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Gay-themed pics prevalent

Schnabel's 'Night,' Rodriguez's 'Fantasma' among Venice offerings

Barbet Schroeder’s French-Colombian production about a middle-aged writer pursuing love among Medellin’s dangerous streetkids, “Our Lady of the Assassins,” is one of a number of gay-themed films in this year’s fest.

Julian Schnabel’s “Before Night Falls,” which stars Javier Bardem as celebrated Cuban novelist Reinaldo Arenas, delves into the writer’s persecution as a homosexual and political dissident in Castro’s Cuba. “He was the first Cuban writer to publish a book outside of Cuba without the permission of the Cuban government,” says Schnabel. “He was accused of molest-ing these kids and was thrown into prison in 1973 for two years, where he was like this Cyrano de Bergerac — writing love letters to the boyfriends and girlfriends of other prisoners.”

Other films that explore gay terrain include Portuguese newcomer Joao Pedro Rodriguez’s sexually explicit drama “O Fantasma”; Gus Van Sant’s “Jokes: Chapter 1 – Easter,” the first part of a triptych feature penned by Harmony Korine; and Argentine Marcelo Pineyro’s 1960s-set drama “Plata Quemada,” featured in the midnight Dreams and Visions section. Even Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s “The Wrestler’s” has a gay subtext with the tension that exists between two wrestlers and the woman that comes between them.

While some titles look destined to cause a stir in the hysteria-prone Italian media, fest di-rector Alberto Barbera points out that the profusion of gay-themed pics was not assembled as a direct response to the homophobic attacks from both the government and Church over this summer’s World Pride celebrations in Rome.

“They simply are good, in some cases excellent, films, which perhaps illustrate once again that cinema is always one step ahead of society in terms of tolerance,” suggests the fest topper. “Film often manages to express awareness of certain themes that anticipate widespread accep-tance or reflect certain ferments within contemporary culture and society.”