They screens at the AMC River East 21 on Friday, October 13 at 7:45PM, Tuesday, October 17 at 3:30PM, and Wednesday, October 25 at 8:00PM. Director Anahita Ghazvinizadeh is scheduledfor a post-screening Q&A after all three screenings. For additional ticketing information, refer to the Chicago International Film Festival website here.
They, Anahita Ghazvinizadeh’s astonishing debut feature, is exceedingly difficult to write about. In its relatively short runtime, it covers a range of concerns from transgender transitioning, familial obligations, the inordinate difficulty of obtaining medical care in America, the inherit awkwardness of the English language, the isolation one feels when everyone around you speaks in a different tongue, and the profoundly relatable hope of freezing time to avoid adulthood. All concerns underscored by the touching poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, where They’s central character mumbles “The Mountain” throughout the film’s runtime.
J (Rhys Fehrenbacher) is a gender-fluid teen on hormone blockers that delays puberty. We’re introduced to J’s older sister Lauren (Nicole Coffineau) and her partner Araz (Koohyar Hosseini), who stay with J while their parents are coping with a family emergency. Ghazvinizadeh structures the film loosely, centering the film on the travails of each of her characters and their fragile relationships. For J, it’s the obstacle of continuing hormone therapy; J’s doctor suggests that a decision be made. Keeping a journal that allows J to identify as “G” or “B”, finds the gender-nonconforming teen at a complete loss. Meanwhile, Lauren finds herself struggling to figure out her next career move, particularly given that she’s ready to commit to Araz. She’s set to meet with Araz’s Persian family for the weekend with J in tow.
Intriguingly, none of these concerns are bolstered by any overt dramatic touches. In this way, my mind jogged back to another remarkable debut from earlier this year, Kogonada’s Columbus. That film utilized the visual architecture of its milieu to complement the complicated relationships of its characters. Ghazvinizadeh’s film highlights a floral, more verdant milieu that accents its characters’ blooming preoccupations. What comes of this is a dynamic collage of ephemeral moments: J rubbing bicycle grease on their dress, Araz gripping his face in pain over a tooth ache, Lauren’s pithy smirk when performing for J and Araz. And that’s not to mention Ghazvinizadeh’s numerous homages to her late mentor Abbas Kiarostami, including a memorable sequence in a car where the film’s green suburb is reflected in on their windshield. But perhaps most importantly, Ghazvinizadeh pays homage to Kiarostami thorough the warmth and generosity that They provokes. Some may argue that They’s inclusiveness does not align with the xenophobia and transphobia that’s in fashion in America right now. Here’s a film where a gender nonconforming teenager walks through their neighborhood and is greeted with dignity. Perhaps not a fashionable thought, but it’s certainly a hopeful image to strive for.