BFI Flare 2016: Tangerine + Departure

B F I  F L A R E
L o n d o n  L G B T  F i l m  F e s t i v a l  2 0 1 6


"The tale of two transgender working girls on Santa Monica Boulevard set over the course of one Christmas Eve. Just returned from a brief stint in jail, Sin-Dee Rella meets her best friend Alexandra and discovers that Chester, her beau, has been cheating on her with a ‘white fish’ (a Caucasian cisgender woman). Determined to teach her a lesson, Sin-Dee goes on a hunt for Chester’s new girl." BFI Flare

One of my favourite movies of all time is the underappreciated Hangin' With The Homeboys (1991), which follows four friends (and frenemies) over the course of a night, as they battle from the Bronx to Manhattan on an ill-fated boys' night out.

Like Homeboys, the bittersweet Tangerine also follows friends/frenemies, the marginal on the margins of a great city - in this case Los Angeles - over the course of a single day (and night). Fast, fascinating and unrelenting, it's a tragicomic laugh riot.

Our two heroines, Alexandra (Mya Taylor) and Sin-Dee Rella (Kiki Kitana Rodriguez), are mesmerising to watch, even when they seemingly aren't doing anything. Both Taylor and Rodriguez exude a heartbreaking vulnerability, that all the smart mouthing and shade in the world can't hide. No less watchable are cabbie Razmik (Karren Karagulian) and "white fish" Mickey O'Hagan.

Like Beautiful Something, Tangerine - heartfelt, big-hearted, and beautiful - is a film I could easily see over again. Right now. Without a doubt, the highlight of this year's BFI Flare.


"This drama focuses on Elliot, a sensitive adolescent, as he and his mother return to their holiday home in rural southern France for one final time. When he meets Clément, a handsome and friendly local boy, Elliot sees the potential for love. But his mother, who is attempting to come to terms with the break-up of her marriage, appears to resent her son’s newfound friend." BFI Flare

No one could accuse Departure of being big-hearted. Director Andrew Steggall bounded onstage to introduce the film, like, say, an Afghan Hound on Primrose Hill. When he spoke, something like Hugh Grant's voice emerged, and I knew we were in Brideshead Revisited territory. I hoped his film would be at least as entertaining as that.

Departure is a dispiriting, leaden film with a truly horrible lead: Alex Lawther (Elliot) is precocious and entitled, a deeply unpleasant brat carved out of something hard and nasty. The problem is we're expected to see him in a sympathetic light. His mother (Juliet Stevenson) is a brittle nightmare, the kind of woman you might see in Waitrose destroying a worker with passive aggression because there's no grissini. By the time Elliot's equally awful (do you see the pattern here?) father has turned up, I was hoping for some sort of familial murder-suicide, but alas, everyone is too well bred for that.

More disturbing is the depiction of Clément (Phénix Brossard), the French eye candy. There's a bitter taste of Empire in his depiction, of the ruling British class preying on the primitive, yet physically desirable, natives.

Regardless of its inherent unpleasantness, Departure looks good. It's all very tasteful, very John Lewis. Steggall's peers will approve, which is what really matters, isn't it?

Depressingly, Departure was funded by the BFI: a rich kid's vanity project, filmed at a chum's luxury French chateau, boosted by establishment chums at the BFI, and now regurgitated by more well-to-do chums at Peccadillo. It pays to know the right people: Steggall will go far.

Every year, KAOS reports from the annual BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival. This year, I'll be reviewing twelve films (including a few programmes of shorts). Next time: I Promise You Anarchy.


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