Highlights — and lowlights — of this week’s QFest offerings

108

With QFest in full swing this week, here are films to queue up for, or to avoid putting in your queue.

“Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together” (7 p.m. July 16 and 4:30 p.m. July 17, Ritz East) is a smart, fresh and funny mumblecore musical. Set in Chicago, roommates Jamie (Jacqui Jackson) and Jessie (Jessica London-Shields) are intimate — but they are not a couple. Everyone sees that Jessie is in love with Jamie. And seeing that her girl friend (not her girlfriend) is moving to Brooklyn in two weeks, Jessie has to decide if she should declare her love. This film, nimbly written and directed by Wendy Jo Carlton, examines the nature of friendships. It revels in the last chance to go skinnydipping in the lake, or the last time to give/get a foot rub. “Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together” also shows how professional rivalries and personal jealousies affect close friends. The film also contrasts Jamie’s erotic ease with Jessie’s series of bad dates — which only increases the sexual tension between the characters. While “Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together” frequently has its characters express themselves in song, don’t be put off — the catchy tunes work in conveying the characters’ emotions, sometimes quite poignantly. This romantic musical comedy is a delightful romp, buoyed by the strong performances by the two leads — London-Shields especially — and the engaging cast of multicultural characters.

“A Few Days of Respite” (4:45 p.m. July 10, Ritz East) is a slight but subtle and moving drama about two gay Iranians illegally making their way through France. Moshed (writer/director Amor Hakkar) and Hassan (Samir Guesmi) are hoping to get to Paris when they end up in a small town to catch a connecting train. When Moshed helps Yolande (Mariane Vlady) with her bags, she invites him to do some work in her home. Agreeing to take the job, the strangers become friendly. Yolande, a lonely widow, acknowledges that Moshed is an illegal, but wants to help him; she even offers to marry him. However, unbeknownst to her, Moshed is hiding Hassan in her apartment. “A Few Days of Respite” provides only a brief glimpse into the lives of these characters, but they are all seen clearly. The performances are uniformly strong — the actors convey their characters’ emotions, ranging from hope to heartbreak, with the most affecting expressions. What’s more, the political messages, about being queer in Iran or illegal in France, are presented fairly and without a heavy hand. This small, powerful film is well worth a look.

Another absorbing character study is “Tomboy” (7:15 p.m. July 13 and 2:30 p.m. July 16, Bourse), which shrewdly assesses how gender identities are formed and developed. Laure (Zoé Héran) is a young girl who passes herself off as a boy; moving to a new home, Laure reinvents herself as Michaël. “He” befriends Lisa (Jeanne Disson) as well as the neighborhood boys, impressing the guys by playing athletic games, but also allowing Lisa to put makeup on Michaël and kiss him. While Laure’s mother (Sophie Cattani) is pleased at her daughter’s female friendship — and wearing makeup — she is unaware of Laure’s deception. However, Laure’s sister Jeanne (Malonn Lévana) is in on the secret, playing along with her “brother” until an incident with one of the other kids threatens the situation. “Tomboy” employs a natural, observational approach to the drama, which is refreshing; the filmmaker never judges the characters. Laure/Michaël’s actions — even forming a phallus out of Play-Doh to go swimming — are credible, and Laure’s mother accepts her daughter’s masculine look/behavior — up to a point. “Tomboy” showcases a remarkable performance by Héran as the title character. This fine film should resonate with anyone who grew up wanting to be — or playing with friends of — the opposite gender.

“The Night Watch” (7:30 p.m. July 8 and 5 p.m. July 9, Ritz East) is the latest handsomely produced adaptation of Lambda Award-winning author Sarah Waters’ novels. While this film is frequently intriguing, viewers may need a scorecard to follow the multiple interlocking storylines and characters. Opening in 1947, two lesbians — Kay (Anna Maxwell Martin) and Helen (Claire Foy) — along with a gay man, Duncan (Harry Treadaway) and his straight sister Viv (Jodie Whittaker), all grapple with post-war life in London. Each is harboring a secret from his/her past, which is revealed as the film “rewinds.” The narrative periodically jumps back in time to illuminate the characters’ pasts and reveal how it has influenced their present/future. It’s a daring narrative conceit, but not an entirely successful one, because it is difficult to identify with the haunted characters. Despite strong performances by Maxwell Martin and Treadaway in particular, the stories all seem obvious and underdeveloped. “The Night Watch” does feature excellent period detail — it is a BBC TV production, after all — but even with some nice, tender moments between various queer characters, the result is curiously unsatisfying.

In “Buffering” (9:30 p.m. July 14 and 2:45 p.m. July 16, Ritz East), Seb (Alex Anthony) and Aaron (Conner McKenzy) are two cute, broke blokes who need to tighten their belts. Instead, they turn to taking their pants off to raise cash on a porn website. This good-looking but skin-deep sex comedy puts the emphasis on sex — and it’s more sugary than raunchy. As for the comedy, “Buffering” gropes the familiar tropes of bedroom fetishes — dildos, leather, spanking — as well as kindly sex-store workers and the eternal burning question: Is the super-hunky next-door neighbor gay? In other words, the undistinguished “Buffering” exists simply to provide an excuse to get the handsome cast in the buff. And that’s not terrible considering the male cast members are attractive. However, a subplot about a gender-confused girl who pretends she’s a boy who likes boys to get a straight guy (get it?) is less appealing — as is directors Christian Martin and Darren Flaxstones’ insistence on trying to create an emotional conflict for Seb. “Buffering” is a passable time-filler at best, but anyone looking for a truly naughty sex film is better off surfing the Internet.

“Go Go Crazy” (9:30 p.m. July 15, Ritz East), about an amateur go-go boy contest, is strictly amateur hour. As cheaply made as a watered-down drink, this fictional documentary, set at Philly’s Voyeur nightclub, is neither sexy nor funny as a bunch of stereotypes shake their moneymakers and respond to “outrageous” comments by the trying-too-hard drag-queen emcee (Hedda Lettuce). The film lacks appeal on almost every level — there’s no drama, no nudity and no quality. A high-school talent contest has more verve and appeal. Even if that is the point, would-be viewers would be better served putting their dollars in the sweaty g-string of an actual go-go boy than wasting their money on this film.