I believe in ghosts, vampires and public employees
That a certain morning fly away from their houses.
Because I am a man in love.
 Luis Caicedo

Places of Anger and Desire

Female directors provided rewarding experiences in the AFI FEST presented by Audi, which opened with the post #MeToo, post #BlackLivesMatter, world premiere of Queen and Slim, its extra-cinephilic significance embedded in the complex texture of racial guilt and racial pride that marks contemporary US society. Haloed with the mythical title of a ballad, this tale of two young, attractive, hip, young dark-skinned black people (accomplished British actor Daniel Kaluuya of Get Out fame and first time actor Jodie Turner-Smith)1  fleeing together from Ohio to Florida and loving each other on the way, is the brainchild of two African American women that had become household names through their work on television: the screenplay was penned by Emmy Award winner Lena Waithe, while Grammy Award and MTV Video Music Awards winner Melina Matsoukas signs here her feature directorial debut.

Bungling their way out of an unpromising Tinder-triggered date in a dull, generic Cleveland diner, our protagonists decide to part, but he is driving her home first. One false move at the wheel is all it takes. A white cop pounces on them. We have seen this before; we are expecting it. The cop shoots Queen in the leg; Slim grabs the gun and somehow pulls the trigger. The cop is dead. They are as good as dead too, and they know it. Yet hope endures, and gives them the energy to drive cross-country in stolen or borrowed cars, fall in love, have sex, dance to an eternal blues, ride a horse, and trust or distrust others, black or white, relatives or strangers. It takes a village to raise a child; it takes a country to hide a pair of lovers or catch a pair of murderers.

Beyond the clichéd or more original parallels,2 Queen and Slim stems from a place of black anger, black fear, black desire, black hope, black dreams – and this is what makes you want to love the film. Yet, like a partially tamed horse, its mise en scène uneasily kicks over the traces of contradictory codes of production, first as a nod to the heyday of independent Blaxploitation – the time Melvin van Peebles was on the lam in Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971). In contrast with Queen’s middle-class respectability (she’s an attorney), the visit to her pimp uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine) in the New Orleans house he shares with his two scantily dressed “hoes” opens a space of rugged poetry. The subversive, ironical and magical grandeur of Van Peebles is a hard act to follow, and, while keeping some of its magic, Matsoukas revisits it through the more commercial codes of the contemporary gangsta thriller – espousing its inherent misogyny, or at least its ambivalence toward the representation of the female body. Queen borrows a sexy outfit from one of the hoes, and from then on her body is on display, whether in mini-skirt on the run or white underwear over black skin in the sex scenes. The romanticism of the finale (an inverted Pietà with Slim carrying the body of Queen before being ridden with bullets himself) is overshadowed by the unsavoury cliché of the greedy gun-totting black-hates-black dude in his trailer. Similarly, its elliptical, fairly-tale mode of narration is sometimes weighed down by voiceovers that “fill the gaps,” an unnecessary move since Queen and Slim has the power to suggest more than what it shows and to evoke more than what it says.

Jennifer Reeder’s Knives and Skin blossoms from another place of rightful anger: the young female. We had seen Reeder articulating the vivid feelings of those she calls “unruly women”3 from all over the rainbow – from “white trash” (the title of her first short) to Mid-America schoolgirls on the way to the prom (Blood Below the Skin, 2015), to Muslim skateboarders (Crystal Lake 2016), to Signature Move (2017), about an American Pakistani lesbian attorney juggling a marriage-minded mother, a love for wrestling and an on-again off-again affair with a Latina.4

From the opening two sequences, Reeder lays down the two antagonisms that perdure at the core of her work: mother/daughter and male/female. She also shuffles time and space. Does the moment Lisa (the truly amazing Marika Engelhardt) grabs a knife to bust the lock on her daughter’s bedroom door take place before or after said daughter, Carolyn (Raven Whitley), all dressed up in cheer-leader outfit (a recurrent fetish in Reeder’s work), tries to explain Andy (Ty Olwin), who has brought her near the river in his sport car, that she changed her mind about doing him? The butting of the discourse of male entitlement against female wanderings of the heart does not go so well; Carolyn is ejected from the car, and later goes missing. What really happened is not a simple matter of he said, she said, for Carolyn’s body, or image, or ghost, keeps appearing and disappearing in the bushes, in various states of bruising, decomposition and teenage prettiness. Like the famed Laura Palmer (as she has often been compared to) she is a projection of the desires and fears gnawing at the small Mid Western community – in whose social texture her disappearance bores a hole.

Knives and Skin (Jennifer Reeder)

In a sassy twist, Reeder inverts her initial perspective: from mother and jock (the perpetrators?) to daughter. Daughters. For they are all over the place, the daughters – black and white, girls in a band, queens with magnificent afro hair-sculpture, girls who don’t have the right clothes to go to the prom, girls (suspected of) doing blow-jobs, ambitious girls who want to leave town, and girls in love – and Knives and Skin is their film: their taste in clothing; in hairdo; in wildly creative, sequined make-up; in music; their exasperation for men and for grown-ups. This brightly coloured world, expertly rendered by DP Christopher Rejano’s ingenious palette, leaves room, unexpectedly, for a Renoirian generosity (everybody has their reason). The distraught mother and the jock (who cannot be sure whether or not he’s responsible for Carolyn’s disappearance) meet and bond, in a troubling moment of displaced sexuality, over the smell left by the girl in Andy’s car. In Reeder’s world, mothers were girls once, as fathers were boys, and they retain the traits of a protracted adolescence. A man who dares not tell his wife that he has lost his job goes around town in a clown make-up and has an affair with a married pregnant waitress. A slightly unhinged mother finds solace manicuring her daughter’s hands – framing, as Reeder puts it, an “adult and [a] teen female in… the same emotional crisis” for “coming of age is a lifelong process.”5 This continuum, however, is broken for Carolyn’s mother, who is left holding the void.

The daughters coolly witness their parents’ foibles and breakdowns, and then dive into follies of their own. Reeder eradicates more than one representational boundary: the gap between generations, race and class differences (black and white daughters mix at school, and there are examples of mixed-race families, such as the white pregnant waitress and her black sheriff husband); and seamlessly follows the flow of desire, attraction and love, be it straight or queer (an exquisite, magical and daring scene involves two girls exchanging “gifts” in the school’s restroom), with a captivating sense of fluidity.

Chiaroscuro

Delving, like Reeder, into off the beaten track coming of age rituals, Céline Sciamma has depicted young women navigating between heterosexual and homosexual attraction, jealousy and rivalry in La Naissance des Pieuvres (lit: The Birth of the Octopuses. Eng. title: Water Lilies, 2007), or male and female identification in Tomboy (2011) or, in Bande de Filles (lit: Gang of Girls. Eng. title: Girlhood, 2014), initiating complex, defiant and playful strategies of bonding under the watchful eye of their militant brothers in the black community of the outskirts of Paris (it is, strangely, a film that parallels Knives and Skin, with Rihanna as a musical point of reference rather than Cindy Lauper). With Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (Portrait of a Lady on Fire, 2019), she jumps into the shimmering waters of the period film, and became the first woman to win the Queer Palm Award at Cannes.6 The feminine masquerade of 18th century corseted dresses and rules of propriety gives a novel edge to Sciamma’s rendering of utopian spaces inhabited by women, through a mise en abyme of the female gaze in the history of representation.

When the painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) arrives on a small Brittany island by boat, her luggage (including her blank canvases) falls into the water, and she is the one to retrieve them, without the help of the boatman. He will be the last man seen on screen (except for some dim figures of peasants at dusk), until the last two sequences: self-assured “connoisseurs” in an Art Salon, and patrons in a concert hall. Utopia defines an improbable space, and the one crafted by Sciamma is no heaven. It is neatly framed like a classical painting, with off-screen masculine presence encasing it. Héloïse’s dead father, and the future husband she’s promised to; Marianne’s painter father, whose art academy for young women artists she inherited, after being his apprentice;7 the maid Sophie’s irresponsible lover; the absent husband of the abortionist, who manages the procedure on a bed on which her infant children are crawling. It is also inhabited by demons and traitors: the ghost of Héloïse’s sister who, it is suggested, preferred to fall to her death rather than contract an arranged marriage; the firm and smiling authority of the Countess (Valeria Golino), invested in the reproduction of social structures and female subjection. She recounts how, when she arrived in the house of her husband, the first thing she saw was her portrait, which had been sent in advance. Horrified at this possible trafficking of her own image,8 Héloïse (the outspoken feminist actress Adèle Haenel) refuses to let herself be painted. So Marianne is hired, under the guise of being a paid companion. When Héloïse discovers that Marianne is a painter, what interests her is not the fact that she could be an object of Marianne’s art – and eventually Marianne’s desire – but the nature of Marianne’s gaze, therefore of Marianne’s desire, and, in a simple leap, of her own. [As female art students] “we were not given access to male nudes…. They wanted to prevent us from creating great art.” Women were long barred from a complete artistic education. The Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Paris only accepted female students in 1897. Confined in smaller schools for women, they were not even given access to female nudes, who posed draped in a cloth. “Yet the nude was the last stage of the artistic curriculum… Preventing young women from following this training amounted to confining most of them in genres considered then as secondary: portraits, landscapes, still life.”9 So if, as Virginia Woolf wrote, there was no female Shakespeare, there was no Leonarda either – because men gave themselves the privilege to write about women and paint them, but would be terrorised if the same was applied to them. But, upon reading a book by a fictional “Mary Carmichael”, Woolf chances upon a sentence that “lit a torch in that chamber where nobody has yet been: Chloe liked Olivia. They shared a laboratory together.” 10 When women seized the pen, the brush, the chisel, it was first to represent themselves “when [they] are alone, unlit by the capricious and coloured light of the other sex.”11

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma)

So, there is another light. Emerging from Sciamma’s painterly compositions, framed by her DP Claire Mathon (another female gaze)12, with its vibrating transitions between the obscure and the limpid (echoed in the tension between brown and blue eyes), the overwhelming discovery of sameness and otherness in the body facing yours, the chiaroscuro of the kitchen with the maid, “those unrecorded gestures, those unsaid or half-said words”,13 the dark, powerful shapes of the peasant women involved in an archaic dance at dusk, when, suddenly, the hem of Héloïse’s dress is set on fire. Spontaneous combustion, dark ancestral magic, metaphor for a doomed passion? Behind the veil of a doomed queer love story, Sciamma adds a masterstroke to the rewriting of art history. Where would a light not ignited by the fire, the anger or the impatience of sexual difference come from? And more importantly, if we followed its trail, where would it lead us?

The Margin, and After

When you jump in the margin, you never know who is going to join you there. Kurosawa Kiyoshi, the man who started as “the other Kurosawa” and has imbued Japanese genre films, from “pink movies” to horror flicks, with a slant of uncanniness, returns at the top of his form in the unlikely context of a commission by the government of Uzbekistan to celebrate 25 years of diplomatic relationships with Japan. To add spice to the multicultural stew, To the Ends of the Earth (Tabi no Owari Sekai no Hajimari), a faux documentary about the crew of a middle-brow Japanese TV travel show shooting in unfamiliar Central Asian territory, borrows its title from a line of “Ai no Sanka”, the Japanese version of Edith Piaf’s “Hymne à l’Amour”. This is not so bizarre; in the mid-2000s, the films commissioned by the Musée d’Orsay produced a remarkable crop – in particular Hong Sang-soo’s Bam gua nat (Night and Day, 2008) that focused on the misguided efforts of a Korean man in forced exile in Paris to find his bearings (or to identify the French name for condom).

Cross-cultural misunderstanding is the gist of both films, but, in Hong’s cinema, anxiety attaches itself to the male body like a relentless shadow. Kurosawa offers a different equation, staging the female body as a vessel for anxieties, and he wrote the part of his protagonist Yoko, the host of the show, for the actress/singer Maeda Atsuko – who had starred in two of his previous productions, Sanpo suru shinryakusha (Before We Vanish, 2017), and Sebunsu kôdo (Seventh Code, 2013), where her plight of a Japanese woman dumped in the outskirts of Vladivostok foreshadows Yoko’s journey. Maeda swiftly and often humorously plays with the tropes of her pop personality – bubbly, falsely naïve, enthusiastic and o-so-feminine in her subjection to the diktats of her producer Yoshioka Sometani Shota who, with a twinge of sadism, puts her in ridiculous or risky situations. For example, gyrating, again and again (“next take!”) in an old-fashioned carnival ride, bravely but to the point of nausea.

Gradually, though, the tables turn. Yoko starts asserting her agency, even if mistakenly so. She insists on liberating a lonely goat tied up in a peasant’s yard. Bought from his owner, the animal is released into the grasslands, only to be immediately recaptured by the peasants: it wouldn’t have survived in the wild anyway. This is not without evoking Jorge’s futile efforts in buying a dog at the end of Buñuel’s Viridiana (1961) or, more to the point, Ingrid Bergman spectacular, misunderstood reaction at the fate of the tunas in the hands of the fishermen in Rossellini’s Stromboli (1950). Instead of indicating a superficial sentimentality in Yoko, this sequence alludes to a greater complexity in her character. During a solo excursion in the capital city of Tashkent, after poorly negotiating directions in a language she does not understand, she chances upon the Navoi Theatre (built to host opera and dance performances). There she dreams of herself as being onstage and singing “Ai no Sanka”.

She loses her poise when a major fire is reported in Tokyo Harbour: she cannot reach her boyfriend on the phone. He is a fireman, an odd pairing for a television personality, even minor. Finally, she ventures with a small camera in a bustling market. One wrong step is all it takes: Yoko finds herself unknowingly shooting in a forbidden area, chased by the police, dropping her camera, hiding, running, and finally being caught and brought to the station.

I won’t spoil the suspense here, for those of us who have ventured in strange lands have all shared this anxiety. I will just say that the film coalesces in two final moments. Yoko’s admiration for the fortitude of her co-citizens who, as war prisoners, built the Navoi in 1945-47. Then, walking on top of a mountain, her admission that she wants to be a singer rather than a TV host while bursting into a heartfelt rendition of “Ai no Sanka”.

J’irais jusqu’au bout du monde
Je me ferais teindre en blonde
Si tu me le demandais
14

A Place of Darkness

While Yoko breaks free and ends up in the light, Mahnaz Mohammadi’s Pesar-Madar (Son–Mother) comes from a place of confinement and darkness, yet its presence in the festival (after its world premiere in Toronto) was nothing short of a miracle. Mohammadi attracted attention in 2003 with her first experimental documentary, Women Without Shadows (about homeless women in a shelter). An activist for women’s rights and for democratic changes in Iran, she also contributed to Rakshan Bani-Etemad’s We Are Half of Iran’s Population about women’s involvement (as candidates as well as voters) in the 2009 election. Since 2007, she has been in and out of jail, banned from filmmaking or forbidden to leave Iran; most recently, she was held in the infamous Nevid prison for two years. For her first narrative feature, she collaborated with dissident filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof – before the latter received the Golden Bear for Sheytan vojud nadarad (There is No Evil).

Leila (Raha Khodayari), a thirty-something widowed single mother of two, is subjected to the unwanted advances of Kazem (Reza Behboodi), the bus driver of the factory where she is employed. Her co-workers maliciously gossip about her (pretending, with a knowing look, she must have “hidden talents”), especially since the supervisor, instead of firing her in this period of economic difficulties and lay-offs, seems to be fond of her. About to lose her livelihood, Leila unenthusiastically accepts Kazem’s marriage proposal and his promise to take care of her. Yet Kazem has a young daughter, and until he marries her off, she cannot live in the same house as Leila’s older kid, her 10 year-old son, Amir (Mahan Nasiri). A strange figure of motherly malevolence, Bibi (veteran actress Maryam Boubani), the neighbour who had convinced Leila to marry Kazem, finds a boarding school for Amir – an institution for deaf and mute boys, for which, not so coincidentally, she works. She manages to get the paperwork through, and trains Amir, who proves to be a talented learner, in pretending he can neither hear nor speak.

Acutely divided into two parts, the film then follows Amir’s silent, patient and increasingly desperate struggle in his new environment, keeping Leila entirely off-screen, her invisibility becoming the poignant signifier of the boy’s longing for her. While Rasoulof’s talent shines in the design and the structure of the screenplay, it is Mohammadi’s compassionate and meticulous mise en scène that renders the film so compelling to watch. Strikingly, as a woman who spent quite a bit of time behind bars, she inserts a form of precise, yet subtle hermeneutic in her visual compositions: details that wouldn’t mean anything to the oppressor, yet construct the victim’s condition (see for example, Leila’s body language in the bus when surrounded by her colleagues or when begging Kazem to leave her alone). She depicts the nature of imprisonment through small facts, elusive elements, as well as the gestures the bind the inmates together. Even though our perception of Bibi changes after the first act, the way she relates to Leila when she is in the same space as her is remarkable, making us wonder which weight is hanging over the older woman’s head. For Mohammadi imprisonment is a process and she shows how economic dependency, poverty, sexual harassment and societal disapproval corner Leila in a situation that admits no issue, and forces her to sacrifice her love for her son.

Similarly, once in the boarding school, Amir learns to mimic the features of a condition he had assumed first for love for his mother, then in obedience to Bibi, then as an imperative for his survival. His relationships with the other boys (including another “pretender”), and his gradual realisation that his mother won’t come back for him, are shown through a succession of light touches. Slowly accumulated revolt prompts Amir to escape – but this is not Les Quatre Cent Coups. A hard-won meeting with Kazem proves disappointing, and Amir realises that the city, maybe the whole of Iranian society, is as much of a prison for a lonely boy than the institution is.

Son-Mother (Pesar-Madar, Mahnaz Mohammadi)

A Cloud of Uncertainty

Its world sales rights acquired by Beta Cinema, Son – Mother was a rare overlap between the American Film Market (AFM) and AFI FEST, as the two events are now held consecutively rather than simultaneously, which makes sense, considering that the traffic between Santa Monica (that houses the AFM) and Hollywood (where AFI FEST screenings are held) is not improving, making it hard to commute between the two events. This was a slightly strange market, a little slow, overshadowed by the demonstrations and tense political situation in Hong Kong that had almost halted economic activity. The Los Angeles office of Filmart, slated to take place 25-28 March 2020, was enthusiastically registering early bird visitors on their booth in the Atrium of the 5th floor of the Loews Hotel (“Protests are just part of democratically run systems…” said one executive.) The usual suspects were present (except for Edko, one of the major players in recent Hong Kong and Chinese cinema): Emperor Motion Pictures, Golden Dragon (formerly Golden Network), Golden Scene, Media Asia, Mei Ah Entertainment, Universe Film Distribution as well as the newcomer Mandarin Motion Pictures (founded in 2018) – alluring visitors with the prospects of films-in-progress by the likes of Stanley Tong, Philip Yung, Benny Chan, Dante Lam, Wai Ka Fai, Feng Xiaogang or Herman Yau – adding in a tone tinged with melancholia and frustration that they didn’t know when such and such a film would get the “Dragon Logo” (the seal of approval from the Chinese Ministry of Propaganda), nor if production/distribution would continue, as the city’s economic activity was under the cloud of tear gas and political uncertainty. Some of my interlocutors were optimistic: “Please do come in March. It’s life as usual. Just avoid certain spots, and don’t leave your hotel on week-ends.” Others, describing the closed MTR (subway) stations and long walks at night I would expose myself to, told me, mournfully: “Remember the Hong Kong you knew. Remember it well. It’s no more.”

This was then, this is now. The cloud hovering over Hong Kong is the pandemic. Where the Wind Blows (Theory of Ambition), the new film by Philip Yung (praised auteur of Dap huet cam mui/Port of Call, 2015), has no release date yet. Dante Lam’s Jin Ji Jiu Yuan (The Rescue) was slated for a 25 January Chinese release, which was derailed by the CV-19. Feng Xiaogran’s Zhi you yun zhi dao (Only Cloud Knows), a co-production between China and New Zealand, had a limited release in China and a few English-speaking countries in late 2019.

Improbable Queerscapes

Yet – while there were fewer market screenings in the theatres surrounding the Loews – Hong Kong independent cinema was endearingly present with Ray Yeung’s Suk Suk, whose world sales rights had been acquired by Film Boutique before its world premiere in Busan (since then the film has been nominated for the Golden Horse Film Festival in Taiwan, as well as for the Teddy Award at the Berlinale.) A third feature by Ray Yeung, who commutes between the US and Hong Kong, this small gem is a labour of love from the likes of independent producer Teresa Kwong and Michael J. Werner (previously Chairman of Fortissimo), ace production designer Albert Poon, William Chang (Stanley Kwan and Wong Kar-wai’s regular collaborator), who supervised the editing, and, last but not least, the two main actors. As Pak, a married veteran cab driver on the verge of retirement, the Chinese opera-trained Tai Bo brings with him the mystique of the hundred+ martial arts and action films he has appeared in, from the Bruce Lee vehicle Enter the Dragon (1973) to Jackie Chang’s production of Jui kuen II (The Legend of the Drunken Master, 1994).

Playing the long-divorced Ho, Ben Yuen comes from contemporary cutting edge indie (he won the Golden Horse Award for Best Supporting Actor in Jun Li’s 2018 Tracey, the first film recounting the life of a transgender character in Hong Kong.)

“Suk suk” means “uncle” in Cantonese – a term of respect for older men. Older and sexless. Following them in the nooks and crannies of working-class Hong Kong – food markets, crammed apartments, modest restaurants, banquet halls – or the covert spots of the local queer underground  – cruising parks, public toilets, bathhouses, advocacy meetings for senior gay men – the film deconstructs this cliché, uncovering the resilient force of desire in older male bodies. The stories of honest toiling, supporting a family, caring for children and grandchildren, embedded in unremarkable lives, poignantly yield to another, long-suppressed narrative. Tai Bo’s taunt muscles, knotted by years of heroic fights (and, in the role of Pak, years of driving in the Hong Kong traffic), shiver in the expectation of a touch, or in tender post-coital relief. Hoi, more experienced in the gay scene but equally conflicted, as a Christian living with his judgmental son’s family, blossoms at being physically accepted and loved for who he is. Beyond the melodrama (will they come out of the family embrace and stay together or not?), Suk Suk unfolds unexplored territories in the male body.

Suk Suk (Ray Yeung)

Another fresh take on queerness came from Québec (also courtesy of Film Boutique), with Anne Emond’s fourth feature, the semi-autobiographic Jeune Juliette. The improbably body is that of an overweight 14 year-old schoolgirl (Alexane Jamieson) whose desires, moods, crushes and hopes leap in multiple directions at once. Treading halfway between naturalism and a swan dive into the private/fantastic world of her anti-heroine, Emond mixes long takes, moments that break the fourth wall, handwriting on the screen. A bully (she does not mince words, she can be cruel and prejudiced) who gets routinely bullied because of her corpulence, she turns her life into a performance. She scorns her tormentors from the high point of her intellectual superiority (“ce sont tous des cons!” – “they are all stupid assholes!”), DJs her unorthodox musical tastes in the tiny studio of the school radio station, invents a love story with the pretty boy in her class, and spins a fantasy about joining her mother who has left the family for New York. This imaginative performance sometimes turns into a painful sex farce (the pretty boy drunkenly takes advantage of her, then ignores her), sometimes into theatre of the cruelty: at first happy to be the mentor and the friend of Arnaud, a young boy with Asperger, Juliette becomes mean to him; and then, discovering that her close (and only) friend Léane (Léanne Désilets) likes women, expresses reprobation and disdain. In the roller-coaster emotions of a teenager, though, cruelty does not last. In an exhilarating ending that may be the Canadian high school equivalent of the final sequence of Almodóvar’s La ley del deseo (Law of Desire, 1987), Léane and Juliette brave the shocked and hostile stares, the hooting and screeching of an entire auditorium of students while they are making out, feeling and kissing each other.

In the last few years, the AFM has been offering on-demand screenings as well. An original entry was the first film of a young Argentine director, Nadir Medina, Instructiones Para Flotar Un Muerto (How to Float a Deadman’s Body), rooted, as Argentine cinema seems to have the secret, into a specific sense of place tinged with surrealism. We open with a male voice reading a letter asking to be turned into a floating body, his chest filled with helium – over the shot of a young man, seen from the back with a rope hanging from the sky around his neck. Cut to the Cordoba airport where, also seen from the back, an androgynous-looking young person, Jesi (Jazmín Stuart), has just landed. She eventually arrives in the apartment of her friend Pablo (Santiago San Paulo). We learn that she is coming back from a long stay in Spain, and that Pablo used to share the apartment with a common friend, Martin. Quotes from the texts of Argentine writer Susana Villalba and Columbian poet Luis Caicedo are woven into glimpses of the discomfort of exile and the elating powers of a good Russian vodka. Cut to Pablo walking alone in the street at night. Cut to breakfast to nurse a hangover, then Jesi goes jogging and Pablo to work in the office of a hospital, where he meets and flirts with Franco whom he brings home that night.

Jeune Juliette (Anne Emond)

A precise and inspired camerawork of slow tracking shots, reframing and blocked perspectives, foregrounds the design and the architecture of Pablo’s apartment, but the relationships between the characters remain ambiguous. At a party, pressured by his friends, Pablo reads a sample of his writing: he is the man walking though the streets of Cordoba, with a rope to which the body of a floating dead man is attached fastened around his neck. He lives “in the shade of a dead man”, torn between the desire to let go of him, and “impose on him the pleasure of freedom” and the fear to “impose on [his soul] the hideous road of loneliness”. Was Martin Pablo’s lover as well as his flatmate? Was he in a ménage à trois with Jesi as well? Did he commit suicide like Luis Caicedo? Unfolding the multiple layers of loss and impossible mourning, Medina draws the portrait of his generation in this age of uncertainty.

AFI FEST
14-21 November, 2019
Festival website: https://fest.afi.com/

American Film Market
6-13 November, 2019
Market website: https://americanfilmmarket.com/

Endnotes:

  1. It was important for the authors of the film that the actors be as dark-skinned as possible, instead of light-skinned, as it is more customary in Hollywood, especially for female parts.
  2. The film has, of course, been compared to Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise (1991), but Waithe said she was more inspired by two films by black directors, F. Gary Gray’s Set It Off (1996) and (1995), while Matsoukas mentions Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz (1939).
  3. Alison Kozberg: “These Girls Know Secret Things: An Interview with Jennifer Reeder”, The Nickelodeon Blog, 2 April, 2018, retrieved 15 March, 2020.
  4. Signature Move starred Canadian Pakistani queer TV/personality Fawzia Mirza, who also co-wrote and co-produced it.
  5. Kozberg, op cit.
  6. Founded in 2010, the award had gone to an arresting collection of male filmmakers: Gregg Araki, Oliver Hermanus, Xavier Dolan, Alain Guiraudie, Matthew Warchus, Todd Haynes, Sebastian Lifshitz, Robin Campillo and Lukas Dhont.
  7. This trait seems to have been borrowed from the biography of the notably queer Rosa Bonheur (even though Bonheur was active in the 19th century). See Catherine Gonnard and Elisabeth Lebovici, Femmes artistes/artistes femmes. Paris de 1880 à nos jours, Hazan, Paris, 2007, 22-25.
  8. An instance of extreme fetishisation that reminds of a turning point in Edward Yang’s Kong bu fen zi (The Terrorizers, 1986), in which the heroine, running away from the police, sneaks into the studio of the photographer obsessed by her, discovers a giant portrait of herself on the wall and passes out from the shock.
  9.   Gonnard and Lebovici, p. 20.
  10. Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, San Diego, New York, London, 1929-1981, p. 82.
  11. Ibid, 84.
  12. Mathon shot in particular Alain Guiraudie’s L’étranger du lac (Stranger by the Lake, 2013), and Rester vertical (Staying Vertical, 2016); Maïwenn’s Mon Roi (My King, 2015) and Mati Diop’s Atlantiques (2019).
  13. Woolf, op. cit., p. 84.
  14. I will go to the end of the earth
    I will dye my hair blonde
    I you were to ask me to…

About The Author

Bérénice Reynaud is the author of New Chinas/New Cinemas (1999) and Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A City of Sadness (2002). She teaches at the California Institute of the Arts. She edited the Senses of Cinema dossier devoted to Chantal Akerman.