FLAWED BUT INTERESTING
Once upon a time, gay men who could afford it bought trendy clothes from the International Male catalog. The rest of us just looked at the pictures. Gene Burkard founded the magazine/catalog after leaving the Air Forc. He was interviewed extensively for this film before passing away in 2020. Masculinity began to be sexualized (no one says “exploited”) by Cosmopolitan and Playgirl in the early ’70s. Burkard found he could sell sexy underwear to gay men through the mail, but when his inventory expanded, he was surprised to find his clientele included
Elements of “Nelly & Nadine” could have made this true lesbian love story the best film in the festival, but because of the way they’ve been assembled — presumably at the will of director and co-writer Magnus Gertten — it’s the most frustrating instead. The tale is presented like a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. The unidentified narrator, possibly Gertten, tells how he researched to learn the identity of women prisoners of Nazi concentration camps from photos taken after their release.
We’re 20 minutes into the film before the women are connected. Nelly and Nadine became lovers at Kreuzberg or Ravensbrück, camps where they were imprisoned in 1944, and except for a year or so after the war (we don’t learn how they found each other again), they were together until Nadine’s death in 1972, living mostly in Caracas. Much of the story is told through Nelly’s journals, which are beautifully written and read (in French, subtitled here) and illustrated with the trove of photos and film from her archive, as well
The whole film is a jigsaw puzzle that lets you piece together three stories spread over 152 years. Even more puzzling are the gender and sexuality of some characters, which may be revealed or change as the film sometimes flows, more often jumps from one tale to another. In Montana in 1868, British artist Dihlon (Benjamin Rigby) leaves his wife and kids to follow a Native guide, Jacy (Kiowa Gordon), in search of his muse. In 1979 in Barstow, California, Gabryal (Uly Schlesinger) becomes a native guide of sorts for newly arrived foreign exchange student Alasen (Jessica Allain), until she takes the reins and guides him through life. In Wyoming in 2020, Jalin (Ryan Cassata) is depressed after a breakup and struggling to earn his male pronouns. A nonbinary trans therapist (Kate Bornstein) tries to help him and eventually helps us tie the stories together. The title comes from a variation on the idea of twospirit Indigenous people, saying that some see the world through one eye as a male and the other as a female. Nakhane Touré, as a friend of Alasen’s, provides the film’s best music and some of its best acting. Much of “Two Eyes” is enjoyable, but sometimes it seems to require more effort than it’s worth.