Saturday, October 15, 2011

London Film Festival: Teenage Kicks

Still from Pariah
Having done my LFF preview for The Quietus via preview DVDs and press screenings, it was a relief to get to the festival proper and lo! Friday turned up not one but two girl-girl dramas in the shape of Pariah and She-Monkeys.

Pariah, a debut feature from Dee Rees, started life as a feature-length screenplay, reached the screen as a short and has now been realised in its original form. 17-year-old African-American Alike, aka Lee, is taking the first steps into baby dykedom, trying out a street butch style and pondering whether strap-ons are her thing. It's all a bit hypothetical, as she's a virgin and looking to her butch pal Laura for advice. But, she's still in the closet around her family, including her strict and religious Mom, and her always-at-work police officer Dad.

Having drawn on her own life, Rees has crafted the film with honesty and artistry in abundance. The early club scenes in which the characters riff and bluff in street speak may be difficult for outsiders, but the emotions felt by Lee, which she can only really express in her writing, are easily relatable. At the screening, one audience member asked how black American audiences had responded to the film, and my head turned, as I thought I recognised the voice of the questioner. Blow me down! It was only Diane Abbott MP, taking a day off from her political duties to take in some cinema. She told me she thought the film was lovely and only wished more people had turned out.

Later that evening, I returned to the VUE to see the hotly tipped She-Monkeys, nominated for the Sutherland Award for most notable debut feature. To my eyes this film was less than the sum of its parts, with an excellent premise--the rivalry and power struggle between two young equestrian acrobats--let down by too much internalising.

I really had no idea at the end of the film whether the central relationship between Emma and Cassandra was one of love, hate, lust, manipulation or other. In fact, the most expressive character in the film was the six-year-old sister of Emma. She had the best lines. The post-film Q&A with director Lisa Aschan also rates as one of the least informative I've seen. I don't know whether she was nervous, tired or tired and emotional, but her answers were largely monosyllabic and punctuated by giggles.

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