Reviews: Pippa Bianco’s 'Share,' Danielle Lessovitz's 'Port Authority', And Annie Silverstein's 'Bull'
By Caspar Salmon | Film | May 22, 2019 |
By Caspar Salmon | Film | May 22, 2019 |
Pippa Bianco’s feature debut Share, based on her stylish and disquieting short film of the same name, showcases fine, elliptical storytelling and a sensitive, revelatory performance from Rhianne Barreto as a teenager who learns about her sexual assault at a party from a mobile phone video being shared around her high school.
Bianco handles this tricky material with immense care and judiciousness, choosing to refract the violence and trauma in inventive ways — in part, she manages to internalize these facets through the candid performance that she elicits from her lead actor; but she also manages to filter the rawness of the attack through the prism of phones, whose notification sounds are heightened in the mix so as to feel like an assault of their own. Bianco’s sensitivity also shows in her tender depiction of a loving, supportive family torn asunder in their own personal ways: Poorna Jagannathan, playing the mother, shows unquestioning support and appears to have personal experiences of her own that align with her daughter’s; J.C. Mackenzie offers a portrait of hurt, confused masculinity as Mandy’s father. The film is shrewd in the way it depicts the ongoing struggle to obtain justice as a further attack on Mandy, who has to struggle not only with the weight of what happened to her, but with public knowledge of it, and the humiliation of going through a demeaning process.
At times Bianco is almost too controlled, and it might suit her story to have an unleashing of emotion, or perhaps a visual dimension to take this story out of its confines — but there is such promise in this unerring portrait of a young woman taking control of her life against all the odds.
Port Authority stars Fionn Whiteheead as Paul, a young man from Pittsburgh just arrived in New York, who soon falls for Wye, whom he sees voguing with her queer African-American ‘brothers’ on the street. (They all live in a queer ‘house’, with a ‘mother’, according to drag customs) Paul is such a hopeful young innocent, though damaged by his youth being brought up in foster homes, that he takes a very long time to get wise to the fact that Wye (played with delicacy by Leyna Bloom) is a trans woman.
The film bristles with gay panic from the outset, as Paul falls in with a bunch of straight, cis men who set him up with a small-time job as a ‘removal man’ — in reality, a lowly bailiff. Staying in a youth hostel with these toxic bros, his circumstances appear to the smitten boy to be an obstacle to love with Wye — and he sets about deceiving her. All the while, his ethnicity and worldview set him at odds with her — and this is a bridge that the film, for all its qualities, finds itself unable to gap. It may be that the story should never have been told with this cis, straight white perspective as an entry point into black queer ballroom culture: for all Whitehead’s sweet sheepishness and chemistry with Bloom, he is an uneasy lead in a movie that should be more questioning of privilege, gender norms and sexuality.
This isn’t to say that the film wholly fails: there’s a lovely tenderness between the two leads, and an underplayed eroticism too — and when the film gives space to its voguing queer characters it comes alive. Lessovitz has promise but might need to find a less touchy subject for her next outing as a director.
“Lost souls who find solace in each other” is such a hoary old subject for a film, but with Bull Annie Silverstein manages to find something fresh and involving in the format, not least because she mostly manages to avoid cliche.
The film follows Kris (slightly underplayed by Amber Havard), an angry teenager whose mother is in prison, living in reduced conditions with her little sister and diabetic grandmother. The teenager has nothing in her life except hanging out with drop-out friends and harassing her neighbor, Abe (played with sorrowful presence by Rob Morgan). Abe is an aging rodeo star whose insurance doesn’t cover him for injuries sustained in his job, and when he is laid up he gets Kris to work for him rather than press charges after she wrecks his house. The teenager will (naturally) begin to develop a love for rodeo, and eventually see in Rob a twin soul, somebody to take her out of her miserable existence. But can she stop messing up for long enough to keep their bond on the rails?
Silverstein has crafted an involving human drama with this story, which is at its best when it goes deep into the world it investigates — especially the pulsating black rodeo scene in Texas, complete with music and cook-outs. These scenes are so lived in and vibrant, and show Silverstein to be a gifted documentarian. She captures detail so well and manages to sketch this universe in only a few scenes. She fares slightly less well with her imagined narrative, which necessarily involves creating characters out of thin air: at times, the relationship between Abe and Kris feels a little thin, and she resorts to facilities on occasion, such as a moment when Kris succeeds in calming down a furious drug dealer who is on her case, by using a bull-taming technique that Abe taught her. But the corny elements really are dialed down in this rough-edged movie that shies away from sentimentalism, and in the process offers a melancholy portrait of a bruised America.
‘Share,”Port Authority,”Bull’ all screened at Cannes. You can find Caspar on Twitter.
Image sources (in order of posting): A24, Madeleine Films, Cannes Film Festival
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