectively add-up to a film that is, surprisingly, hopeful. Not many sequences made today could match the amorous yearning found in the scene of the two-lovers sharing cigarette smoke through a hole in the prison-wall — further aphrodisiac pleasures should be discovered for oneself. At a mere twenty-five minutes, A Song of Love is an ephemeral treasure ripe for discovery. –Aaron Homem
Naked Lunch (1991, David Cronenberg, Canada)
“Are you a fa****?” a man asks protagonist Bill Lee, both seated at a bar in Interzone — the strange version of Tangier which makes up the setting of Naked Lunch, David Cronenberg’s pseudo-biopic adaptation of the infamously “unfilmable” novel, Naked Lunch, by William Burroughs. The film mixes elements of the novel as well as real events from Burroughs’ life, such as the accidental killing of his wife, Joan Vollmer. As Burroughs was gay, this element seeps into the dreamlike world of Interzone as well and cascades over the film in strange, unique ways. Due to this subconscious element, the film is not the most overt in its queerness, however it would be difficult to see an image like Roy Scheider ripping open a woman’s body to reveal himself inside as anything but brutally provocative in the best way. If you’re looking for something a bit different but still in tune with Pride month, check this gem out. –Charlie Compton
Naked Lunch is not available on streaming, but there are Blu-Ray and DVD releases by the Criterion Collection.
Orlando (1992, Sally Potter, United Kingdom)
Based on a novel by Virginia Wolfe, Orlando is Sally Potter’s sci-fi fantasy film about an androgynous English aristocrat (Tilda Swinton) who, after being bestowed long life by a dying Queen Elizabeth I, experiences several historical periods and events in his lifetime. The film begins in the Elizabethan era when Orlando spends most of his time balancing excursions into poetry and art as well as conducting his social functions and responsibilities, among them serving as an ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Orlando is nearly killed and, while in a personal crisis, is miraculously transformed into a woman. Potter is concerned with as well as playful in depicting the themes of gender, class, and romanticism present in Wolfe’s novel (for instance, Queen Elizabeth I is played by English humorist and gay icon Quentin Crisp). The visual world of Orlando is also a treat, with the production design and other elements among the best that a costume drama can offer (the film was nominated for Production and Costume design at the Academy Awards). The score, done by Potter and David Motion, is full of elegant and melodic electronic music that further establishes the understated surrealism of the film. It has been 29 years since Orlando was released, but its relevance lives on, evident by continuing critical and stylistic retrospectives, some as recent as the 2020 Met Gala. –Julian Hart
I Don’t Belong Anywhere (2015, Marianne Lambert, France)
It is a blanket statement that the films of Chantal Akerman aren’t for everyone. However, their singular and uncompromising vision is demanding enough to change anyone’s perspective on the purpose of cinema, of time, and of narrative. I Don’t Belong Anywhere, from French director Marriane Lambert, was made and released just prior to Chantal’s untimely death. The film paints a sensitive and insightful portrayal of the artist, giving space for many of her undisclosed feelings and even personal regrets — namely, how the death of her beloved mother, Natalia, whom she considered to be the “heart of her work,” felt like the death of her artistic voice and vision. Frequent collaborators, like her cinematographer, Babette Mangolte, make appearances and give interviews, as do other filmmakers; Gus Van Sant discusses the influence and impact of Akerman’s work on his own filmography and on cinema at large, especially her contribution to transforming the meaning of “cinema time.” Although Chantal resisted the idea of categorizing her work, her sexuality and religious identity continually and consistently shape her subject matter. Her ongoing struggle was always to find a place of belonging in the world, to find a place of stasis — instead, living in the in-between, moving between oceans, drifting as a nomad. Many of her films depict this restless and undefined quality, focusing on characters and narratives that explore these feelings of displacement and discontentment. Recurring actress Aurore Clement, who appears in one of Akerman’s more explicitly lesbian-centered films, The Meetings of Anna, gives an illuminating interview; she details the harsh reaction of the audience upon the film’s reception, mainly to its depiction of a woman grappling with her interpretation of herself and her sexuality. “Chantal’s films at the time were anything but easy. You know at that time people couldn’t watch such films. And it’s still difficult for people today.” I Don’t Belong Anywhere is a succinct and emotional portrait of an artist who sought both everything and nothing, and it is well worth the attention. –Natalie Michaud