Films #203-206: Campfire (Bavo Defurne shorts)

campfiredirector: Bavo Defurne
watched on: July 1 2016

I bought this DVD when I was in London a year ago (that shows you how long I keep stuff before bothering to watch it, I guess). It was in the BFI shop, when I was wandering around the South Bank, so not exactly a normal shop, but it makes me lament that there’s almost nowhere in Japan that sells LGBT works together with other films, or precious few that signpost it (shout out to Tsutaya in Kichijoji for having a small LGBT section, by the way – unfortunately I’d seen almost all of them already). They have BL comics, but they’re not even for us.

Anyway, it’s a set of short films by Belgian director Bavo Defurne, who directed North Sea, Texas. I was surprised to realize I watched that two years ago, come to think of it. They all share themes with that film, concerning themselves with longing looks, a bit exploitational towards younger teenager main characters, and largely or completely devoid of dialogue. They were all made in the 90s or early 2000s, but shown out of order – I’m sure if they were shown in the correct order it’d be even easier to see the director’s development process.

As before, I’ll do a quick review of each below, but as with the last short series I watched, seeing gay guys on film again has been good for my mental health, I think. I also liked these ones in general more than the other series – as they’re by the same director, they fit together more coherently. However, they’re also a little slow and contemplative for my liking. Anyway here goes:

campfire1Film #203: Campfire (2000)
aka: Kampvuur
language: Dutch
length: 20 minutes

The titular film of the DVD, this one is about two boys on a camping trip. They go out to the forest together and things get a little hot under the collar – and it kind of follows the standard trope that the other boy freaks out when they get back to civilization. Then they play Spin the Bottle and are forced to confront it in front of everyone.

The story is nothing new, but the visuals of the countryside (I forget which country – perhaps Belgium, but maybe in France) are positively lush, and the use of colour is cartoonish and bold, but striking. The characters seem to be colour-coded: the main character is bright red, and the other boy’s girlfriend starts wearing bright purple when she accepts him later in the film. The other characters wear boring colours. There’s also a lot of naked flesh bouncing around – as seems to be standard by the rest of this guy’s films…

pnisFilm #204: Particularly Now, in Spring (1995)
language: English
length: 8 minutes

This was the most purely fetishistic of the films – it is a monochrome series of images of boys doing sports and exercise, with a monologue in English about things they’re doing. It’s evocative, and as with the later film Saint, the camera is a bit blurry, adding to the atmospheric effect. However, there is little substance to the movie itself. It’s more like a silent movie, as indeed the other movies also are.

I’m pretty sure the acronym of this title isn’t a coincidence, by the way. I had a little giggle when I noticed.

matroosFilm #205: Sailor (1998)
aka: Matroos
language: silent
length: 17 minutes

This immediately reminded me of the gay French artists Pierre & Gilles, although the movie doesn’t get as explicit as some of that artwork. As with the last movie, there is no dialogue in this. The use of colour in this is even bolder than the first movie, which was actually more subdued, despite all the brilliant images of nature. Here it’s almost cartoonish at points and belies a director experimenting a lot with form and symbol – it’s fairly obvious that any red object is the main character (the same actor as in Campfire, incidentally). This also features images of nature – apparently from Belgium’s national botanic gardens. The story is about two boyfriends, one of whom leaves to be in the navy. They keep in contact by post but it’s not to be in the end. Out of the four this was my favourite.

saintFilm #206: Saint (1996)
language: silent
length: 10 minutes

This is about the execution of Saint Sebastian, famous for being tied up naked and killed by arrows, and one of the most evocative images possible just by itself. This pretty much takes it to the next level. The buildup to the moment of execution is astounding and the anticipation is palpable. The eroticism of the moment is what makes this short.

Sebastian’s image has been portrayed many times in this kind of erotic manner and is famous as a gay icon of sorts – Derek Jarman’s movie is a notable example, although I still haven’t seen it. I personally don’t see the appeal of being shot by arrows, to be honest, but it’s not that, it’s the nakedness and torturedness of the character that appeals to people.

Again the camerawork in this is great, with a monochrome image, but blurry in a way that makes it genuinely look like it came out of the 1920s, and it adds to the atmosphere well. I thought the actor who portrayed Sebastian was the same as in Campfire, but evidently they just look similar – this guy was also in the earlier Particularly Now, In Spring.

Overall I recommend this set of movies if you’re at all interested in erotically-charged LGBT movies. I liked it a lot.


One Response to Films #203-206: Campfire (Bavo Defurne shorts)

  1. Pingback: Films #209-212: Queer Asia shorts | reuoq

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