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April 11, 2021

Holding the Man – Cinema Review

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There is something wonderful that happens in this movie, and I was not at all expecting it. Remembering how dreadful was Candy (2006), I feared that director Neil Armfield might have us again wallowing in bathos and arty misery, but thanks to outstanding performances across the board, he has delivered a film that is deeply moving because of rather than despite its simple realism. It introduces, and to a degree defines its two central characters, Tim (Ryan Corr) and John (Craig Stott), with a beautiful pairing of theatre and sport, as one boy dresses for a part in Romeo and Juliet and the other for a game of footy. Students at a Jesuit high school, they are attracted to each other physically and emotionally and, as horny teenagers, their relationship inevitably becomes sexual.

As with the star-crossed lovers of Verona, neither set of parents is approving, but in the case of John’s devoutly Catholic father, superbly played with brooding understatement by Anthony LaPaglia, the harsh reality of homophobia is seen for what it is.

It’s pleasing, however, to find Armfield not allowing the boys to be stereotypical victims of a hostile society – their mates might make poofter jokes, but they remain their mates. The tragedy looming for the gay community in those days – events are told in time-jumps, but focused mostly on the late seventies and eighties – was the unforeseen onset of AIDS, and it is this that governs the boys’ destiny.

It is based on Timothy Conigrave’s memoir, and screenwriter Tommy Murphy has succeeded in making what might have been just another love story, albeit queer, a compelling tale of the times – in effect, it is an historical document.

The sex scenes are done without any beating about the bush – some hetero sensitivities may well be offended – but any insinuation that it is an exercise in indulgent soft-porn is quashed by compassion, generous insight and acting of the highest order, including a significant cameo from Geoffrey Rush.

Everybody’s life is touched by another’s.

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