The comparison between Ang Lee’s modern classic and our latest gay drama – Stephen Lacant’s Free Fall – is easily made, and one we are content with in the Peccadillo office anyhow. Both dramas are of course widely different and can’t be likened simply because of the gay relationship at their core, but there are notable similarities worth observing.
Brokeback Mountain – the adaptation of the short story by Annie Proux, occasionally wrongly referred to as a “gay western” – was a wonderful thing. Not only was it superbly performed (particularly by the late Heath Ledger as gruffly reserved Ennis Mar) and sensitively portrayed, it provided a rare opportunity for a queer film to be brought into the mainstream and be shown at the multiplexes. It was beautifully constructed, but stylistically conventional enough to appeal to a mass audience. Plus, it boasted hot A list actors. I recall being profoundly affected by it at my local Odeon, aged fourteen, as I hadn’t seen anything like it before.
In a sense then, it was a groundbreaking work. It allowed popular audiences – the sort that perhaps wouldn’t actively seek out the gay cinema niche – to be moved by it. It was that popular it even has its own (albeit a tad distasteful) Family Guy parody, and it has lingered in public consciousness for nearly a decade. It is only natural to refer back to it when another all-consuming gay drama is in the picture.
Brokeback Mountain is set in ‘60s rural America, whereas enthralling drama Free Fall is set in a Police Academy in contemporary Germany. In the former, Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) are cowboys hired to corral sheep on the plains of Wyoming. In the latter, Marc (Hanno Koffler) and Kay (Max Riemelt) are policemen. Marc is settling down with his heavily pregnant girlfriend before new recruit Kay arrives, and tensions build as they train together.Neither film is content to wrap the narrative in a neat little bow and pretend that there is a solution. The tension develops gradually as the viewer must pose the question, how can this possibly end?
Both couples are forced together by an irrevocably masculine work environment. They exist in roles with screaming stereotypical ideals, and they don’t conform. As we all know, the ’60s was a cruel and impossible time to be homosexual. Jack and Ennis’ love can only be known in an open rural space; an escape from their conventional, unhappy family lives and false pretenses. But equally, in the modern era, Marc and Kay’s space is the sort of sexist, testosterone-fuelled environment where breasts are essential discussion and to be gay is to let the side down.
Marc and Kay become jogging partners, and even after their affair has started, they continue to run through the same secluded forest. The activity protects them, like Jake and Ennis’ ‘fishing trips’. Similar to how Jack and Ennis reside in remote rural spaces, their nature is at one with nature itself. Sexuality is organic, contrary to frequent societal assumptions that it is a choice.
But the main connection between the two is the closeness between sex and violence. Both relationships possess a simmering anger that contradicts their affections in frequent powerful scenes where desire and brutality are intermingled. It’s the result of released sexual repression and the frustration of a love that’s unattainable and must be wasted. Both couples are verbally reserved, communicating through other ways and keeping back the emotions they dare not utter.
It could get tiresome to continually suggest that the next quality gay film is the new version of Brokeback Mountain.Free Fall therefore isn’t simply a German version, but it has certainly retained some positive influences. Brokeback Mountain and Free Fall contain lovers that must remain a romantically unfulfilled possibility, lovers that experience both euphoria and sadness through the pursuit of a necessary desire that leaves behind a path of devastating destruction.
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