Friday, 27 January 2017

Alive and Kicking aka Indian Summer (1996)

A truly stunning and emotionally engaging film from playwright Martin Sherman and Sister, My Sister director Nancy Meckler, Indian Summer (also known in the US and on DVD as Alive and Kicking) tells the story of Tonio, a young gay dancer who is HIV Positive played with superb intensity, authenticity and humour by Jason Flemying. Believing his beautiful body - the tool of his trade - to have betrayed him with illness, Tonio pushes both it and himself to the limits for his art in the run up to his failing company's revival of the gay-themed ballet Indian Summer.

But at its heart the film is an honest depiction of a love affair between Tonio and Jack (Antony Sher, a fine turn) an older man who works as a therapist for HIV and AIDS patients and their families and who is overweight, prone to drinking and occasionally self-destructive. Because they're so opposite, and because the illness Tonio will one day succumb to is forever in their, and therefore, our minds, the film can truthfully explore the insecurities and conflicts that arise from love that other chocolate box romantic films simply shy away from. 

Some of the criticism I've seen relating to the film online (in the amazon reviews for example) is that the film is a little dated now. I'm not altogether sure what they mean by that; do they mean that HIV and AIDS isn't as prominent a threat as it once was and so the message of the film doesn't feel as topical now? Or are they simply pointing towards the filmmaking style and the authentic snapshot of the 1990s? If it's the latter I have to disagree; I personally really like a film that can evoke such memories of a past I have shared and which is emphatically rooted in time and place. And if it is the former, then I continue to be at a loss; does a second world war film lose resonance when viewed today because we live in a time of relative peace? One thing that strikes me about how the film handles the illness is that it seems utterly truthful and, above all, real; when the company are holding a vigil around the hospital bed of the dying Ramon (Anthony Higgins) and the night nurse advises them that he can't hear them talking to him, when Bill Nighy turns to her and reassures her that 'we've done this before' it feels utterly realistic. These tragedies were what people had to endure on a daily basis, a fact which is thankfully almost incomprehensible to me.

Whatever title you chose to call this, as a film it succeeds in touching you - whether it's a scene like the one mentioned above, the ups and downs of Tonio and Jack's relationship, or the many moments of comedy it offers too (the bit where Tonio and his lesbian best friend and fellow dancer Millie, played by future EastEnder Diane Parish, try to go straight and bed one another is a genuinely amusing highlight - it's like watching two children play at being grown-ups) - with the final dance scene crushing you completely, in a good way. Beautifully written, directed, acted and scored, this comes recommended.

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