This is my first year covering Chicago’s Reeling Film Festival. Previous years have unfortunately followed in the footsteps of Chicago’s International Film Festival and after two solid weeks of cinema, the task of embarking upon a new festival more often than not leads to fatigue. Thankfully, this year’s iteration serves as the commodious appetizer to the proverbial entrée, effectively positioning the festival as an integral fixture to the city’s diverse slate of autumn screenings.
Editor’s Note: Tom at the Farm, a film by wunderkind Canadian director Xavier Dolan, was not able to screen for press prior to publication. Based on Dolan’s previous efforts (including 2012’s incredible Laurence Anyways), it would be safe to suggest that the film is a must-see.
BFFs (Andrew Putschoegl, 2014)
BFFs scribes and actors Andrea Grano and Tara Karsian possess screen-presence and the ability to write a hell of a joke. All they require is someone who is more capable of translating their sharp scripting onto the screen. BFFs follows Samantha and Kat (Grano and Karsian, respectively) as they take a couples retreat - neither identify as gay but figure why waste the opportunity? Soon they discover that the retreat is filled with struggling couples attempting to remedy their ailing relationships, with Sam and Kat forced to maintain their charade. The premise may be groan-inducing but Grano and Karsian are adept in maneuvering past cliché and actually provide genuine moments of humor and pathos. Yet, one has to wonder if this film would’ve worked better as a stage play? The secluded resort doesn’t offer much in terms of scope and director Andrew Putschoegl doesn’t do much to enrich the visual space. This is the sort of problem that unfortunately afflicts numerous female-driven comedies - like Bridesmaids and The Heat, BFFs is a cleverly written effort made by and featuring women that’s unfortunately shorthanded by a limited directorial presence.
Boy Meets Girl (Eric Schaeffer, 2014)
Eric Schaeffer’s Boy Meets Girl bares some similarities to Leo Carax’ 1984 film of the same name, but it is, at its heart, a film indebted to a prototypical rom-com formula. Schaeffer’s instincts are deeply rooted in convention, though it’s a godsend that his lead actress Michelle Hendley - in her debut performance - resists any of the material’s propensities for the typical. The film details Ricky’s (Michelle Hendley) experiences growing up in a small rural town where she quickly falls for an engaged woman. Ricky’s transexuality isn’t used as an overt narrative touch point, but rather addressed in a very straightforward and direct way. The sex-positive nature of Boy Meets Girl unfortunately takes a stumble toward the latter portion of the picture, where an emphasis on dramatic histrionics takes precedence over the smaller and subtler touches that Hendley was able to cultivate in the first half. Still, Hendley remains a sturdy force throughout the film, providing one of the more memorable performances of 2014.
Ever (Josh Beck, 2014)
Ever (Wendy Mccolm) works in solitude at a book and records store. A potent image in the film finds her hunched as if the weight of the books on the shelving is pressing upon her back - if only director Josh Beck could maintain that emphasis on framing and visual integrity. Ever’s study on grief and loss are well worth exploring, but it’s Beck who constantly interferes with synthesizing that depression. His problematic compositions and framing unnecessarily complicate the picture. Beck’s fitfully askew camera draws so much attention to itself that it’s rare to ever empathize with his character’s loss. Is that the point? It’s hard to consider this as an option given how so much of the film’s twisty conclusion emphasizes the need for catharsis. This proved to be a very frustrating viewing as Ever possessed the promise of similar minded films, particularly Bradley Rust Gray’s The Exploding Girl and Dan Sallitt’s The Unspeakable Act. Unfortunately Ever is compromised by an abrasive stylistic technique.
Lilting (Hong Khaou, 2014)
Uncompromising and elegant, Lilting is one of the true finds at this year’s Reeling Festival. The film centers on an elderly woman named Junn (Cheng Pei-pei) who is plagued by the memory of her recently deceased son. Taking refuge in a nursing home, Junn is confronted by her son’s roommate Richard (Ben Whishaw). With no common language between them, Richard employees the help of a friend to translate, though the complexities of language prove to be another obstacle for them to overcome. Lilting’s force comes from the delicacy of its editing, often times capturing tenuous moments of frustration as both Junn and Richard contend with the loss of a loved one. The film’s sensuous and subtle overtures are remarkably assured for first time director - this may be the best debut feature of 2014.
Power Erotic (Lawrence Ferrera, 2014)
Documentary filmmaking is a tricky craft and like a comedy it is usually a subjective experience. Despite the good intentions and very personal investigative studies found in Power Erotic, the film’s analysis of masculinity and sexuality are, at their best, dubious. The film’s interviewees - ranging from sociology professors to a Penthouse editor - are often repetitive in their analyses. More problematic are Ferrara’s limitations as a stylist. The film shifts from talking head interviews to grating submissive-dominant reenactments. Ferrera’s trump card comes in a conclusion that’s more likely to offend than enlighten, in what’s an unfortunate attempt to file deviant behavior as a collective experience in abuse.
Complete festival information and tickets are available at www.reelingfilmfestival.org