“Chris & Don. A Love Story” is a documentary about the longterm romance between artist Don Bachardy and “Berlin Stories” writer Christopher Isherwood the two met when Bachardy was 18 and Isherwood some 30 years older, and were together, openly, for three decades, through times not always hospitable to gay relationships. Tina Mascara and Guido Santi directed; Bachardy is now 74 and Isherwood passed away over 20 years ago.
Grouping “Chris & Don” with Derek Jarman doc “Derek,” Armond White at the New York Press writes that “These gay documentaries show more loving than today’s gay film fiction… by examining this older/younger couple for differences of social circumstance, individual ego and personal desire that pertain to any love relationship, Santi and Mascara present a complex testament of gay experience.” Similar sentiments from Michael Koresky at indieWIRE: “If only someone would make a fictional gay romance that had as much feeling and depth as Tina Mascara and Guido Santi’s “Chris & Don: A Love Story”:
This documentary is wholly suffused with genuine romantic longing, even as it purposefully investigates the complex bonds between the two men — as lovers, as artists, as mentor/protege, as father/son surrogates — with psychological clarity. While in description, a documentary focusing on the experiences of one pair of lovers might sound hermetic, “Chris & Don” comes across as remarkably expansive; rarely is love depicted onscreen with this much soul-rattling care.
Stephen Holden at the New York Times calls the film an “elegantly structured documentary,” while Chuck Wilson at the LA Weekly notes how “to describe the novelist’s final days, Bachardy opens a drawer and begins pulling out the magnificent deathbed drawings he did of Isherwood — a fusion of art and love that’s deeply moving.” Ernest Hardy at the Village Voice suggests that it’s the subject matter of the film that’s more groundbreaking than the craft behind it: “Tina Mascara and Guido Santi’s film uses standard documentary-filmmaking tools to celebrate three entities–Isherwood, Bachardy, and their relationship–that flaunted all the rules.” “A whole other documentary would be necessary to do full justice to either Isherwood’s writings or Bachardy’s portraits, yet the beauty of the film lies in how it reveals the ways their art reflects their feelings for each other, challenging their cultural disparities as well as the passage of time,” concludes Fernando F. Croce at Slant.
[Photo: “Chris & Don. A Love Story,” Zeitgeist Films, 2007]