Foreign language films hit the sweet spot at the 20th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival, where 50 of the 67 official submissions to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Best Foreign Language Film will be screened.

“It's a good place to show foreign-language films,” Sony Picture Classics' Michael Baker told Variety.

Two foreign entries will strike a mighty chord with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. One looks at the Vatican's homophobic seizures as Italians debated civil unions in 2007, while the second is an intimate look at Iran's underground sex-change industry.

We are confident the premise of director/writer Tanaz Eshaghian's Be Like Others is possibly more disturbing than any Halloween horror flick for rent at Netflix: Would you alter your sex for society's acceptance?

The horror is playing out for real in Iran where being gay is punishable by death, but having a sex change is permissible.

The film follows several young men as they decide to undergo the painful surgery in hopes of re-entering society. Homophobia is so entrenched in this Muslim country that even these boys do not admit to being gay.

One of the men featured is 20-year-old Anoosh whose boyfriend is more comfortable when he dresses as a woman. To remain together, Anoosh decides to become Anahita. While the surgery alleviates societal concerns, it's apparent their relationship has suffered.

Be Like Others outs a truly ghoulish byproduct of institutionalized homophobia in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In Suddenly, Last Winter we find out that the homophobic despot of Italy is the Vatican.

Filmed by Roman couple Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi, whose domestic bliss had largely insulated them from the deep rooted anti-gay attitudes of their countrymen. But the “shock and awe” response from church leaders and right-wing organizations to a proposed gay civil unions bill in the winter of 2007 leaves the couple shell-shocked.

The setting is Italy, but the narrative is eerily similar to California summer of 2008, making Suddenly, Last Winter a very interesting look at the universal thinking of gay marriage opponents.

The 20th annual Palm Springs International Film Festival opens Thursday, January 8.

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On the Net: The Palm Springs International Film Festival website is at