Hungry Hearts (Saverio Costanzo, 2014)
Jude and Mina meet when they find themselves stuck in the restroom of an Asian restaurant in New York City, and before long they begin dating. We do not see much of their whirlwind courtship, as minutes into the film they are shown to be living together. When Mina discovers that she is pregnant, the two have a shotgun wedding. During her pregnancy, Mina does not eat as much as she should because she is afraid of putting “poisons” into her body, and that of her unborn child. Ultimately, he is born underweight, and once her breast milk dries up after the fourth month, she decides that he should be raised on a raw vegan diet. Jude is apprehensive of this, as he can see that their child is not putting on weight at a rate that seems normal, and there is a span of a few weeks when the boy runs a fever that will not go away, so he and Mina routinely argue over the best way to raise their son. Jude thinks that they should take their son to see a doctor; Mina believes that exposure to sunlight or the world outside their small apartment will compromise his wellbeing. Mina pleads for Jude to trust her, as she is convinced that her instincts on how to mother her baby are rock solid.
Hungry Hearts notably is coloured with a tinge of dark satire. This is an age when there is an abundance of information either in print or through the internet, and anyone can feel as though they may self-diagnose and devise their own treatments based on their interpretation of all the material they read. People have become so paranoid about what they eat, and whether or not the medical system can be trusted. With not much subtlety, Hungry Hearts positions itself as a cautionary parable to challengers of the status quo, as Mina’s potentially valid decisions on how to raise her child are shown as acts of madness.
The film is an interesting genre experiment that may not say anything particularly fresh about the struggles for power in a relationship, and is hampered by its biases and hyperboles, as it is not necessarily effective in proving part of its thesis that alternative treatments are not to be trusted. While it lacks this clarity, its idea that the extremes to which we will go in our distrust of the system is worth consideration, and the film is worth watching for Adam Driver and Alba Rohrwacher, who both won acting prizes at the Venice Film Festival.
Do I Sound Gay? (David Thorpe, 2014)
When a gay man asks, “Do I sound gay?” he is probably not hoping to hear “yes” as an answer. The wording of the question inherently implies that it is a problem to sound obviously gay: an attitude that is not a phenomenon restricted solely to heterosexuals. David Thorpe’s first feature Do I Sound Gay? is both slyly funny and campy, while also frank, and even poignant, as it explores the history and pathology of the “gay voice” and attempts to get to the root of why it can be considered something to feel ashamed of.
Do I Sound Gay? is structured around David Thorpe’s decision to undergo speech therapy in an attempt to heteronormalize the sound of his voice. At this point in his life, he has recently broken up with his boyfriend, and is convinced that his fey cadences are a deterrent to prospective paramours. Structuring his first film around his own life could have been solipsistic, but Thorpe appears to realize this, and plays himself off as a cliché for the sake of laughs, all but physically winking to his audience to show that he does not take himself too seriously. It is a conceit that also proves to be prescient. His speech therapist explains speech codes, telling him how a demographic of people will both consciously and unconsciously adjust their speech to mimic each other. After prolonged usage, it can become difficult for an individual to switch out of said code, and they can instinctively speak in certain patterns. The gay “sing-song” pattern of ending a sentence at a higher pitch, sounding like a question, or the “sibilant s” are some of the most common identifiers of the “gay voice” to both heterosexuals and homosexuals, and the film goes on to show how some of these identifiers have historically been exaggerated and made famous by people in the media or entertainment such as Paul Lynde and Liberace. Thorpe’s family and friends tell him that they noticed he began to sound “gayer” after coming out. This poses questions, including “Is speaking gayer a way to instantly alert everyone, including possible mates, to one’s homosexuality?” or “Does camping it up become an affectation so rehearsed and adopted that it becomes second nature?”
One particularly poignant moment shows David Sedaris admitting that anytime someone tells him “I didn’t think you were gay,” he feels guilty for feeling a little better about himself. Thorpe includes footage of a sampling of gay individuals sharing their attitude towards the gay voice. Some people embrace it as a quality that lets them express themselves better; some see it as something that is effeminate and a turn-off. The film routinely and casually introduces topics like this, gently easing into them as it dares to question, “Why the self-internalized homophobia?”
It is rare to see documentaries that exist just to have a little bit of fun with their subject. The humour in Do I Sound Gay? stands out as a unique feature, and is a welcome buffer for when the weight of its theses increases. By the end of this film, one’s answer to “Do I sound gay?” should be either a wholehearted “Yes, and I’m proud of it!” or “No, though it’s not a problem for anyone who does!”