I might not have had any interest in reviewing Gay Games, Françoise Romand's 30-minute documentary, had I not recently been intrigued by her frank, frisky, intelligent, and self-deprecating long-form video diary, The Camera I. But what seemed like relatively minor flaws in that work--a penchant for silliness, unfunny whimsy, and scatterbrained eccentricity that seemed to find itself a bit too charming--dominate here, and the results, while not exactly disastrous (this piece is so casual and low-key that not much seems to be on the line), are distinctly embarrassing on several levels.
Romand is allegedly documenting the 2010 Gay Games--an Olympics-style event, held every four years, in which members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community and their allies participate in various competitive events--that were held in Cologne, Germany, but we actually learn very little about the games. Romand simply drops us into the proceedings, offering dibs and dabs, apparently assembled at random, of her own impressions (via footage of the participants as they compete, relax, and mingle) and those of various interviewees she has convinced to speak to her camera. Romand's interest in the event she has named her film after was, judging from the extent to which she actually documents it, rather cursory. She seems instead to be interested in the individual experiences and life stories of random participants and attendees who have come to Cologne for the games, and that is where we get both glimpses of both the more honorable, more interesting film that could have been and the no-getting-around-it fact that what Romand has ultimately put together here is quite a poor piece of work.
It is, of course, an absolutely essential project to document the experiences of sexual minorities, both on the unique, un-stereotyped, individual front as well as in the form of interrelated testimonies about struggling against a still remarkably resistant and oppressive status quo. This was done very conscientiously and movingly in the fine documentary Word is Out, made by Times of Harvey Milk director Rob Epstein all the way back in 1977. (That's 34 years ago; the inferior Gay Games is that far behind the times.) Romand is simply mistaken in thinking that it's adequate (or even coherent) to take a 30-minute short that is in the first place ostensibly about one public event at one moment and attempt to make it double as something that represents the personal life experiences, points of view, and struggles of gays and lesbians in any meaningful way. What might have worked at its current length as a decent postcard souvenir of last year's Gay Games becomes a glib, flippant, scattered wannabe bit of reportage on what it means to be a sexual minority in our time, a topic that this film's 30 minutes probably could not have done nearly adequate justice to even had it picked only one of its interviewees on which to focus some proper, sustained attention. Instead, Romand misguidedly picks up various people's stories only to drop them in order to keep casting her net ever wider, failing all the while to realize that that net is too full of holes to come up with much of anything engaging, enlightening, or even really amusing.
Now, I have no doubt that Romand intended to make a respectful film demonstrating her open-mindedness, tolerance, acceptance, and healthy, nonjudgmental inquisitiveness. But what Gay Games inadvertently reveals is that its maker is just a tourist in a world she doesn't really understand (hence the possible superiority of the aforementioned, theoretical "postcard"). Her tourism isn't so much of the blatantly insulting slumming variety, but insidiously troubling, wide-eyed, exoticizing kind. I know for a fact that the Gay Games include a variety of physically demanding, aggressively competitive contact sports like soccer, but Romand seems almost exclusively fascinated by the "sexier" events like same-sex group synchronized swimming and ballroom dancing, like someone who's never heard of or seen such a thing before in her life. (All I could hear in my head was the voice of Marge Simpson saying, "I heard about this new bar where men dance with men! Doesn't that sound adorable?") As the moldy cherry on top of this undercooked, flavorless cake, the cutesy music that Romand has applied much too liberally to virtually every scene is just horrible; it sounds like the Seinfeld theme played on speed and ad infinitum, and it gives everything it touches an infantilized, frankly almost mocking air.
One of a fair number of things that we in the LGBT community have in common with other minorities (marginalized ethnic groups, for example) is our ambivalence regarding how to take well-intentioned, accidental condescension when it comes from our "liberal" allies safely ensconced in the dominant segments of society, and watching Romand's paltry, failed attempt to demonstrate solidarity made me feel like I could at least partly relate to the way that, say, an African-American might feel when confronted with something like The Blind Side or The Help. Judging from her film, that this is far from a compliment is an idea Romand would need a bit more knowledge and insight to appreciate.
Gay Games appears to have been shot on a standard-issue personal digital video camera, so it has a rough, shaky quality in general, but this is generally not a problem (it's fairly typical of a certain type of personal documentary, anyway), and there appear to be no issues with the transfer itself.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 French soundtrack (with English subtitles) conveys all of the film's sound (which is remarkably well-recorded --or perhaps well-mixed in postproduction--for material that all appears to have been shot more or less on the fly) very well, with all dialogue clearly audible and everything nicely balanced and distortion-free.
An extensive series of previews for Romand's films (encompassing her entire filmography, I believe), all of which look more interesting than Gay Games, the preview for which is also included.
A well-intentioned but inadvertently exoticizing, condescending look at the gay community, Françoise Romand's Gay Games doesn't even bother to give us any history or background on (or even much footage of) the event it's named for, and the structural and technical approaches Romand takes as she attempts to turn it into a documentary about the lives of gay and lesbian people are unforgivably flimsy and lax, regardless of her obvious open-mindedness. Unless you find yourself in need of a good example of just how badly and unfortunately awry the expression of nice liberal sentiment can go without the benefit of some further, deeper, more rigorous investigation and reflection, by all means Skip It.