The LGBT Films of AFI Fest 2014

AFI Fest, an annual film festival organized by the American Film Institute, runs November 6-13 in Los Angeles. Some of the year's best films from around the world will screen, and the fest is free and open to the public. But which to see? The Advocate has highlighted eight films that have LGBT themes, characters, or creators, ranging from an Yves Saint Laurent biopic to a portrait of Girlhood in France to a gender-bending teenage boxer in Slap. Check out the selection.

Images and descriptions courtesy of AFI Fest.

Feature Films:

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Saint Laurent
Lavish and visually seductive, director Bertrand Bonello’s biopic of iconic French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel) is also an intimate drama that covers the deeply personal landscapes of addiction and sexuality that underscore the story of Saint Laurent’s rise to international acclaim. The production design, costumes, and cinematography capture the luster and color of the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, emphasizing the correlation between the romantic and visual connections that Bonello builds between Saint Laurent’s artistic inspirations and oeuvre, and the mise-en-scène of the world of the film. Striking French actor and model Ulliel embodies the flair, melancholy, and conflict of Saint Laurent’s artistic soul. The internationally renowned supporting cast includes Léa Seydoux, Jérémie Renier, and Louis Garrel. —Jacqueline Lyanga



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Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere
Huyen is pregnant and needs money for an abortion. When her boyfriend skips out on her, taking with him the cash he’d saved for her operation, Huyen must take matters into her own hands. She dabbles in prostitution with a strange first client, wealthy businessman Hoang, who has a tender yet obsessive fascination with Huyen’s pregnancy. The two go on a series of dates, all dreamy yet laced with mystery and the possibility of threat. Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere is a lyrical, enigmatic portrait of a young woman at a crossroads, confronting a decision over her body and grappling with the confusing nature of love and lust. With the rain-drenched city of Hanoi as a backdrop (gorgeously shot by cinematographer Pham Quan Minh), the film broaches issues of class and gender disparity through the lens of Huyen’s struggle to survive and to assert her independence. —Beth Hanna



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Girlhood (Bande de Filles)
In her third feature, French filmmaker Céline Sciamma crafts an intimate coming-of-age story. Rugged tomboy Marieme has been told she must go to technical school due to her low grades. Instead, she drops out and finds acceptance with a gang of free-spirited girls. To assimilate into the group, Marieme assumes a new feminine identity named Vic, hoping this will be a way to freedom from the life she longs to escape. First-time actress Karidja Touré delivers a chameleonic performance as Marieme/Vic, expertly shifting as she explores different character facets throughout the film. Taking her inspiration from the blogs of teenage girls she encountered in Les Halles shopping center in Paris, Sciamma further explores the themes of feminine identity, societal restrictions, and taboos while anchoring this story in the political realities of today’s France. —Jenn Murphy



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Mommy
Die, a widowed single mother, regains custody of her son, Steve, after he is kicked out of a correctional facility. Trying to make the best of this situation, Die decides to home-school Steve and enlists the help of her neighbor Kyla, a former schoolteacher on sabbatical after an incident that rendered her unable to communicate. Together this trio find a new sense of balance and regains the hope they once lost. Reuniting with actresses Anne Dorval (I Killed My Mother) and Suzanne Clément (Laurence Anyways), Québécois director Xavier Dolan returns to AFI Fest with a radiant tale of friendship, love, and courage. Expertly framed in 1:1 aspect ratio by cinematographer André Turpin, allowing the characters to be inescapably at the center of our attention, Dolan's fifth film in five years is Canada’s official Oscar entry. —Jenn Murphy



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Still Alice
Julianne Moore gives a powerful performance as Dr. Alice Howland, a linguistics professor who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Possessed of a brilliant mind, Alice is in a unique position to understand what her diagnosis holds in store. As she journeys through denial, diagnosis, and the decline of her mental capacities, she is forced to rely on her family and particularly her youngest daughter, Lydia (Kristen Stewart), who becomes her confidante, companion, and lifeline to the past. In their film, based on the best-selling novel by neuroscientist Lisa Genova, codirectors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (partners in work and life) have crafted a sensitive and dignified portrait of a woman grieving the loss of self from disease; it’s a devastating life transition that Alice bravely defies until the end. —Jacqueline Lyanga

Short films:

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Hole
One of the standouts of "Short Programs Five," Hole is a fearless portrait of a disabled man in search of intimacy. Written and directed by Martin Edralin, the Canadian film features the talents of Ken Harrower, Sebastian Deery, and April Lee.

 



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One Year Lease
Partners Brian Bolster and Thomas Harrington (alongside their cat) document one year's worth of their communication from their landlady, who has an itchy speed-dial finger and much to say.

One Year Lease Trailer from Brian Bolster on Vimeo.



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Slap
Directed by Nick Rowland, the British short film follows a teenage boxer as he comes to terms with his true self. Part of "Short Films Two," Slap features the talents of Joe Cole, Elliott Tittensor, Skye Lourie, and Stephen Bent.
 

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