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has always looked to films from both home and abroad to highlight the best in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender cinema. But this year, the festival boasts a particularly international flavor. Sampling FilmOut's 2006 foreign entries is like taking a trip around the globe. So let's begin our travels in Asia with the Taiwanese romantic comedy,

Formula 17


Tien is an innocent teen on his first trip to Taipei. He hooks up with a former high school buddy at a hip club where he immediately embarrasses himself.

That's the sound of total humiliation as Tien loudly confesses to his friend that he's still a virgin just as the music cuts out. But don't worry, no one suffers for long in this buoyant tale of love where everyone looks like they just walked out of a pop magazine ad. There's a refreshing lack of anxiety and social concern as the film serves up a bubbly, gay paradise populated entirely by cute, gay men. Women and heteros just aren't to be found, and the weight of reality never bears down on this airy confection.

But as we travel to India, the tone shifts dramatically. The Journey concerns two young girls whose friendship turns to love.

Kiran and Delilah may joke about dismissing unworthy suitors but prearranged marriages are an unpleasant reality for girls like them. The film may smack of melodrama but at its heart is an appealing plea for tolerance.

Next we arrive in Germany by way of Iran for one of the festival's strongest entries, Unveiled . Persecuted in Iran for falling in love with another woman, Fariba flees her homeland to seek asylum in Germany.

But immigration problems force Fariba to assume a male identity. She takes a job in a factory where the men tease her for effeminate nature and for being from Tehran. They nickname her Ayatollah and urge her to reveal something about where she's from. She replies by offering a song.

Her singing touches Anne, a female factory worker and the two end up going out. The film has a tragic underscore as it confronts the obstacles faced by women like Fariba who refuse to conform to conventions. But Unveiled also plays cleverly with gender roles. One scene finds the lesbian Fariba dressed as a man and being dragged to a strip club in order to prove to her co-workers that she likes women. The film also boasts a quietly compelling performance by Jasmin Tabatabai.

Smart, sexy female performances dominate another German film, Beautiful Women . The film begins with five actresses waiting for an audition and growing increasingly bored.

The actresses complain about auditioning, and being asked such stock questions as, "Do you mind taking your clothes off?" Taking in the diversity of the group, one woman suggests that they shouldn't be trying out for the same part. This prompts them to re-evaluate why they are so hungry for the role and willing to subject themselves to the humiliation of waiting around just to be rejected. So they all take off on an impulsive road trip that leads to friendship and love. The film showcases its actresses and offers an often wry sense of humor.

Humor dominates the final German entry, Guys and Balls .

Ecki is a gay soccer player who's kicked off his team when he makes a pass at rather than to one of his teammates. To get even he challenges his old team to a match between gays and heterosexuals. The film tries to tweak gay stereotypes and gives emotional resonance to what's essentially a silly sports comedy.

And saving the best for last, we land in Spain for 20 Centimeters . The title refers to the length of an appendage that the transsexual Marieta would like removed. But that's only one of her problems. She also has narcolepsy and falls asleep at the most inopportune times'like during a job interview. But when she sleeps, she dreams she's the star of elaborately staged musical numbers.

Whether she's acting like Marilyn Manson or Marilyn Monroe, Monica Cervera delivers an audaciously over the top and delectably rich comic performance. 20 Centimeters is so defiantly optimistic that you'll be tempted to leap up and sing along with its bouncy musical numbers, or at the very least leave the theater singing the praises of the film and of FilmOut San Diego 2006 .

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