Damion Dietzâ€™s latest film Love Life, now out on DVD is a romantic drama about Joe (Thomas D. Gill) a gay man married to Mary (Stephanie Kirchan), a woman repressing her lesbianism. As Joe pursues a hunky landscaper (Keith Bearden), Mary reunites with her college friend, Aura (Jill Kocalis), a lesbian. Of course, masksâ€”and clothesâ€”are shed as the characters grapple with their romantic notions and emotions.
Dietz sexy, minimalist film shows whatâ€™s lurking beneath the surface of people uncomfortable with themselves and their sexuality. As a result, the â€śbe who you areâ€ť message that is standard in queer cinema is given a bold new twist. Dietz, talked about breaking stereotypes, filming sex scenes, and the drama that comes with being in denial.
(Bay Times) Where did the idea of Love Life originate?
I was at a festival, with another film in San Diego, and I went into a local gay bar. A cute young guy in the military was there, and he introduced his wife who was also in the military, and I thought it was odd that heâ€™s gay and sheâ€™s lesbian. [Marriage] gave them an advantageâ€”it worked on an economic level for themâ€”but at what price? They were out socially together, but not sexually interested in each other. They had an unusual attachment that hasnâ€™t been explored in a queer film now. Of course I changed it a little bit.
How did you develop the filmâ€™s narrative framework of interviewing Mary flashing back to her personal drama leading up to that moment?
It starts with a stilted interview thatâ€™s not about anything, but the film slowly peels away Mary and Joeâ€™s relationship. I show the audience something they take for granted, and then show whatâ€™s beneath the surface. By replaying the opening, I show how itâ€™s loaded with a mysterious subtext. When we see the interview again, it makes perfect sense. I use repetition to reinforce things.
You also add fantasy sequencesâ€”Joe kissing Thomas in the shower; Mary kissing Aura in the carâ€”these are revealing bits, at odds with the realism. Why did you include these scenes?
Because I wanted to show that there was something inside of us, our desires [expressed] in mundane thingsâ€”buttering the toast, taking a shower, etc. How do you show that cinematically? I took a character changing his clothes and showed what was in his heart. Itâ€™s a risky device, but by showing those desires early on, what begins as a fantasy sequence becomes a payoff for the audience if/when it becomes a reality. Itâ€™s like painting a picture in your head that comes to fruition.
You have previously made great screwball comedies like Beverly Killsâ€”what made you write and direct a romantic drama?
I always want to do something that strikes me as interesting and challenges the audience. I didnâ€™t want to tell this story comicallyâ€”though I could have. I wanted to focus on both gay male and lesbian relationships in a parallel story. Gay and lesbian media is polarized between men and women.
What insights do you have about gay men and lesbians?
Gay men and women are very differentâ€”and I found that out in the reaction to the film. I was a little idealistic. They share one thing in commonâ€”their homosexuality, but thatâ€™s it. Fundamentally, weâ€™re very different, but weâ€™re grouped together because of our sexuality.
How did you try to challenge stereotypes in your presentation of the filmâ€™s characters?
Leading up to the love scenes, the women are being artistic, the men are drinking and then fucking. These are stereotypes. But the film is all about pretenseâ€”people not being who they are. Mary is feminine, lighting candles and playing the piano. Thatâ€™s her character, trying to live up to/fit into a stereotype. A lot of people do that.
You also shoot not one, but four love scenes in this film. You have not filmed sex scenes quite like this beforeâ€”was that difficult?
I love sex scenes in films, but itâ€™s not my favorite thing to shoot. I work with people Iâ€™ve developed a relationship with because thereâ€™s such a huge trust factor. Itâ€™s daunting, but I have people I trust in front of and behind the camera.
What about getting your actors to undress on camera? Your lead actor goes full frontal on several occasions.
In so many gay and lesbian films, the film is about the nudity, and filmmakers satisfy the audienceâ€™s demand. But I donâ€™t want to be gratuitous and stupid. In Love Life the sexuality is integrated in the film, and while there is nudity, it is a function of the story.
Joe goes off to have sex with strangers. This â€śdown lowâ€ť behavior seems to be getting more attentionâ€”what do you feel prompts this dangerous behavior? Why are people in relationships going off to get off with others?
Are men biologically programmed to want sex? If I think about it, it comes back to the mainstream institution. Putting identity and desire in a box, is just impossible. It is for me, and I think it is for a lot of people. Weâ€™re supposed to believe that one person can satisfy us in every respect.
You film is about denial. What made that your central theme/focus?
I think weâ€™re at a point in queer cinema where weâ€™ve been told to only tell a few stories about how society has oppressed us and put us in a closet, and how we have to get out of that closet. I wanted to make a film about characters who oppress themselves, and put themselves in their own closet.
People want to think society has backed them into a corner, but they have to look at themselves and ask, â€śHow much of that is my own doing?â€ť
How did this project help you grow as a filmmaker?
It challenged me to expand my skills. I never did an erotic drama before. My last drama, Neverland was surreal, a fantasy. I really think for me as a filmmaker, the charactersâ€™ journey mirrors my own. As an artist, I was trapped doing one thing, and this was an opportunity to do something different.
It did help me prove to myself, that I can expand my boundaries. It all comes down to wanting to break out of a box.