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Review - Strapped (DVD-2010)
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Strapped (DVD-2010)

 

 

Strapped (DVD-2010)

TLA Releasing

Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski

 

Gay cinema has only gotten better and more sophisticated in recent years.  Witness the artistry of Broken Sky, the straightforwardness of Schoolboy Crush, the visceral boldness of Shank or (from a mainstream independent film with a gay character) the cinematic brilliance of La Mission—to name only a few.

 

Now comes Strapped -- a remarkably provocative first feature from writer/director John Graham.  One rainy night, a handsome young gay hustler (Ben Bonenfant) has a series of intense erotic encounters in a mysterious apartment building from which he seemingly cannot escape. 

 

The trysts cover the gamut of gay experience but they also prompt the viewer to consider tantalizing questions. Is the hustler an “angel of desire” who can manifest the deep fantasies of his clients?  Or is he on his own journey of self-discovery?  Is something larger than life going on?  What is real and what is actual?

 

The film keeps one guessing from one scene to the next. Sexuality and metaphysics intertwine and draw the viewer in. Several possible interpretations and resonant layers of meaning can be found in each scene.  The apartment building itself plays at times like something out of The Shining or The Twilight Zone.

 

Even what would normally be considered defects in any other film – continuity errors, a low budget and occasional post-dubbed dialogue - only serve to heighten the experience in this film.

 

As the unnamed gay hustler, Ben Bonenfant is called on to deliver a wide emotional range.  He acquits himself quite nicely conveying knowingness, sweetness and likeability. The rest of the cast performances capture all the right archetypes.  An older civil rights advocate, intensely and strikingly portrayed by Paul Gerrior, adds a perfect note of intrigue.  And the character of the lonely artist, played by Nick Frangione is poignantly effective.

 

The cinematography is well-composed and the filmmakers are well-schooled in theatricality and in cinematic artistry, editing and technique.  The substantive script is pervaded by an underlying intelligence—and its mystery is the ambiguity of art.

 

While Nick Schager of The Village Voice largely dismissed the film, Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times insightfully praised Strapped and its various components and “unfamiliar template”.  She noted that the director “encourages multiple readings of each stop on a journey we all make sooner or later, whatever our sexual orientation.”

 

Although this film is made and intended for a gay audience, its themes are universal.  And while nudity is restrained and sex depiction avoids being graphic, the effectively intense portrayals of orgiastic ecstasy could limit crossover audience appeal.

 

That would be a shame, for when is the last time a film asked the viewer to think, or caused the viewer to think, or brought about reflection for a few days?  Perhaps remaking the film with an A-list production budget, cast and crew and alterations to the story would increase its visibility and success—but it also might destroy the delicate directorial balance that Mr. Graham has achieved. 

 

For in the final analysis, whatever its strengths and weaknesses, Strapped is an extraordinary film which may achieve status as a classic of its kind.

 

2010 Dennis Kwiatkowski/Celluloid Dreams

 

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