Two films address men’s same-sex crushes in very different ways. In the potent and unsettling character study “Beauty” [9:30 p.m. July 13, Ritz East; 5 p.m. July 17, Ritz East], the married, closeted François (Deon Lotz) becomes unhealthily fixated on his friend’s son, the spellbindingly handsome Christian (Charlie Keegan). He routinely spies on the irresistible young man in creepily effective scenes, shot mostly without sound. “Beauty” builds its tension inexorably as François waits and plots before acting on his pent-up desires. This is arguably the best film in the fest.
Where “Beauty” is powerful, “North Sea Texas” [7:15 p.m. July 14, Ritz East; 2:30 p.m. July 21, Ritz East] is poignant, taking a more fantastical approach to queer desire. Fifteen-year-old Pim (Jelle Floorizoone) has highly erotic sleepovers with a handsome older neighbor, Gino (Mathias Vergels). However, Pim is shattered when Gino finds a girlfriend. He soon develops a crush on Zoltan (Thomas Coumans), his mother’s border, but other complications ensue. This stylized film captures the awkward blush of first love, but the film’s lyrical approach keeps audiences at a distance except during the most emotional moments.
Bisexuality is also a prominent theme at QFest. Luminously shot (in black and white) but languidly paced, “Joshua Tree 1951” [5 p.m. July 13, Ritz East; 7:15 p.m. July 16, Ritz East] is an ambitious if ultimately unsuccessful film about the pre-fame years of James Dean (James Preston). Focusing mainly on the bisexual actor’s acting exercises and bedroom activities, the film is as gorgeous as it is dull. Writer-director Matthew Mishory does not provide any depth to its title character or drama to make Dean engaging. The film is just a 90-minute excuse to study Preston’s good looks, as he gets into bed with lovers of both sexes.
Better are two films that feature characters exploring bisexuality when marriage is on the horizon. “Kiss Me” [12:15 p.m. July 21, Ritz at the Bourse; 7 p.m. July 22, East] is a glossy and soapy Swedish film in which the headstrong Mia (Ruth Vega Fernandez), who is engaged to Tim (Joakim Nätterqvist), unexpectedly finds herself falling in love with Frida (Liv Mjönes), the daughter of her father Lasse’s (Krister Henriksson) fiancé Elisabeth (Lena Endre). The film is compelling when the characters are forced to face the reality of their situations. Mia’s acknowledging the truth about her sexuality is as strong as a conversation between Elisabeth and Lasse about Mia’s lesbianism. While “Kiss Me” gets clichéd in its last reel — there’s a race-to-the-airport scene — the performances by the two attractive leads are captivating.
“Love or Whatever” [9:15 p.m. July 17, Ritz East; 5 p.m. July 18, Ritz East] is more about the “whatever” the film’s characters face as they search for true love. When Corey (Tyler Poelle) pops the question to his super-hot boyfriend Jon (David Wilson Page), his lover bolts — right into the arms (and between the legs) of Melissa (Jenica Bergere). While Corey has a sweet rebound romance with Pete (Joel Rush), a gorgeous, poetry-reading, pizza-delivering grad student, things get farcical when the bubble-butted (and often bare-assed) Jon wants Corey back. “Love or Whatever” also includes fine comic support by Jennifer Elise Cox as Corey’s quick-witted, foul-mouthed and horny-as-hell lesbian sister. In fact, there are several films that feature both gay male and lesbian characters.
“My Best Day” [9:45 p.m. July 14, Ritz East; 5:15 p.m. July 16, Ritz East] is a slight but sly comedy of interlocking stories set in motion when Karen (Rachel Style) searches for her father, who moved away — perhaps to the next town over from her. She employs the help of Meagan (Ashlie Atkison), a lesbian torn between two girlfriends, and meets a variety of oddball characters including gay Eugene (Harris Doran) who is on a quest for “meatless meat.” Audiences will be won over by this quirky little indie by out writer-director Erin Greenwell.
Alas, the British import “Stud Life” [7:30 p.m. July 14, Ritz East; 2:30 p.m. July 15, Ritz East], about a black butch, J.J. (T’Nia Miller) and her gay male best friend Seb (Kyle Treslove), is strictly amateur hour. J.J. is a jaded wedding photographer who falls in love with Elle (Robyn Kerr). But Seb thinks she’s bad news, and doesn’t get along with her. The lesbians’ relationship takes a turn for the worse when J.J. discovers something unsavory about Elle. There are issues worth exploring here — J.J. being torn between her best friend and her new girlfriend, and J.J. or Seb getting queer-bashed — but “Stud Life” is too superficial to make viewers care about the characters or the resolutions to their simplistic situations.