Saturday, March 14, 2015

"House of Boys": European drama showing the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and street life of less fortunate gay men

The film “House of Boys” (2009), by Jean-Claude Schlim, from Luxembourg but in English, is one of the most graphic dramatic films about the early days of the AIDS epidemic made, perhaps eclipsed by only a few like “Angels in America” and “The Normal Heart”.
The story is told from the viewpoint of his lover, Frank (Layke Anderson), who leaves a home of disapproving parents in early 1984, and winds up in Amsterdam.  After bouncing out of a bar, he stumbles on a safehouse or bartenders and dancers supporting another club, run by a middle aged man.  The place is rather a live-in, intentional community. His attractive roommate Jake (Benn Northovera) claims to be straight, but gradually they fall in love, while Frank becomes known as a dancer.
A romantic encounter between the men occurs at the midpoint of the film.  Soon Jake has a little accident, and doctors find his T-helper counts low.  Then they find a blue lesion.
In the last forty minutes of the two-hour film, Jake deteriorates rapidly, becoming covered with Kaposi’s Sarcoma lesions.  The house owner throws him out, since he doesn’t want this “problem”.  The film suggests that Europeans were not as aware of AIDS then as was the US, but we know some of the biggest early drug trials occurred in France, at the Pasteur Institute.

The look of the sets, inside the house, is garish, with brilliant technicolor. The director says he wanted to create a story to educate the public on the personal aspect of history that is already forgotten. 
In the meantime, the film shows TV clips of Ronald Reagan, increasing spending on defense but cutting back on domestic programs at it is “morning” across the Atlantic in America.

Stephen Fry ("Copenhagen") plays Dr. Marsh, who discovers Jake's disease and relates it to the earky epidemic in the US, before HTLV-III (aka HIV) has even been identified.  Udo Kier and Steven Webb also star.
The film takes a full fifteen minutes to present all of the opening credits!
The film has an intriguing epilogue set in Morocco in 1986 as Frank moves on (with Jake's previous girl friend). Both leads play their parts with a great deal of charisma.
The German site for the film is here. The DVD now comes from Breaking Glass. 

The film says that after 25 years, the death toll from AIDS is 25 million.

Amsterdam photo by Michielverbeek, attribution link, under Creative Commons 3.0 Share Alike license. My two visits occurred in 1991 and 2001. 

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