Just Pals

hen gay meets straight in movies with an eye to crossover markets, the guilty pleasure of homoerotic attraction sags into the cuddly bond of friendship. So it is with two likable, modestly artv films about likable, intenselv art\ homosexuals trving to survive in unforgiving straight worlds. In English director Suri Krishnamma’s folksv A Man of No Importance, Albert Finney (sprung, mercifully, from his endless drunk roles) plays Alfie Byrne, a virginal Dublin bus conductor who has the hots for his handsome young driver but drowns bis lust in lofty love for Oscar Wilde. When he tries to stage a production of W ilde’s Salome with a starring cast of local yokels (in-

eluding Michael Gambon in a wonderful turn as a prudish butcher), all hell breaks loose and the entire community is forced—sort of—to face up to “the love that dare not speak its name.”

Strawberry and Chocolate, a new comedy from Tomas Gutierrez Alea (Memories of l nderdevelopment), aims both lower (a sex-triangle romp) and higher (a political allegory about freedom and repression in contemporary Cuba). Jorge Perrugoria is enchanting as Diego, a gav aesthete and flamboyant free spirit who tries to pick up David (Vladimir Cruz), a tightly wound voting Communist newlv jilted by his girlfriend, at an ice-cream parlor. As mistrust fades into affection, Diego teaches David to lighten up and engineers the loss of David’s innocence with his wacky neighbor Nancy. Everyone is very nice to everyone else, and everyone stays safely within his or her own sexual preference—which makes a charming buddy movie, but not much more.