by David Lamble
In director Mikael Buch's sex farce Let My People Go, Ruben (Nicolas Maury), a Pee Wee Herman-like, skinny-boy ex-pat Jewish French guy, plays house with a blonde hunk of a Finnish schoolteacher, Teemu. Their cozy life implodes when Ruben, during his rounds as a rural mail carrier, has a dust-up with an elderly customer who loses it when handed a package of cash – 199,980 euros, to be exact. Insisting that Ruben keep the loot, the guy keels over. Returning home with the money, Ruben is dismayed when Teemu rejects both him and the offer of an Alpine ski vacation.
Flying home to his neurotic extended clan, Ruben is once more a queer square peg with these upwardly mobile French Jewish dry cleaners. Having misplaced the money in customs, Ruben spends his time attending his mom's yoga classes, babysitting his nephew, and disco-dancing. One night at the club, he meets a large, pushy bear of a man on the dance floor.
Ruben: "Attorney Goldberg, what's a religious man like you doing here?"
"Every man is a riddle, my boy." Goldberg kisses Ruben against his will, then drags him home, planning on converting the little nebbish into a hairy-chested concubine. Ruben only half-heartedly resists the old leech.
Ruben is following in the comic footsteps of Carmen Maura's put-upon mother in the early Almodovar black comedy What Have I Done To Deserve This? Fittingly, here Maura plays Ruben's mom. In these anarchistic romps, the hero/heroine becomes a kind of comic punching-bag for the raging Ids of all around them. This is a free-fire zone where the constraints of morality and political correctness don't apply.
Devotees of French film will probably remember Nicolas Maury in youthful romances like Philippe Garrel's Regular Lovers (opposite Garrel's actor son Louis, hot as a pistol). His delectable if rubbery features smack of a younger Robin Williams, with just a whiff of Jacques Tati's absurdist comic panache. His American counterpart would be Jim Carrey.
Queer filmgoers get to hope that Finnish lover-boy Teemu will fly in to rescue his lovely schlemiel. With its vibrant, Disney-inspired color scheme and its debts to Woody Allen, Billy Wilder and Wes Anderson, Let My People Go (co-written with French veteran Christophe Honore) is at least a diverting place-holder until the arrival of this year's Almodovar farce.
My Brother the Devil For Rashid and Mo, two brothers bound at the hip growing up in an immigrant Egyptian family in London's Hackney neighborhood, the revolution up-ending life in their parents' birth-country might as well be playing out on Pluto. Rashid is the older, bolder member of a local drug-running gang. Mo is the baby-faced aspiring boxer who worships his bro, but is constantly slipping off the path that might carry him beyond drugs and thugs and off to college.
Sally El Hosaini's debut feature is a deliberately paced family melodrama that explores the thin line between an early grave, bare survival and a real shot at upward mobility in a slice of England with far more handguns than you might suspect. The film's ace in the hole is the chemistry and radiant beauty of its newcomer leads: James Floyd as Rashid and Fady Elsayed as Mo. The self-assured cool radiated by these boys carries us past the unexpected stabbing death of a British bulldog, thick slum accents, a late-developing queer subplot and a gangland showdown with more than a few slippery slopes.
El Hosaini demonstrates just how lethally confusing the queer card can be when it pops up in a traditional Middle Eastern culture. "I'd rather you be a bomber than a homo!" declares the bewildered Mo. A Frameline showcase film last year, My Brother the Devil continues at Landmark's Opera Plaza Cinemas.