Australian writer, actor, and activist Timothy Conigrave’s HOLDING THE MAN is an impeccably written autobiography that tackles a familiar taboo in Australian history back in the days. In it, he recalled a love story between two men in the midst of political, religious and social oppression.
He died in 1994.
In 2006, award-winning playwright and screen writer Tommy Murphy adpated Conigrave’s memoir to the stage and offered it to a new generation of audiences to great acclaim.
In 2015, Director Neil Armfield transformed this timeless romance for the screen.
Timothy first met John Caleo in high school. The year was 1977. John was the captain of the football team, while Timothy was wishful actor for the stage. When Tim told John his feelings for him, all else followed. For the next fifteen years, Tim and John had to face the peaks and valleys of their relationship, amidst the emergence of a new disease that started to crawl in with the early 80s.
Though we already know how their story would end, Murphy’s unhurried storytelling still compels. He stayed true to his original 2006 narrative with careful transformation for the film. HOLDING THE MAN (2015) comes with short and passing episodes – effectively depicting time and creatively developing its characters. Yes, there could be sex and a few cheesy scenes, but the magic is in its telling. There isn’t much melodrama, but there could be more crying. For you, that is. This narrative technique somewhat makes you want to delve more into the characters and their lives. Tim is in love, and so is John. Tim wants adventure, but John only wants one. Through its limited and episodic parts, we feel that its going to be heartbreaking in the end.
Director Armfield manages to contain the drama through palpable narrative shortcuts, yet blessing his scenes with meaningful compositions. Take for example the scene where Tim masturbates in his room while looking at an adult magazine. Here, Armfield works with his editor Dany Cooper to limit the exposures on screen. Instead, we only see the uncapped lotion bottle, the banging head of a toy-dog, the moving pan on the magazine’s glossed centerfold featuring a band of nude male saxophonists and a shaky medium shot of Tim’s orgasmic face .Here, we get to know him more. We see him, we feel him. As Tim’s fingers touch the glossy centerfold, we journey with his imagination – pathetic, though, as it may seem.
Another noteworthy scene is the when Tim and Lois (John’s mother) are sleeping beside John’s hospital bed. Here, Murphy controls the scene with a background of silence while centering only John’s haunting snore. And Murphy doesn’t stop here. Toward the end of the film, Murphy makes use of John’s painful – or peaceful? – breath to establish his presence, and eventual passing.
Germain McMicking’s notable cinematography is reminiscent of the lost, yet unforgotten, colors of our past. It is nostalgic, without being too patronizing. His hues present a sepia of limited colors, offering a glimpse of the great movements in our own history in filmmaking and developments in photography.
Ryan Corr and Craig Stott play Tim and John so wonderfully, you’d almost want them to have their happy endings.
Tim and John were diagnosed with HIV in 1985. But when Tim learned that he had had the virus as early as 1981. he realized that it was him who gave John – his only love – the death sentence. Here, Tim faced an unfathomable guilt that he knew he will have to face for the rest of his life. That is because back in 1985, there was a no way out for them. Both Tim and John are trapped in a sentence, and they knew that it was only a matter of time.
If it isn’t heartbreaking enough, I don’t know what is.
This film is, arguably, something that could be an alternative to Larry Kramer’s THE NORMAL HEART. Though HOLDING THE MAN doesn’t scrabble much on the politics of AIDS and it early oppressions, Tim and John’s story still manages to offer a testimony of love and the unique battles that come along with it.
4.5 STARS OUT OF 5!
If in any way I got you interested, here’s the trailer.
Thank you, Peter, for the reco!