October 06, 2004 News & Opinion » Featured story

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Telling the intergenerational tales 

"There are thoughts that have the power to trap me. I write them down to be more honest about them and lessen their potential to do harm."

Artists can relate to these sentiments, whether their thoughts take the form of ink, paint, musical notes, or another medium. Those words also serve as an introduction to Perry (Anthony Mackie, 8 Mile), a gay black college student. Perry's modern-day journey of self-discovery is juxtaposed against the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s in Brother to Brother, a striking debut feature film written and directed by Rodney Evans.

Perry, an aspiring painter, is estranged from his parents, at odds with his classmates, and second-guessing the motives of a new lover when he strikes up a friendship with Bruce (stage actor Roger Robinson), a resident of the homeless shelter at which he works. Bruce turns out to be Richard Bruce Nugent, a peer of writers Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston and one of the original contributors to the groundbreaking literary quarterly Fire!.

Nugent's piece in the inaugural edition of Fire!, "Smoke, Lilies and Jade," was the first published piece written from a gay point of view by a black author. In walks and talks with Perry along the sidewalks of New York he offers Perry his unique perspectives on race and sexuality, while Perry learns the old chestnut rings true: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Through actual vintage footage as well as gorgeously shot flashbacks in black and white, Evans depicts the Harlem Renaissance and its major players as they struggle against racism and homophobia in order to make their voices heard. Langston Hughes (Daniel Sunjata), Zora Neale Hurston (Aunjanue Ellis), Wallace Thurman (Ray Ford), and Bruce Nugent (Duane Boutte) worked, lived, and fought together as they took on the publishing industry, the public, and even the NAACP, who believed that Fire! was too controversial and portrayed African-Americans in a negative light.

The film contains some lovely and powerful performances, especially those of the two men who play Bruce Nugent. Boutte's portrayal perfectly captures an artist at the beginning of his career, full of idealism and promise, and Robinson channels a wiser, older man whose acceptance should not be confused with resignation. Also watch for Larry Gilliard, Jr. as Perry's friend Marcus --- viewers of HBO's "The Wire," aka "The Best Show on Television," will recognize him as conflicted drug dealer D'Angelo Barksdale.

Obviously a very personal piece of work, Brother to Brother has been honored at a number of festivals, including Sundance, and establishes filmmaker Rodney Evans as an artist to watch. Brother to Brother, the ImageOut Centerpiece Film, screens Sunday, October 10, at the Dryden Theatre, 5 p.m. Info: 271-2640, www.imageout.org.

Maybe it's because it's a Spanish farce with meaty roles for women, or perhaps it's because a couple of the leads have turned up in his films previously. Whatever the reason, the influence of Pedro Almodóvar hangs heavy over My Mother Likes Women, and codirectors-cowriters Daniela Fejerman and Ines Paris have crafted an engaging screwball comedy with a huge heart.

When divorced classical pianist Sofia introduces her three grown daughters to her new lover Eliska, a much-younger Czech woman, they can barely disguise their shock. Certain they know what's best for their mother --- and positive that Eliska is just after her money --- Jimena, Elvira, and Sol conspire to put an end to Sofia's obvious bliss by finding another woman to seduce Eliska. A reconnaissance mission to a local lesbian bar comes up empty but shows the free-spirited Sol to be very popular with the ladies, though it's the ultra-neurotic Elvira who eventually hits it off with Eliska.

It's awful timing, however, as classic middle child Elvira is in the midst of an identity crisis. An aspiring novelist apparently unable to filter the words that come out of her mouth, she's slaving away at a publishing house, being sexually harassed by her icky therapist, and coping with her newfound attraction to a dreamy writer --- and possibly Eliska. Misunderstanding and a lack of communication help fuel the plot and enable it to showcase a quick stopover in breathtaking Prague before careening to a tidy wrap-up.

Really, there's nothing happening on screen that you haven't seen before --- possibly with different sexual orientations represented --- and you know exactly where it's headed at all times. But that's not always a bad thing, and in this case it allows you to watch Leonor Watling (as Elvira) walk off with this movie. Last seen on American screens in My Life Without Me and Talk to Her --- and next seen in Almodóvar's Bad Education --- her gifts for both cerebral and physical comedy are on full display here, and she will hopefully be a major star.

If I had a quibble with the movie, it would be found in the connection between Sofia and Eliska, which came off more maternal than romantic. But who am I to dictate what people need and how their relationships should be?

My Mother Likes Women screens Saturday, October 16, at the Dryden Theatre, 7 p.m. Info: 271-2640, www.imageout.org.

--- Dayna Papaleo

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