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    Rites of Spring

    A gay 'Rites' struggle

    "The Rites of Spring" follows a straight young dancer through sexual harassment into sexual uncertainty.


    Robert is the golden boy of his Manhattan dance studio. The fair-haired Swede is fresh off the plane, brought over specially as a protg to Hunter. The teacher, a somewhat broken, personally unpleasant, aging ex-dancer, rides Robert hard in class, and then gives him affectionate private lessons after hours.

    Directed by: Georg Schmithusen.
    Cast: Alexander Eriksson, William Mahoney, Jamila Jones, Bernard McClain, Laura Napoli, Sean Wahl, Adam Alexi-Malle.
    Cinematography: Mindaugas Blaudziunas.
    Soon it becomes obvious, at least to us, that the teacher is more interested in dating than dancing with Robert. But the handsome Swede likes girls — in particular the other star pupil, Jewel. As much grief as Robert takes at his restaurant job from co-workers who think that any male dancer must be a tutu-wearing "faggot," he takes sexual abuse from all sides but keeps focused on the two things he cares about: dancing and Jewel.

    The big question, as Hunter's passes become increasingly obvious and desperate, is: why does Robert put up with it?

    "I feel like he can do whatever he wants because I'm learning so much from him," the young man says after a particularly sadistic class. But just maybe, is there some part of Robert that enjoys the male attention more than he'll admit? The whole plot is really a setup to see what he will do when confronted with a challenge to his sexuality.

    Rites of Spring  
    And that exercise is really the whole purpose of "The Rites of Spring." Plotwise, the film feels a little thin, as if calculated just to set up this one situation. The acting also feels a little stilted — the actors may well have been chosen for their dancing ability more than acting ability, though Jamila Jones as Jewel does have a very natural, unstudied style that works well.

    So the film does not seem skillful on the whole, but it does put the question of sexual orientation forward in a way that's worth thinking about.

    JANUARY 30, 2001

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