Born This Way
Charting the lives of homosexuals in the country of Cameroon, the largest nation still prosecuting and imprisoning people for their sexual orientation, "Born This Way" slides back and forth between pushing its agenda and engaging with its subjects.
This documentary, from filmmakers Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullman (and named, in a nice bit of promotional piggy-backing, after the Lady Gaga track), is full of acutely realized, intimate moments. A startling, yet refreshingly frank, sequence where a cab driver and his client open up to each other about their sex lives; or a candle-lit reverie for two lesbian lovers afraid to show the details of their faces on camera. But this film isn’t merely content to observe. It has a point to make, too.
In Cameroon, a public display of affection for a member of the same sex can land you in court and mean a prison term of 3-5 years. The film - and the promotional materials sent along with it - seem to suggest that the public tide is turning. The aforementioned conversation with the driver offers hope and disappointment in equal measures. Surveying his passenger’s androgynous demeanor, he starts to try to put her into a box. Well, if you enjoy sex with men, you must be straight, he says; or if you do with women, you must be a lesbian. She reservedly rebukes his assumptions. "You must be something," he cries. He may be trying to understand, but he, and the country, has a long way to go.
But the moments like that never build, nor is a rhythm ever caught: It’s just a series of encounters that’s depicted here. Some moments, like the exchange in the cab or the candle-lit opening sequence, move us honestly. And the film expertly depicts the vapid, harmful mindset that envelops Cameroon, where homosexuality is seen literally as a disease, one that infects and spreads among the population, with politicians treating its homosexuality as though it were the result of a zombie bite. But "Born This Way" doesn’t coalesce it’s political and personal agendas and it never achieves lyricism. It loses out. It’s a standard-issue issue-movie.