2022: the year in queer cinema

In the queer cinema of 2022, European cinema stalwarts returned, documentaries flourished and mainstream cinema took tentative steps forwards in representation.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022)

This year, the winners of the queer prizes at major film festivals demonstrated the diversity and vision at the heart of great cinematic LGBTQ+ storytelling. One of the best films of 2022, Gustavo Vinagre’s provocative Brazilian comedy Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tie Tighter, is a wild ride featuring a mysterious disease, gorgeous cabaret numbers and a catapult of criticism aimed at homophobic president Jair Bolsonaro. It won the Teddy award at Berlin, but an even greater prize was to come later in the year, when Bolsonaro lost the general election to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The Queer Lion at Venice was awarded to Alex Schaad’s marvellous Skin Deep, in which a young couple experiences an extraordinary few days of swapping bodies and identities. The Queer Palm at Cannes went to Pakistani director Saim Sadiq’s Joyland, a Lahore-set family drama featuring a romance between a married man and a trans woman. It has some fine moments and bravely critiques the damage done by patriarchy.

Bros, the funniest romcom of 2022, written by and starring Billy Eichner, slyly subverts the genre while delivering a high hit rate of laughs. Eichner plays a grouchy podcast host who starts an unlikely relationship with a guy he initially finds attractive, but basic. Its sharp satire of heteronormativity turns into a surprisingly touching romance. However, other high-profile films with more famous stars disappointed. Brendan Fraser gives an overpraised performance as a grieving gay man eating himself to death in Darren Aronofsky’s ghoulish The Whale, a film that is thrilled to linger voyeuristically at every opportunity on the main character’s body. While Harry Styles’ uneasy performance in My Policeman, as a man struggling with his sexuality in 1950s Brighton, earned poor reviews, the film’s other failings – a bland screenplay, an utterly unconvincing ending – are no less pertinent.

Blue Jean (2022)

Another British film from 2022 that looks to the past was considerably more effective. Georgia Oakley’s Blue Jean, about a lesbian teacher (Rosy McEwan) who must keep her sexuality secret in the era of Section 28, captures the mood of the time with precision, without resorting to bombarding the audience with 80s signifiers. Flashing forward to contemporary Britain, Dionne Edwards’ Pretty Red Dress is a playful, constantly surprising debut with a performance of great heart from singer Alexandra Burke, as a mother whose life changes when her partner buys her a glitzy outfit for an audition.

Some of the most prolific stalwarts of European queer cinema returned with new films. Over 20 years after Water Drops on Burning Rocks (2000), still his best film, François Ozon returned to adapting Rainer Werner Fassbinder, reimagining his play (and later film) The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, changing the gender of key characters, the protagonist included, to create Peter von Kant. It works well, with fine work from Denis Ménochet as the pitiable monster at the centre of the story, and Stéfan Crépon as his mute, masochistic secretary. Christophe Honoré’s Winter Boy, about a gay teenager reeling from his father’s death, is his best work in years, whereas Portuguese provocateur João Pedro Rodrigues’ messy Will-o’-the-Wisp, following a former royal who falls in love with a fireman, throws too many ideas at the screen, confronting monarchy and colonial history at a strictly surface level.

Queer documentaries flourished in 2022. Laura Poitras’ All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, a superb portrait of photographer Nan Goldin, who captured queer subcultures on camera throughout her career, became only the second documentary to win the Golden Lion at Venice. Chase Joynt’s Framing Agnes offers an intriguing take on a little-known slice of queer history: a trans woman in the 1950s who attempted to gain access to surgery, ultimately using deception to get what she needed.

Blockbusters continued, albeit cautiously, to feature queer characters in supporting roles, some with more agency than others. While Marvel movies tiptoed towards more queer representation, Pixar’s Lightyear gave us a significant queer female character for the first time – a same-sex kiss caused some fuss in areas of the US, and a ban in many Asian countries. The sprawling Everything Everywhere All at Once, a film I find utterly exasperating, although it has many admirers, is at its best when focusing on the queer character of the protagonist’s daughter, played by Stephanie Hsu.

The film year was rounded off with a delightful surprise. While many commentators focused on how the Sight and Sound Greatest Films poll was, for the first time, topped by a film by a female director, Chantal Akerman, the fact it was also the first time a queer director achieved this feat was less reported. It was wonderful, too, to see contemporary queer voices such as Céline Sciamma and Apichatpong Weerasethakul in the top 100. Hopefully yet more brilliant LGBTQ+ filmmakers will feature in the 2032 poll…

The new issue of Sight and Sound

In this 21st-century cinema special: 25 critics choose an era-defining film from each year of the century, and J. Hoberman asks: what is a 21st-century film? Plus: ten talking points from Cannes – George Miller on Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga – remembering Roger Corman with a never-before-seen interview.

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