It was nothing Heath Ledger had done before, but when it came to sex with Jake Gyllenhaal, no instruction manual was needed.

We have a chemistry as friends, Ledger said, so we just dived into those love scenes. And dove out as fast as we can.

As for Gyllenhaal, he had one word to say on the subject of pashing Ledger: The word is exfoliate.

Gyllenhaal and Ledger were giving a press conference at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival for Brokeback Mountain, one of several gay-themed films in the festival program but by far the most anticipated and hyped.

Adapted from the short story by E. Annie Proulx, Brokeback follows the troubled romance of cowboys Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) who bond physically while sheep herding in the wilds of Wyoming in 1963 and who continue to meet infrequently over the next 20 years for fishing trips.

Shattering Hollywood’s taboo on gay sex, the film is also generating plenty of Academy Awards buzz.

Ledger said that he had no qualms about playing a gay character. It was a story of love which hadn’t been told. This [story] felt like something new. Gyllenhaal said the movie illustrates one of the most important issues of today -¦ When two people love each other they should hold onto that as hard as they can, whether they’re heterosexual or homosexual.

Director Ang Lee was absent from the press conference as he had flown back to Venice at short notice to accept the rival film festival’s highest award, the Golden Lion.

It may not have the prestige of jury prizes, but the Toronto International Film Festival is now widely regarded as the biggest and most important movie festival in the world. Unlike Cannes, Venice or Berlin, Toronto is timed at the kick-off of Academy Awards season and is a much better showcase for movies that can expect to do big business internationally.

It was therefore exciting to see more than a dozen queer-themed movies in the Toronto line-up this year, many of which are destined for an Australian release.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance as Breakfast At Tiffany‘s author Truman Capote in Capote was the talk of the festival. Hoffman convincingly replicates the noted gay writer’s prissy mannerisms and odd, high-pitched voice without losing sight of the man’s fierce ambition and intelligence.

Rather than take the expected biopic route, Bennett Miller’s film focuses on the researching of Capote’s non-fiction novel about a gruesome mass murder, In Cold Blood, and the creepy friendship that sprang up between Capote and one of the killers on death row (Clifton Collins Jr).

Hypertalented writer-director Fran?s Ozon of 8 Femmes and Swimming Pool fame presented Le Temps Qui Reste (Time To Leave), about a vain 31-year-old photographer diagnosed with incurable cancer. Featuring screen legend Jeanne Moreau and hot young thing Melvil Poupaud as the dying snapper, it’s both a sly critique of gay self-centredness and a lyrical meditation on mortality.

There were queer comedies too. In Bam Bam And Celeste, stand-up comics Margaret Cho and Bruce Daniels play a feisty fag hag and a small-town homo-slut on a road trip to New York to find love, sex and reality TV stardom. The movie is loveably daft in the Zoolander tradition.

The appealingly odd Eleven Men Out centres on the travails of an all-gay soccer team in Reykjavik. There’s nonchalant fucking and plenty of tongue-in-cheek shower room scenes -“ not to mention I Am What I Am sung in Icelandic.

Val Kilmer’s turn as a butch-queen private eye in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang had the festival audience in stitches, while documentary Pick Up The Mic introduced stars of the emerging US gay rap scene such as Latina lesbian JenRO: I take bitches out -¦ Have them eat me like a feast.

The festival also gave us 50 Ways Of Saying Fabulous, an adaptation of Graeme Aitken’s Kiwi coming-out novel; desperate housewife Felicity Huffman as a preoperative M-to-F in Transamerica; and Neil Jordan’s sort-of sequel to The Crying Game, Breakfast On Pluto -“ a transvestite odyssey starring Cillian Murphy.

And what of Brokeback Mountain? Is it faithful to the story? Does it herald an era of big budget movies foregrounding gay relationships?

Well, it’s undeniably beautiful, with stunning visuals and excellent performances -“ Ledger’s tight-jawed closet case is easily the best work he has ever done.

The initial seduction scene with Ledger taking Gyllenhaal roughly from behind is desperate, animalistic and definitely no Hollywood cop-out.

However, for my money the movie spends too much time dwelling on the unsatisfying married lives Jack and Ennis lead when they’re apart (Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway play the spouses).

In expanding this spare literary gem into an epic of vast landscapes and empty years, Lee and his scriptwriters almost succeed in dwarfing the central romance out of the picture. Luckily, it all comes together for a d?uement that is bound to leave both gay and straight audiences teary and satisfied.

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