Der Samurai and Bad Hair: Tribeca Slashes the Tresses Off Homophobia

So how do you deal with folks who just want to punch every homosexual man, woman, and other "gender-disabled" creature on the nose? Hold up a mirror so they can view their own obtuseness -- or teach their victims to be victors?

Gossipist Perez Hilton, whom many rifle-toting, Bible-thumping parents would not want near their tots, wrote a book not that long ago for ankle-biters entitled The Boy with Pink Hair Vibrantly illustrated by Jen Hill, the tome is all about a young lad with coral locks born to loving parents who tell him to embrace his difference. He does exactly that and becomes a highly successful prepubescent cook whose recipes for pink goodies are gobbled up the globe over.  Moral of the tale: "His difference did make a difference. Only his difference was not his pink hair -- not really. His difference was that he followed his own special dream and was happy to be just who he was." Second moral: Raise the cholesterol of your enemies and they might die sooner.

With Der Samurai, writer/director/editor Till Kleinert takes a less diffident stance against the heteronormative world. He has created a handsome, muscular, and deranged transvestite (the charismatic Pit Bukowski), who shows up in a remote East German town, and starts cutting off the heads of queer-hating motorcyclists, barking dogs, and a slightly uppity blonde femme fatale with his samurai sword. When not in slaughter mode, Der Samurai eats raw bloody meat, runs with wolves, scares card-playing grandmas suffering from Alzheimer's, and decimates tacky lawn ornaments that really seem to be the bane of his existence. 

But Der Samurai’s main goal is to play with the mind of the cute, virginal policeman named Jakob (Michel Diercks), who is chasing him about town. But who is chasing whom? Time after time, Jakob has the chance to put an end to the oh-so-messy, splatter-crazed villain, but some inner voice causes him to hold back. What is that voice saying? Surprisingly, it's to slow dance with this hunky tranny attired in a full-length, tastefully cut, snowy gown. Yes, homosexual desire is erupting within Jakob's gonads and within his heart. Will these tender tremors of passion stop him from carrying out his calling to protect the village residents and their tchotchkes from being hacked to pieces? As long I remain undecapitated, my lips are sealed.

But let me just share that this is one of the more oddball romances you'll ever witness. Imagine George Romero directing Harold and Maude. As for the finale, which includes a wolf, a full erection, and fireworks cascading from a torso, it’s a hoot and a half.

Moving from campy horror to world-class cinema, one of the true highlights of the Tribeca Film Festival and of the year is Mariana Rondon's Bad Hair (Pelo Malo). The simple external plot is that nine-year-old, curly locked Junior (the phenomenal Samuel Lange) -- who resides with his mother Marta (Samantha Castillo) (an unemployed security guard) and his baby brother -- wants to have his hair straightened for his yearbook picture while dressed up as a stylish singer. Living on a high floor of an overpopulated tenement complex in Caracas, a riot of noise and poverty, with no income, Mom says she has no funds for such an extravagance.

Mom also has no affection for her son's effeminate side: his lyrical dancing about, his singing songs on buses, his mooning over a much older guy who sells groceries, and, of course, his straight-hair fetishism. She's afraid she has a little homosexual on her hands and even takes Junior to a doctor to see if anything is awry. Supply him with some male role models, the doc advises. Mom takes that to mean copulating with guys in front of the boy’s open bedroom door.

However, on the other side of town, Junior's gregarious fraternal grandmother embraces the boy's androgyny and wants to buy the lad off his mother and raise him herself. She already celebrates her sense of his "queerness." This involves sewing him frilly outfits that are very frock-like. 

This acceptance freaks out Junior as much as his mother's disgust with him does. "He just wants straight hair. He doesn't want to be a girl. Let him be what he is, even if it defies societal intentions," Junior seems to want to say. Pauline Kael came up with a term for such behavior when reviewing 400 Blows: She described Antoine Doinel as displaying a "child’s mutinous intelligence."  

So there you will sit in palpable suspense: will the schoolboy be victorious or be beaten down? The final moments of Bad Hair are as fiercely emotive as Truffaut's fabled still-shot ending. This is grand cinema.

Also noteworthy is Casimir Nozkowski's documentary short, 70 Hester Street, a paean to the building he grew up in and where his artist parents dwelled for over 45 years. The structure has now been sold for $3,999,999, and all the remnants of its past history, from a synagogue to a whisky still to a shower curtain factory to a rental residence, will be expunged, including the current residents. Farewell to its synagogue windows, its hidden passages, its remnant of Hebrew prayer books, and to the paint drippings of the director's parents' endeavors. 

So is this a glum trek? Not at all. Nozkowski’s mother had advised him, "Don’t make a movie about moving out; make a movie about how great it was to live here." He’s succeeded. This ten-and-a-half-minute superlative chronicle clearly bears repeated viewings as the director explores the crooks and crannies of a brick-and-mortar soul. - Brandon Judell

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Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Theatre into Film" and "The Arts in New York City" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village VoiceindieWire.com, the New York Daily NewsSoho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writinggroup FlashPoint.

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