Thursday 25 May 2017

On DVD: "Who's Gonna Love Me Now?"

The subject of the Heymann brothers' documentary Who's Gonna Love Me Now? is a man very clearly living in exile. We're first introduced to Saar, a thirtysomething Israeli now based in North London, as he eyes up his (male) neighbours on a weekend; by day, he works at the Apple store, and by night, he performs among the ensemble of the London Gay Men's Chorus. The latter group's harmonies can only drown out some of the discordant history Saar trails, however: kicked out of a kibbutz (and disowned by his family's more orthodox wing) as a young man for partying altogether too hard, he subsequently found out he was HIV-positive - a development which would appear to make any immediate return to the bosom of his disapproving parents and siblings unlikely at best.

The Heymanns' thoughtfully observational style allows us to quickly intuit the root causes of this tension. We need spend only thirty seconds in the company of Saar's father Katri, a greying instructor of police cadets with a seemingly endless supply of war stories, to know exactly why he's fallen out of favour so. Here is a deeply conservative man, happy to compare Saar unfavourably to his married, devout offspring; his reaction upon learning that his son was gay was, we learn, to a) inform the lad what he'd be missing out on, and b) offer the wince-inducing suggestion "take two pills, and it'll pass". (He tells the filmmakers this himself, so he's clearly proud of the phrasing.)

If we sense we're headed towards some form of reconciliation, we're also made aware that it will not be easily achieved: occasional glimpses of dates from this decade's first years are enough to impress upon us that Saar and his kin are on the long, hard road rarely followed by fictions in the Prayers for Bobby vein. Saar's mother Reut may appear greatly more sympathetic to her boy, but while on a trip to see him in London, she nixes a possible trip to see the Priscilla, Queen of the Desert musical for fear it might be too much for her, and winds up in the kitchen of Saar's flat, confessing over a pan of sizzling latkes that she can't help but seek to protect her grandchildren from the diseased blood running through her son.

Such moments are typical of the intimacy the Heymanns achieve with their subjects: while jetting back and forth between kibbutz and city, they put us right there in the room as Saar begins to rebut his brother Tsur's prejudices, and get in close enough to spot Katri's sour expression as his son kisses another man on the lips in full view of Old Compton Street. Their compelling focal point is Saar himself, visibly bruised by his experiences - emotions never far from his rugged surface - and becoming understandably defensive when he returns to the kibbutz in the final half-hour and faces nineteen years' worth of criticism over his conduct.

What we're watching in this home stretch is an uneasy peace process, a search for some middle ground between London and Tel Aviv, the orthodoxy of the family's position and this prodigal son's desire to live the life that he wants to lead. The film's strength is that it doesn't immediately pick a side: it has the patience and perspicacity to tease out how at least some of Katri's fears - those unrelated to a lack of understanding of Saar's lifestyle choices - stem from a father's desire to see his son outlive him. (Like a lot of conservatives, he's protective to a fault.)

This results in the very moving sight of man and boy beginning to reconnect on some level - a trajectory at least partially enabled, it's implied, by the death of Katri's own father, rendering him a child all over again. Clever counterpointing of the choir's rousing arrangements of recent pop stormers - Pink's "Get the Party Started" as Saar first bridges the gap by flying home - will likely boost attendance at LGMC events by anywhere between 150 and 200%, but also ties in with the central quest. We know Saar's been singing for years, but only late on - deep into these most emotional of negotiations - does he really appear to find his voice.

Who's Gonna Love Me Now? is available on DVD through Saffron Hill. 

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