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Onscreen at Outfest

Starting today, Los Angeles’ annual gay and lesbian film fest returns for its 23rd year, bringing with it a whopping 200-plus film and video programs set to unspool over the next 12 days in a slew of city-spanning venues, from downtown’s historic Orpheum theater to the Westside’s Monica 4-Plex. To help you navigate your way through the programming maze, our critics weigh in on 10 of Outfest’s notable events. COTE D’AZUR (France) Written and directed by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau, this chipper comedy of sexual confusion may pass muster as an opening-night pleaser of crowds of almost every sexual stripe, but as (yet another) homage to the fabled elasticity of French carnal mores it’s tiresomely coy. A middle-aged bourgeois (Gilbert Melki) takes his zesty wife (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) — and, unbeknownst to him, her bit on the side — along with their two teenagers to his childhood beach house on the Mediterranean coast. Winds blow, summer sun shines, polymorphous perversity lurks under every stone, and, every now and then, someone bursts alarmingly into song and dance. Bruni-Tedeschi is her usual radiantly libidinal presence, but channeling Bette Midler doesn’t become her, and even she can’t redeem all the redundant vaudeville carry-on. Côte d’Azur may aspire to Rohmer and Truffaut, but it achieves only situation comedy. As the end approaches, it’s disconcerting to realize that the most action you’ve seen is an endless loop of adolescent masturbation in the shower and a few PG male clinches in the bushes. (Orpheum, Thurs., July 7, 8 p.m.) (Ella Taylor) BASED ON A TRUE STORY (Netherlands) In 1972, a Brooklyn man named John Wojtowicz held up a Chase Manhattan bank in order to obtain the funds for his male lover’s sex-change operation — events that would be immortalized in the Oscar-winning 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon. In this remarkable documentary, Dutch director Walter Stokman ventures back to the scene of that disorganized crime to talk to the real people — hostages, bank tellers, policemen and even Wojtowicz’s ex-wife — who became unlikely celebrities on that steamy August day. But it’s the portly, white-bearded Wojtowicz who proves the hardest to pin down, baiting Stokman in a series of rambling telephone conversations, then making his participation contingent on a series of increasingly outlandish monetary demands. In the process, Stokman’s film goes from being just another True Hollywood Story to a perceptive account of the perils of documentary filmmaking in the reality-TV era. (DGA 2, Fri., July 8, 9:30 p.m.; Village, Fri., July 15, 5 p.m.) (Scott Foundas) LITTLE MAN (USA) Nicole Conn’s harrowing documentary transforms the hot-button issue of same-sex parenting into a portrait of one family’s love and perseverance. When Conn’s surrogate-birthed son, Nicholas, is born 100 days prematurely, Conn’s determination to keep their baby alive, despite her partner’s reasonable objections, creates endless, agonizing nights in the hospital and a growing resentment between the two women. Conn the filmmaker sometimes veers into melodrama, but Conn the mother emerges as a tenacious, occasionally exasperating champion for Nicholas, risking her romantic relationship because of her dogged devotion to the fragile child who may not live to see another day. (DGA 1, Sat., July 9, 4:15 p.m.) (Tim Grierson) WILBY WONDERFUL (Canada) Writer-director Daniel MacIvor’s ensemble dramedy is another one of those movies about the colorful inhabitants of some too-quaint-by-half Canadian island town. There’s the suicidal sad sack who can’t quite manage to successfully off himself, the high-strung real estate agent (Sandra Oh) who puts her houses ahead of her husband, and the lame-duck mayor (Maury Chaykin) who wants to turn the local gay cruising spot into a golf course. It all sounds (and often plays) like a sitcom pilot from the mid-1980s, but MacIvor doesn’t push the quirkiness factor nearly as much as he might have, and a few characters emerge into three-dimensional light. In particular, Rebecca Jenkins has a ragged dignity as the local hash slinger trying to stop her teenage daughter from turning into the town floozy — which is to say, from becoming just like Mom. (Regent Showcase, Sat., July 9, 6:30 p.m.) (SF) WTC VIEW (USA) In the days after September 11, guilty-faced apartment hunters come knocking at the door of Eric (Michael Urie), whose available second bedroom looks out on the smoking ruin. No one rents, but each visitor offers Eric, who’s suffering a slow nervous breakdown, a monologue about their experience of that terrible day. Despite a setup of cringe-worthy preciousness, writer-director Brian Sloan (I Think I Do) and a superb cast — all of whom appeared in his same-named off-Broadway play — appear to be working from a place of deeply felt grief. Although the movie is too long and may feel cloying to some, Sloan and company deserve praise for tackling such profound sorrows. (DGA 2, Sat., July 9, 9:30 p.m.; Village, Wed., July 13, 5 p.m.) (Chuck Wilson) AN EVENING WITH ISAAC JULIEN Anchored in rigorous academia, with deep roots in experimental filmmaking, British filmmaker Isaac Julien continuously pushes the envelope (and viewers’ buttons) with his examinations of race, queered sexualities and the construction of art that deals with those issues. From his controversial classic Looking for Langston to his somewhat less successful stab at the mainstream, Young Soul Rebels, to his critically acclaimed short, The Attendant (in which the scenario of a black security guard working in a museum is used to challenge the racist underpinnings of the work he’s employed to guard), Julien brings a penetrating intellect to his work. What makes his films so rewarding is his willingness to wade into volatile waters — particularly the power plays that can underlie even the most loving interracial relationships — with his obvious passion for art and its power to transcend and transform. In a rare Los Angeles appearance, he’ll be on hand to present the films Long Road to Mazatlán, The Attendant and Three. (DGA 2, Tues., July 12, 7 p.m.) (Ernest Hardy) **INTERNATIONAL CENTERPIECE** UNVEILED (Germany) From its striking opening scene — in which the female passengers on a plane bound from Iran to Germany remove their headscarves in unison upon crossing over into international airspace — to its mirror-image finale, Angelina Maccarone’s Unveiled offers a wise, uncompromising portrait of oppression in all its physical and psychological manifestations. For Fariba (Jasmin Tabatabai), fleeing her homeland means escaping a death sentence resulting from her affair with a married woman. Upon arriving in Germany, she is denied asylum, but proceeds to enter the country anyway, donning the identity of a recently deceased man who did have legal papers. What follows, as Fariba takes a menial job in a cabbage factory and develops a growing affection for one of her co-workers, is a tenderly observed love story, in which the point is made that you needn’t live under an Islamic Republic to feel your personal liberties violated. The film is built around a brilliant performance by Tabatabai, who slips on her masculine attributes as though they were a second skin and whose expressive face registers every change in her environment as though it were a child’s, seeing the world for the first time. (DGA 1, Thurs., July 14, 7 p.m.) (SF) GARCON STUPIDE (Switzerland) The sales hook for Garçon Stupide is lots of nudity and plenty of no-holds-barred sex scenes. But director Lionel Baier (who co-wrote the screenplay with Laurent Guido) uses the power of titillation to fuel a wise and moving coming-of-age tale in which Loic, a 20-year-old, uneducated, at once cocky and deeply insecure gay boy, slowly segues from endless anonymous sexual encounters to hard-earned epiphanies about himself and the world around him. Unlike many such films that are little more than facile therapeutic exercises for the filmmaker (and audience), Garçon risks showing the ugly side of the growth process: youthful selfishness and its tragic, life-altering consequences; the emotional pain and spiritual angst that fuels so much of the sexual hunt. Comprising artfully used split-screen, lots of hand-held camera, and expertly honed dialogue, the film floats on currents of sadness and understated humor. It also makes Loic’s existential ache almost palpable. (Regent Showcase, Thurs., July 14, 8 p.m.) (EH) RED DOORS (USA) As the burgeoning subgenre of ethnic chick flicks goes, this tale of three young women from a Long Island Chinese family suspended between tradition and assimilation is a frisky, if uneven, charmer with a fetching, wistful edge. First-time director Georgia Lee has a precociously astute visual sense and an assured feel for tonal shift, and there are vivid performances from Jacqueline Kim as the eldest sister, torn between an old love and a corporate marriage, and Kathy Shao-Lin Lee as the youngest, absorbed in one of the more bizarre teen courtship rituals I’ve seen in recent cinema. Curiously, it’s only the coming-out rite of passage that comes across forced and conventional. (DGA 1, Fri., July 15, 7 p.m.) (ET) ORIGINAL PRIDE: THE SATYRS MOTORCYCLE CLUB (USA) Director Scott Bloom’s heartfelt one-hour history of the 50-year-old gay motorcycle club won’t win any awards, but its first half offers invaluable photos of a now-extinct L.A., where leather bars like the Gauntlet served as transformative way stations for men seeking men. Police raids and High Sierra bike runs/orgies are recalled by surviving members, nearly all of whom have a twinkle in their eyes that seems to be saying, “Yes, we’re old, but son, we fucked harder and better than you ever will.” (DGA 1, Sat., July 16, 7:15 p.m.) (CW)