Postcards From London (Outfest)

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday July 17, 2018

'Postcards From London'
'Postcards From London'  

For filmgoers who fell in love or lust with Harris Dickinson in last year's "Beach Rats" and were hoping to ogle more of his naked flesh, brace yourself for severe disappointment. But for those who were captivated by the young actor's charisma and are interested in his career trajectory, "Postcards from London" will be more than worth your while since it proves the actor has a range beyond the sexy-little-boy-lost portrait in the Eliza Hittman film.

I would also warn those who crave gritty realism: This is not a film for you.

All others will relish Steve McLeon's refreshingly intelligent dive into surreality.

This is only writer/director McLeon's second feature film and his first since 1994's "Postcards from America," a messy, non-linear take on the life of the artist David Wojnarowicz. Twenty-four years later, he takes a cinematic leap forward with a deliberately stylistic and stagey approach that is often funny and always mesmerizing, even when it peters out a bit in the final quarter.

Dickinson plays Jim, a gorgeous lad from the "cultural desert" of Essex who desires much more so he journeys to London and lands in Soho, only to be immediately robbed of all his money. Luckily, he meets the right homeless guy who steers him in the direction of a group of rent boys that prefer to be called "Raconteurs." They stand out from the usual gay male escort crowd because they are sought out for their keen post-coital conversation about history and the arts. Their sacred mission is to "drag male prostitution into the 21st century while paying homage to past artists."

These gaggle of pretty blokes take Jim under their wing (Queer Eye for the Art Guy?) and teach him all about art. He's a fast learner in that department and appears to be quite good at the sex part as well, but he has one problem: A rare psychosomatic condition (that really exists) called "Stendhal Syndrome," meaning he becomes emotionally overwhelmed when he's exposed to true works of art. And for Jim, it goes one step further: While in the semi-conscious mania, he also imagines himself in the painting.

The film leans on the cerebral and poetic side, without ever really overdoing the pretention (although it sometimes comes close).

McLeon liberally and unabashedly borrows from filmmakers like Derek Jarman, Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Genet's "Querelle," especially) and Stanley Kubrick ("A Clockwork Orange," in particular) while gay artists such as Caravaggio, Bacon, and Mapplethorpe are discussed, and sometimes lovingly and/or bitingly satirized. In addition, some of their great work is recreated.

Although the film arguably takes place in the here and now, McLeon's Soho is not necessarily grounded in any specific decade; it is more of an amalgam of varying eras.

The film is thoroughly enjoyable and, if the vocation presented doesn't exist, it should.

On the grousing side, the final subplot involving a group trying to exploit Jim didn't have much traction. A better blend of the sexual with the intellectual would have been welcome. We are never privy to seeing Jim in any real sexual situation; it's usually before and after scenes.

Looking past all the fabulous cinematic bells and whistles, "Postcards from London" is really a coming of age story about a self-proclaimed, "sensitive lad with a big cock," trying to find himself and where he belongs in this "night world of writers, artists, queers and whores." Aren't we all?

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Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com) and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute