Comme des voleurs

Waterbearer Films, 2006

Lionel Baier

Lionel Baier, Natacha Koutchoumov, Stephane Rentznik, Alicja Bachleda-Curus, Luc Andrie, Anne-Lise Tobagi, Michal Rudnicki

Unrated, 112 minutes


The Shadows

Waterbearer Films. 2007

Guillermo R. Rodr’guez

Joe Lia, Emett Allen, Michelle Baxter, Evelin Longo, Laura Neri, Tara Norris, Blake Leslie, Ryan Jones

Unrated, 80 minutes

Short Clips
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, December, 2008

As queer cinema becomes more and more mainstream, audiences are becoming exposed to a greater variety of topics beyond the standard ones that encompassed our standard diet for so many years. This is as it should be. A queer film doesn't have to be about coming out, being victimized, or living with AIDS. The diversity in our own community is as myriad as straight society's and our films should reflect this as well. Here are two short reviews of films that, for better or worse, reflect the roads not usually taken.

Stealth is an odd film by director Lionel Baier (Garcon Stupide) that examines identity confusion on both national and sexual levels. Lionel Baier (the writer/director playing himself?) is a young gay author living in Lausanne, the French-speaking region of Switzerland. He works for a Swiss radio station and lives openly with his loving boyfriend, Serge (Stephane Rentznik). His relationship is accepted by both his parents and his sister, Lucie (Natacha Koutchoumov). Lionel is happy and carefree until his world is turned upside down one day when he discovers that his great grandfather was Polish.

His unknown heritage sparks an amusing journey of self discovery. Lionel immerses himself in everything Polish that he can find and begins to learn the language. His obsession goes a little too far when he meets a pretty young Polish woman (Alicja Bachleda-Curus), who is living in Switzerland illegally, and he decides to marry her so that she can stay in the country. His relationship with Serge is now in tatters, his parents are confused (but pleased) while his sister Lucie comically screams "Your son wants to marry a girl and that's normal?" Fed up with her brother's irrational behavior, she literally kidnaps Lionel and drives him to Poland where they can discover their ancestral roots and put his newfound fixation to rest.

This is certainly not your conventional queer film, and this is a good thing, but the deranged road trip that makes up the bulk of Stealth unfortunately lacks focus. Lionel's motivation is all over the place. Lionel is a gay man and, no matter how seized he suddenly is by his newfound Slavic identity, he isn't going to suddenly turn straight in the process. His impulsive rejection of the man he loves for a woman (for no other reason than her nationality) is just absurd. He reconnects with another man while traveling through Poland (and these scenes are the most enchanting in the film) but this isn't enough to redeem the movie's cardinal sin.

On the other hand, there are many great comic moments sprinkled throughout, especially during Lionel and Lucie's misadventures in a new country that is very foreign to them both. Their deep bond is the crux of Stealth and their relationship is heartfelt. But the film rambles; it goes on for way too long and overstays its welcome. The approach is often too serious when its humor demands broader strokes. Scenes that should be laugh-out loud funny come across as arid and flat; the film needs to be more over the top. In fact, plot elements like Lionel's decision to switch sides and marry can only work if the material is presented as farcical. Director Baier doesn't quite have Stanley Kubrick's flair for utililizing classical music as a backdrop and the score by Ravel often sounds pretentious and doesn't fit the action. Because the tale involves an exploration of Poland, maybe the music should have been by Chopin?

Lionel is a writer of "autofiction" which he describes as being the "opposite of autobiography" in that it uses events of his life in order to create fiction. Because the young director/writer/star assigns his own name to the main character it is possible that the film is based on events from his own life but, if that is the case, he desperately needs a dramaturge or an editor to whip the raw materials into shape. It is clear that Baier is trying to tie numerous threads and themes together for balance (his favorite book involves John Sutter's quest for adventure and gold in the Old West, and his need for a passport in Poland mirrors his prospective bride's dilemma back in Switzerland) but the glue is missing. This could have been a wonderfully quirky film but it ultimately taxes the viewer's patience. It is too confusing and there's not much of a payoff at the movie's end. The characters possess charm and likability, and this certainly isn't a bad film; it just could have been so much better.


I enjoy a good horror flick. I hate splatter films with interchangeable and disposable characters who exist only to get killed by a man in a hockey mask with a machete, and don't get me started on "torture porn" like the Hostel films and all those Saw sequels. I like the ones that evoke a creepy mood with style and wit like Stanley Kubrick's The Shining or Roman Polanski's Repulsion or Robert Wise's original version of The Haunting. The Shadows, a new thriller with a transgender twist from Guillermo R. Rodriguez, begins this way but then collapses into complete and incoherent nonsense.

Joe Lia stars as Stephen Grimes, a horror novelist with writer's block. He has two weeks to finish his latest book but he has barely started it. His neurotic live-in sister keeps interrupting him and his ex-wife is pressuring him to sign divorce papers. One night, while going out for a drive, he hits a young man with his car and rushes him to the hospital. The accident victim, Emmet (Emett Allen), coincidentally shares the same last name as the distraught driver. Emmet recognizes the writer and they become friends and, shortly after, passionate lovers.

Ignoring his languishing novel, Stephen goes clubbing with Emmet and his chums and parties until all hours of the night. Suddenly he tires of his book and tells Emmet, "I want out. I don't want my life anymore." With the help of his new friends, he transfers all of his bank accounts and then fakes his death only to discover afterwards that his new comrades are not what they first seemed to be. His life unravels and begins to resemble his fiction.

The Shadows begins splendidly. Stephen is typing away at his book (which is also called The Shadows) while he imagines the story that he is writing. The visuals that depict his germinating tale stylishly spoof horror film conventions and it is all presented with tongue planted firmly in cheek. The film's cinematographer has a lot of fun with eerie shadows on the wall that seem to come to life and the terror-stricken woman in these interludes is played by the same actor as Stephen - in drag. Stephen is a nerdy and likable guy who, during a story pitch, pictures his publisher being murdered by the axe-wielding woman in his story. Many of these interpolations are quite funny. A humorous and lengthy shot in which he stares at his computer screen, and dons headphones and dances while throwing his manuscript pages around, climaxes with the camera tilting to the ceiling and lingering on the shadows of his waving arms. When he leaves the room to go out for his date with destiny, a mysterious black shape runs in front of the camera.
Stephen gets to enjoy a very hot tryst with Emmet before everything in his life goes to hell. His transformation into a club kid is plausible but, while it is impossible to predict the impulsiveness of human behavior, Stephen seems like too much of a milquetoast to participate in his new friends' grisly plans. It also isn't clear if closeted homosexuality was the reason for his divorce and so it is hard to gauge his abrupt attraction to Emmet. He also seems awfully trusting of these complete strangers when he decides to stage his demise. As is often the case in such films, nothing is what it seems.

I wanted to like this film. The first hour is entertaining and, despite some serious lapses in clarity, becomes quite suspenseful and gripping in a Twilight Zone vein as Stephen's sense of identity and reality is stripped away. But then The Shadows takes a totally whacked-out left turn at Alburquerque and, to be quite honest, the last fifteen minutes make no sense whatsoever. (The director is in good company; Polanski's The Tenant was ultimately a study in style over substance as well.) Twist endings can be fun but this one is just impossible. Most of the film's characters, primarily Emmet, appear in the scenes that illustrate his novel-in-progress but this device fails to provide any explanation for the events that lead up to the finale. I was reminded of those old Tales From The Darkside episodes on TV that were notorious for their incoherent conclusions. Writer/director Rodriguez was clearly aiming for something here, I just don't have a clue what.