Metro Weekly

‘Transitions Shorts’ Reviews: Reel Affirmations 2023

Romance and love pepper this collection of shorts dealing with transitions, both physical and emotional.

Youssou & Malek

Overall Rating for this Program: ★★★★☆, CRITIC’S PICK

This year’s “Transitions” program kicks off with a sweet, honest portrayal of young love in Daisy Friedman’s As You Are (★★★☆☆).

Millie and Piper, an inter-abled lesbian couple played by Bri Scalesse and Estefanía Giraldo, navigate their expectations around spending the night together for the first time and must reckon with their own sexuality and vulnerability as so many couples do.

Although the two have an early moment of tension around Millie’s use of a wheelchair, that tension reveals itself to be about a deeper insecurity on Piper’s part. In this way, Friedman takes a refreshing approach to depicting disability on film, making sure it is present and acknowledged, but taking care to tell a three-dimensional love story around it, too.

Honey & Milk (★★★☆☆) drops us into the end of a mature relationship, following the story of a couple who has decided to end their partnership and must dismantle their lives.

We are dropped into the final weekend of the relationship between Grayson, who has begun to transition, and Alice, who loves and supports her partner but struggles to grieve the impending loss.

While there is little in the way of narrative payoff and the short seems uncertain of exactly what it wants to build towards, the chemistry between the two is believable, it nevertheless stands as a beautifully shot portrait of a love that outlasts a relationship that must end so one half can be free to thrive.

The program takes a heartrending turn with Our Males & Females (★★★★☆), a brief, deeply affecting short from Jordan. Taking its name from a prayer for the dead, it follows two parents who must arrange the funeral rites for their deceased trans daughter, particularly the Islamic tradition of bathing and shrouding the dead.

Her parents’ pain over losing their daughter and the guilt and shame they face from within and without are incredibly convincing, and the film owes much to incredible performances by Kamel El Basha Shafiqa Al Taler. However, its haunting score and atmospheric shots also do plenty of heavy lifting.

Taiwanese director Pin Ru Chen’s Swimming in the Dark (★★★★☆) is a visually captivating highlight of the shorts program. Through memorable, lingering close-ups and artful shots of the two leads swimming, she tells a familiar story of young love struggling to blossom in tender, shared moments.

The unspoken yet tense attraction between the two girls who meet up at the swimming pool as they train for an upcoming competition is quickly apparent, and they reveal their feelings and resistance through spare, deliberate dialogue all coming to a head in a quietly heartbreaking final moment of reflection.

The story is a familiar and perhaps predictable one, but told so beautifully and with such a light and masterfully subtle touch that it manages to feel almost dream-like.

Their Voice

Documentary short Their Voice (★★★☆☆) chronicles a particular and rarely-discussed transition experience. Their Voice introduces us to professional singer Kristyn Michele, who recounts their transition from mezzo-soprano to tenor.

Narrated by Michele and interspersed with documentary footage, the short begins with them recounting their musical career beginning with their background singing in their family’s Mormon congregation, through their journey through gender nonconformity, eventually beginning HRT and retraining themself to sing with their changing voice.

Michele reflects on what it means to them to perform in the first off-Broadway musical performed by an entirely trans and nonbinary cast, which incidentally provides a tidy narrative cap for the film. Without ever trying to be more than it is, Their Voice is an affecting portrait of Michele and their artistic journey.

The lasting power of a moment of genuine connection is the central theme of the program’s next narrative short, Murry Peeters’ Woman Meets Girl (★★★☆☆). We are dropped into an intimate evening between the awkward Annabelle and Tessie, a young sex worker who seems to enjoy the reactions she provokes in her client.

As they both fail to initiate physical intimacy, they instead find unexpected connection in shared experiences. The vulnerability they share is convincing, and the strong performances by Enuka Okuma and Chelsea Russell and the undeniable chemistry between the two of them renders moments of occasionally clunky on-the-nose dialogue easily forgivable.

The package wraps up with a full-throated celebration of love with Youssou & Malek (★★★★★), a short from France that takes place in a sunny, idyllic setting where two boys find their blossoming summer romance threatened by an impending university admission.

The film is unabashedly theatrical, with dialogue that frequently veers into poetic meter, with the titular lovers’ friends filling the role of a Greek chorus catching us up on Malek’s aspirations to study abroad and what that will mean for their relationship.

Youssou & Malek is that rare kind of short film that is at once artful, whimsical and touching, and as a result it is an immensely enjoyable watch.

Transitions Shorts plays exclusively in the Virtual Festival through Oct. 29.

Reel Affirmations 2023 includes the Virtual Film Festival, providing online access to 43 films for those film lovers who cannot attend the festival in person, with a viewing window from Oct. 23 to 29.

Browse the full Virtual Festival catalog here.

Buy Virtual Festival passes here.

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