Thursday, October 3, 2013

HOUSE OF BOYS: An odd and very moving -- if soapy -- saga about early AIDS in Amsterdam

Even after seeing recent and worthwhile documentaries about the AIDS crisis and its history -- We Were Here and How to Survive a Plague -- a movie like HOUSE OF BOYS still proves what a wallop can be delivered by a narrative film with a good grasp of character and event and a vital theme that you might call (pace A Chorus Line) "What I Did for Love."

Directed and co-written by a fellow of whom I'd never heard, Jean-Claude Schlim (shown at right), the movie certainly covers all the bases: The first few minutes are a riot of color (pinks and blue, of course), complete with some Disney-like Cinderella animation, a beautiful blond boy running through a gorgeous golden field of corn, disco dancing and more. Before the opening credits, in fact, we've had what looks like some sort of choreographed musical number, too. Finally though, the movie settles down to become a three-part saga, set in the 1980s, of a runaway teen named Frank (Layke Anderson, below), his finding a home at a rather special gay night club/bordello (that titular House of Boys) and finally discovering real, till-death-do-us-part love -- unfortunately just at the time of the burgeoning AIDS crisis.

The movie grows deeper and sadder as it progresses but because the first half has been so full of life, charm, color and sexy, loving characters, when the sadness starts, we're so wrapped up in these people that we would follow them just about anywhere. Which we do.

The boys that Frank moves in with include one kid who's abused by his father; another who looks like a muscular, macho punk; the very femme boy saving up for transgender surgery (Stephen Webb, above) and a calls-himself-straight kid, Jake, with a girlfriend who crawls in through his window at night. Jake is played by the very hot-because-he-withholds young actor, Benn Northover, shown below, left, with Stephen Fry, who plays the kindly doctor flummoxed by this new disease.

The man in charge of the kids is that terrifically fun and often funny actor Udo Keir (below, in drag) who serves as head entertainer, father confessor, and madam of this gay brothel in which the kids dance for the entertainment of the guests and then give them something extra in the back room. (Considering what goes on here, the movie is relatively restrained, going for the heartstrings rather than the penile muscles in most cases. For the record, there's no full-frontal on display.)

At times the writing is only so-so (fortunately never less than that); at other moments it rises to the beautiful and moving, as do the performances and the direction. The real helper and mother figure to the teenagers here (Madam, you see, never comes through in a pinch), is Emma, played by that wonderful actress Eleanor David (shown below, left, with Mr; Anderson), who brings great warmth and affection to every scene in which she appears. Emma loves these boys so much, for a reason we later learn, that this deep love helps bring us along with her.

Though divided into three sections and sporting a running time of almost two hours, the movie is never boring. Mr. Anderson's performance carries us from joy and freedom on to love and sorrow. So if you're gay-friendly and haven't had a good cry in awhile, here's your ticket. You can view House of Boys -- a Luxembourg/German co-production from Breaking Glass Pictures and spoken in English, though with some odd accents throughout, consider-ing we're supposed to be in Amsterdam -- via Netflix streaming or on DVD.

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