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A refreshingly original but gritty and highly erotic coming of age tale set against the backdrop of queer sex and dating. Sequin (played by Conor Leach in his film debut) is a precocious 16-year old gay schoolboy who is drawn into the world of on-line sexual hook-ups and anonymous sex parties. His name comes from his habit of wearing a blue, spangled halter top for his sexual assignations. He has a habit of not meeting the same man twice, deleting their social profile from his phone after their meeting. Sequin hooks up with a man he knows only as “B” (Edward Whightman), a middle-aged married man. But after he meets him again in the anonymous sex orgy hosted by “D” (Damian de Montemas) in the large, eponymous blue room apartment, “B” becomes obsessed with the handsome boy. Sequin is also drawn towards Tommy (Simon Croker) a handsome classmate at school, who seems to reciprocate his feelings. The film moves into thriller territory when Sequin steals B’s phone in an attempt to learn his identity. Sequin In A Blue Room has been written by Jory Anast and first-time director Samuel Van Grinsven, who created the film for his Master’s Degree. He gives the film a gritty aesthetic that is reminiscent of Gregg Araki’s films, and in particular his Mysterious Skin. The film was shot on a limited budget, but boasts some interesting production design from Anna Gardiner, especially with the cold and sterile look of the titular blue room. The on-line sex conversations play out on screen, courtesy of graphics artist Chris Johns. The film is suffused with a sense of menace in the latter stages, as it shows the dangers of these anonymous hook-ups. The film has been atmospherically shot on location in Sydney by cinematographer Jay Grant (who met Van Grinsven at film school). This is the first film role for Leach, and he is on screen for the whole time; we begin to fear for him as he dives deeper into this dark and dangerous subculture of anonymous casual sexual encounters and on-line hook-ups. It is a largely wordless role, but he has a strong screen presence and conveys the character’s confidence and inner turmoil. Sequin In A Blue Room is a film that will certainly appeal to a gay audience but will not have broader appeal to a mainstream audience.


Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Tom Glynn-Carney in Rialto (2019)

Rialto is a gritty and edgy drama about the relationship between a middle-aged man and a 19-year old rent boy. It also explores complex father/son relationships. Dock worker Colm (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) is stuck in a sexless marriage with his wife Claire (Monica Dolan). The couple have two children. Colm is an angry alcoholic, who is still grieving the recent death of his domineering father. But then he loses his job at the docks when a Dutch shipping firm merges with the company he has worked for since leaving school. Colm’s life begins to spiral downwards. Colm begins to experiment with his sexuality and engages in a torrid encounter with rent boy Jay (Tom Glynn-Carney, from Dunkirk) in a shopping mall toilet block. Jay has recently become a father and is in desperate need for extra money, which is why he engages in rough trade sex with older men. Colm becomes obsessed with Jay which leads him into compromising situations that threaten him. Rialto is a film adaptation of the award-winning play Trade, which was created by actor and writer Adam O’Halloran, and which won the 2011 Irish Times Theatre Award. O’Halloran seems to specialise in dramas about men in crisis, but unlike his previous films there is very little humour here. Rialto is a searing character study of a man in mid-life crisis and on the verge of an emotional breakdown. The two leads effectively capture the fear, the confused emotions and inner turmoil of men coming to terms with their sexuality and their secrets. This is the sophomore feature for director Peter Mackie Burns (Daphne), who does his best to broaden the material beyond its static theatrical origins. Some elements of the drama do seem a bit familiar, but Rialto seems typical of that gritty British cinema. Burns’ direction is measured and deliberate. The film is a little bland visually, although cinematographer Adam Scarth captures the bleak working-class environment and industrial landscape of the Dublin setting.


Roland Menou, Félix Martinez, Nicolas Gob, Romain Lancry, Alban Lenoir, Geoffrey Couët, David Baïot, and Romain Brau in Les crevettes pailletées (2019)

Similar in vein to both the Gallic comedy Sink Or Swim and the inferior British comedy Swimming With Men (both about the uncinematic sport of synchronised swimming) this is a feel good if somewhat predictable underdog sports story from French filmmakers Cedric Le Gallo (his debut feature) and veteran comedy director Maxime Govare (I Kissed A Girl, etc). The Shiny Shrimps is based on a true story. Olympic swimmer Matthias (Nicolas Gob) makes a homophobic remark to a television journalist and is publicly chastised by the sport’s controlling body. As penance he is forced to coach Les Crevettes (aka the Shrimps), a gay water polo team, and prepare them for the upcoming Gay Games in Croatia. The team is a ragtag bunch with little skill or sense of teamwork but lots of enthusiasm. Team captain Jean (Alban Lenoir), who has overcome a cancer scare, initially formed the team to bring together a group of gay men to have fun. Winning is not a priority for him and the team. Initially reluctant about his assignment, Matthias soon turns the team into a united one and instils in them winning mentality. The main characters are a colourful bunch, well drawn and likeable, particularly Vincent (Felix Martinez, in his film debut), the young kitchen hand who steps out of the closet to join the team. Matthias’ daughter is non-judgemental, unlike her father, and accepts the team for who and what they are. The team set out on a wonderful road journey to make their way to Croatia, and this proves to be a bonding experience. Challenges are faced, life lessons are learned. The film has been nicely shot by cinematographer Jerome Almeras (I Kissed A Girl, etc), who makes great use of some superb locations. Le Gallo was actually a member of the eponymous water polo team here and, although he takes a few liberties along the way, he draws upon his experiences to shape this crowd-pleasing comedy. The film is upbeat throughout, with a wonderfully infectious style and a great soundtrack of cheesy pop hits. The film is filled with plenty of good-natured banter and laced with enough scatological humour and dick jokes to please its target audience. The winning humour though is tempered with more serious themes that provide insights into gay culture, inclusiveness, tolerance, homophobia, and stereotypes.

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