Available on VOD Mon 18 Feb 2019, Blu-ray and DVD Mon 25 Feb 2019

LGBTQ-centric studio Peccadillo Pictures releases the latest short film compendium in its Boys on Film series. This nineteenth entry explores the broad theme of ‘no ordinary boy’ and features a diverse selection of plots and styles whose effectiveness varies.

The first standout is Meatoo, the shortest of the shorts (at a tight four minutes), and perhaps the most experimental, using sound and closeups cleverly and uncomfortably to examine the idea of objectification and abuse of power, particularly in the film and TV industry. Dialogue is kept to a minimum while other filmic techniques work in neat tandem to convey an unsettling film audition that feels particularly topical. Jake Graf’s Dusk provides an insight into geriatric Chris, a transgender man looking back on a life of discrimination. Through his eyes we see the hardships of growing up on the fringes of a close-minded society and are privy to some of his imagined scenarios, highlighting what Chris believed he could be as opposed to how others saw him. Dusk’s brevity proves the potency short film can have via its climactic scenes which are heartbreaking and poignant.

Jermaine and Elsie captures a documentary-like feel and charts the unlikely (and somewhat unbelievable) friendship between a racist pensioner and her black, gay home carer who shows grace and compassion towards her despite her vitriol. The final act role-reversal brings warmth to the film, and although perhaps a little simplistic or obvious, it becomes a standout thanks to the strong performances of its actors, particularly Marji Campi. Blood Out of a Stone is another of the more successful pieces, centring on a first date. It might, at first, feel like familiar territory, but the bond between the two key players is explored on a more intellectual level than a sexual one and throws us a surprise ending that is both bemusing and fascinating, leaving behind probing questions about the characters we thought we were watching.

Likewise, other films explore romantic relationships cut short. No More We channels the closing chapter of a relationship: one half moving out of a shared flat while the other struggles to cope. Its lack of context makes this piece less successful, though. The exposition-heavy dialogue fails to engage, although the closing shot does build to a moving end thanks to committed and vulnerable performances from the lead duo. Between Here and Now is a mystery piece, sketching the character of Tony, staying in a Denmark hotel while he awaits instructions for his next illegal job. During this time, he meets up with Oscar at a local gay bar, and although their relationship develops, it’s clear to the audience that it can never last, despite the powerful chemistry between the two.

Other stories look to characters ready to blossom, from a British-Iraqi drag queen reflecting on his childhood (beautifully shot with tender and intimate music) in Run(a)way Arab to Fish Curry, the collection’s only animated piece. The sepia-toned cartoon plays with interesting distortions in scale and shuddering twitchy images. It recreates both the surreal daydreams and oppressive reality of central character Lalit, who is preparing to come out to his conservative father.

Oddly, the least successful of the films are those that bookend the anthology. Michael Joseph Jason John features a hook-up between two men in New York that ends on an ambivalent note. The cheap music and clich├ęd sex scene montage feel incredibly dated, almost parody-like, and the abrupt ending also cements the sense of pointlessness about the whole thing. Closing the set, Four Quartets is an impressionistic vignette exploring a young man’s night out at a niche queer club. Flashbacks from his schooldays give glimpses of his sexual awakening but the absence of dialogue becomes frustrating and we ultimately feel like we’re watching an extended and repetitive music video more than anything else.

As a collection, Boys on Film 19 lacks cohesion and only seems loosely tied to its subtitle. However, the highlights provide thought-provoking narratives and, at times, emotionally effective scenes. Editing out the first and last of the films would have made for a neater package, though.