film note: Refugee's Welcome

Sex as a bridge to freedom

Refugee’s Welcome
Directed by Bruce LaBruce
Germany, 2017

Has Bruce LaBruce finally grown up?

If not for the credit at the beginning of this 22-minute short produced for XConfessions, I would never have been able to tell who directed it. Sure, there are skinheads and real, not-simulated sex — the hottest he’s ever directed — but where are the zombies? The cheap shock tactics? The outsider pretensions? The wink-wink cinephile jokes?

Nowhere to be found.

OK, there’s a little of all that, particularly in the twist at the end; but mostly what’s here is tender and humanist, proposing sex as a bridge between political, social, and personal worlds, as a specifically gay pool of affinities to draw strength from.

A cute, kinda twinky Syrian refugee (played by a very good Jesse Charif) wanders Berlin exploring his new home. He happens upon a cafe where a muscular, tattooed (Guns ‘n’ Roses emblem among them) punk is reading poetry. I recognized right away that the language he was speaking was Czech. We find out later that he’s from CR. (“I’m a foreigner, too,” he tells the Refugee.) Standing in the doorway listening, the Syrian boy gets noticed immediately by the Punk. They lock eyes, but the Refugee leaves quickly, a little unnerved. (We never learn their names, by the way.)

Back wandering, he gets jumped by a gang of skinheads, what else. The Punk intervenes like an action hero and saves him — providing some comic moments — then takes him back home to patch him up.

The Punk’s ministrations include a foot washing, which leads, of course, to foot worship, and then a hot sex scene and two cum shots. For me though, the care, attention, and humility in the Punk’s washing of the Refugee’s feet, evokes a sense of religious ritual and an invitation to fellowship. That a satisfying sex scene logically follows makes the gesture radical. It’s not the sort of revelation we usually get in real-sex, gay movies, such as in I Want Your LoveEloi & Biel, or Wrecked. It’s a welcome move forward from a director not known for advancing any but the most pedestrian, if nominally underground, easy ideas of the meanings behind what we do in bed, and why.

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