Metro Weekly

‘Queer Mirror’ Shorts: Reel Affirmations 2023

The five short films screening in this exceptional program play with concepts of how we view ourselves and the world around us.

The Other John

Overall Rating for this Program: ★★★★☆

The five short films screening in this program play with concepts of how we view ourselves and the world around us, and in ways that distort, or disturb, more often than they reflect reality. If it’s a mirror we’re looking through, the best we can hope for is that we’re doing so at a funhouse.

Talk about a warped view of things: The French-language Belgian film Duo en sous-sol (★★★☆☆) could be translated into English as “Underground Duo.”

Vinciane Le Men’s stylized and well-acted film focuses, improbably enough, on the duo of a psychoanalyst, called in as a suspect in a homicide of one of her patients, and the manipulative detective leading her tough, unrelenting interrogation, ostensibly down at a police station.

Yet all is not what it seems or is said to be in this distorting tête-à-tête featuring the impossibly seductive pairing of actors Claire Beugnies and Bach Lan Lê Ba Thi. Let’s just say the two are playing a twisted game of their own devising.

The view is similarly disorienting in Ricardo Branco’s Under The Influence (★★☆☆☆), this time the result of the drug-induced hijinks that three friends in Portugal get into while staying at a luxurious but isolated villa in the woods. It’s all fun and games until one of them has a hallucinogenic vision of a mythical-like creature immediately outside the open door to her room, which continues to haunt her the rest of the weekend.

Next up, we meet a duo on a leisurely stroll down a deserted beach in Aron Kantor’s Interdimensional Pizza Portal (★★★★☆). The mood changes quickly after one friend gloats over his sorcery of conjuring up a delicious slice of pie. His friend gloms onto one minor detail — the fact that the pizza appeared with a bite already taken out of it — to let her geeky imagination run wild.

Interdimensional Pizza Portal

What if, she responds a bit too fervently, that just so happened to be the last slice of pizza left in another, post-apocalyptic dimension of reality? Might the alternate version of the sorcerer seek revenge for the disturbance? It’s as warped as it sounds.

We’re then brought back to two kinds of reality that reflect the lived experiences of many, if not most, festivalgoers with the program’s last two shorts, each of which qualifies as a standout.

In Ryan Spahn’s cinematically adventurous The Other John (★★★★☆), the screen is broken into quadrants, partially obstructing our view and forcing us to focus more intently on what we can see. The framing device serves as an effective metaphor for the action, all shot at the small apartment where two men arrive to consummate a first date.

The two have more in common than simply the fact that both are named John, but only one of them knows that until the very end. The intriguing film has a satisfying kicker that leaves everyone with questions to ponder.

In Safe Word (★★★★★), Christopher Cunetto plays with the common understanding of just what a safe word is. Mauricio Pita plays Cesar, a single gay man who regularly hires Bear, a dom played by Jonathan Adriel, for verbally degrading role play sessions.

But when Bear decides to switch things up, Cesar is forced to confront the reality that he’s playing a game in which his safe word is really about keeping him from intimacy — and doing real harm.

A fully made in D.C. short, Safe Word is an intellectually and visually stunning work that has us eager for more to come from the production company Tepui Media, a recently established local company founded by Pita.

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