Gender Fluidity, Turkish Delights, & Richard E. Grant Has a "Lesson" for You


Have you ever wondered why you and your compatriots worldwide are so obsessed with entertainment big and small? Pauline Kael in "Trash, Art, and the Movies" supplied one possibility: "Maybe you just want to look at people on the screen and know they're not looking back at you, that they’re not going to turn on you and criticize you."

Or if you are a subway rider, kill you.

Kael's fellow critic Geoffrey O'Brien's was paraphrased as saying: "Everyone is born twice, once in the real world, and once again in the movie world." I guess we should update that to the "streaming planet."

O'Brien also noted in The Phantom Empire how we're taught our dating rituals in the dark. For example, on my first date, I took Michelle Goldstein to the Loews American in Parkchester to see Dick Van Dyke and Barbara Feldon in Fitzwilly. Like a gawky teen hero from some black-and-white 50's musical I saw on WOR-TV's daily afternoon offering, The Million Dollar Movie, I actually yawned and, mid-yawn, swung my left arm over Michelle's shoulders. Then I forgot what to do. After 15 minutes or so, my poor limb was so severely cramped, romancing became the last thing on my mind.

Happily, many of the characters showcased at this year's Tribeca Festival were a bit more self-assured.


For example, take Öte, an engaging travelogue of sorts directed and written by Malik Isasis and Esra Saydam. Here Leia (Iman Artwell-Freeman), a Black New-York-City high-school teacher, hiking solo throughout Turkey, has an end goal of meeting up with a gal pal in Armenia. Along the way, a few unencumbered romances lasting an evening or two, are not ruled out.

As she buses, trains, and treads along beaches, hills and highways, this highly appealing knapsacker is an object of curiosity because of her skin color both to children and to the men who are smitten by her charms.

Volleyball player: "I never went to bed with a Black woman."

Leia: "Our anatomies are very similar to that of other women."

She quickly advises the gent to stop yapping or he will be on the mattress alone, a state Leia doesn't mind: "I can be completely comfortable in my own solitude."

But then she bumps into the troubled yet comely Yusef (Eren Acili), who's running a small inn in an even smaller village. Cultures attract, and upon learning that Leia was born and raised in the Big Apple, he asks: "Where's that place that, in America, that you are not going to live in, like the toilet of the country?"

Leia (thinking): "Probably Texas. Anywhere in Texas."

Yusef (looking around): "This is my Texas."

With stunning views captured by cinematographer Junior Gung, and a joyful ending, Öte will have you booking tickets to Turkey overnight. Just be aware that for a woman alone, travelling overseas, let alone in this country, is not always the wisest of choices unless you have Leia's street-smarts.

For those of you with a literary bent, after all, the only writing in Öte takes place on cellphones, sign yourselves up for Alice Troughton's highly instructive The Lesson. If this instant classic, not totally unreminiscent of the Merchant/Ivory films of another generation, gets pushed out of my Top Ten list for 2023, it will indeed be a magnificent year for cinema. But at moment, it's solidly wedged in.

The story here is of a young aspiring wordsmith, Liam Somers (Daryl McCormack, the heartthrob from Thank You, Leo Grande), who gets a live-in job tutoring the son of England's preeminent author, J.M. Sinclair (Richard E. Grant).

Residing on a huge estate that can hardly contain Sinclair's self-importance, there is also a wife, Hélène (Julie Delpy) and that possibly-Oxford-bound offspring, Bertie (Stephen McMillan). An older son, Felix, had sadly committed suicide.

"We don't talk about Felix," Hélène warns Liam on his first day of work.

There's also, by the way, one servant to open doors, serve strong coffee, and . . . . let the interactions begin.

Sinclair has been working so long on his current novel, England has long thought him retired. Yet, he will still give interviews, spouting forth advice now and then: "I know writers who obsess, 'How do I say something original? Am I saying something unique?' I'm sorry. There are no new ideas. Most writers are reconciled to the fact. If they are not, they will soon be. Now, average writers attempt originality. They fail universally. Good writers have a sense to borrow from their betters. But the greats, the great writers . . . steal."

And this meglomaniac does consider himself great, which as one can expect might have a highly negative impact on all in breathing distance. Can anyone survive?

Intermittently sexy with a thrilling finale, consistently clever dialogue, and inviting visuals, The Lesson is about mortals with taught minds while so many offerings today are about the untaught.

Boasting an Oscar-worthy performance by Grant with a cast that more than rises to his level, what more can you ask for?


If your request is for a highly romantic gender-fluid short, Alex Bush's Thaw will fill the bill.

Here after a snowstorm has stilled, Huck (Jack Petersen), a lanky young man, accompanies a solidly limbed redhead, Smith (singer Caitlin Cobb-Vialet), to an isolated, well-appointed log cabin.

This was Smith's dad's castle. Now the young woman wants to carry on where Pops left off. However, mother insists Huck accompany her. After all, the pair were childhood friends, and the woods are no place for a girl alone.

As Huck goes into his assigned room, he starts unpacking. Opening a drawer, he finds a pair of pearl earrings. On the ears they go.

And in the closet, there is sort of old-fashioned dress. Why not try it on?

Through a window, after chopping wood, Smith sees this fashion show. She apparently likes it.

At dinner, Smith insists Huck wear the gown.

"No," he replies.

"It'll be fun," she responds, like dress-up."

The gender roles are incrementally switched, including the duo's dialogue.

"What does it take for a man to get a drink around here?" jokes Smith.

"Don't even think of getting a coffee stain on my table?"


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