“A Homosexual Film by Samuel Van Grinsven” is how the Sydney-based writer/director describes his feature debut, Sequin in a Blue Room, in the space where the usual “A film by” card comes up. Not “Gay”, not “Queer”. And “Homosexual” as if the film itself were homosexual, which is impossible. Perhaps Van Grinsven is staring down any would-be criticism with a “yeh, what of it?”. Or maybe he’s making it clear to the ninnies who don’t like this sort of thing that this sort of thing is exactly what they’re getting.
It’s a love story, in essence, though one overlaid with all the modern-day paraphernalia of dating culture – the apps allowing hook-ups on a scale unimaginable in decades past. Which have brought with them their own problem. In a world where you can always ghost yesterday’s brief encounter and swipe right on to the next one, does something as simple as sweet old fashioned love and romance still mean anything?
Conor Leach plays 16-year-old schoolboy Sequin – on account of the spangly top he always wears when out on one of his many one night stands. Leach is a pretty young man with Eddie Redmayne colouring and cheekbones completely catches that trying-too-hard insouciance of the naive kid trying to make out he’s older, wiser, more experienced and more callous than he actually is.
When not at school, where the subject being taught always seems to be the genre conventions of the love story – nudge nudge – Sequin leads a busy life of casual sex with one stranger after another. After the businesslike online to-and-fro (“Wanna fuck?” “Hung?” “Any dick pics?”), he meets them, mostly men old enough to be his father, has sex and is then on his way, pausing only to “Block User” on his app the minute he leaves their place.
And then Sequin almost accidentally goes to an anonymous sex party at the Blue Room, and meets an unnamed man (Samuel Barrie) who entirely captivates him. At the same time a fellow schoolboy, Tommy (Simon Croker) is making opening manoeuvres, and as if that isn’t enough, one of Sequin’s older fleeting hook-ups – a decidedly not out married man – is suddenly keen to take things further.
Romantic love stories – the heard-but-never-seen teacher at Sequin’s school tells her class – always put an obstacle in the way of eventual happiness. In Sequin’s case he doesn’t know who the mystery man is and is forced into turning sleuth, and at the same time encounters something he’s not used to – a check on his progress towards instant gratification. It’s a clever bit of plotting by Van Grinsven and enough to take this short (80 minutes) film all the way to its conclusion.
Van Grinsven gets us there via a series of subjective, impressionistic, distinctly erotic (rather than sexy) scenes faintly recalling Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio, with the focus very tightly on Sequin’s face and skin, often in a languid slo-mo, with lighting designed to accentuate the translucent freshness of young flesh, especially when compared to the skin of B (Ed Wightman), the older man who wants to go further.
By comparison, the non-languid moments, like Sequin’s scenes with his worried dad (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor), who knows his son is gay but isn’t exactly sure what he’s getting up to out there, are a bit of a jolt. Neighbours Normal, you might call them, after the Aussie soap that likes to lay its feelings out unambiguously. Two-shots, medium shots and longer takes reinforce the impression.
A fascinating film, a technically accomplished film but most of all (and perhaps most surprisingly of all) a sweet film, Sequin in a Blue Room is released in the UK (where I’m writing this) with an 18 certificate by the British Board of Film Classification, on account of its “strong sex, nudity, sexual violence and drug misuse”. Were they watching a different film? I saw men in towels but no nudity and the “strong sex” was implied rather than shown. This is a much tamer film than the rating suggests.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021