Clara (Penelope Cruz) and Felice (Vincenzo Amato) move their family, including their three young kids, to a new apartment building. It’s the 1970s and the city of Rome is in flux. New construction attracts wealthy families and transient workers who live almost side by side. On the other side of the reeds outside the new apartment building, Adriana (Luana Giuliani), who now goes by the name Andrew, meets Sara (Penelope Nieto Conti), a young Romani girl. Sara accepts Andrew as a boy and they form a tender bond despite the social expectations that threaten to keep them apart. At home, Andrew’s family is falling apart. Felice cheats on Clara and beats her. He also refuses to accept Andrew’s identity as a boy. Clara escapes her tumultuous marriage by tapping into her inner child and connecting with her children through music and play. Throughout it all Andrew struggles to shed his identity as Adriana and be embraced as his true self.
Directed by Emanuele Crialese, L’Immensità is a heartfelt coming-of-age story that treats its subjects with great reverence and care. It’s as much a story about a preteen coming into his identity as it is about a grown woman’s struggle with adulting. There are a handful of musical numbers that, while not really necessary, add levity to the film. Cruz and Giuliani both deliver strong performances. The audience is given enough context about the characters’ situation and the social atmosphere of their given place and time while still maintaining an air of mystery.
L’Immensità is an autobiographical story about director Crialese’s own upbringing. When this film premiered at the Venice Film Festival, Crialese revealed that he is a transgender man and that Adriana/Andrew’s story is his own. While I would have liked to have learned more about Andrew’s trans journey, I also appreciated the delicate handling of the matter. It’s an important part of the story but not the film’s main focus. L’Immensità reminded me a bit of Céline Sciamma’s film Tomboy (2011) which also explores gender identity in a similar way.
L’Immensità was screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Sandra Pankhurst was an incredible woman. She lived through so much trauma in her early years, more than anyone should bear. Sandra knew how trauma could effect people and was inspired to start her business: Specialized Trauma Cleaning Services in Melbourne, Australia. Her team specializes in all kinds of cleaning, in particular hoarding cases and trauma clean-ups after suicides, murders and other sudden deaths. Having to deal with the death of a loved one is already such a burden, Sandra felt that she could help people by taking on the responsibility of cleaning up the aftermath. When she began her business in the 1990s, trauma cleaning was not an available service and she saw a crucial need that she could fill. Sandra and her team never judge or meddle. They’re just there to provide a valuable service.
Directed by Lachlan McLeod, Clean takes a two-prong approach telling the story of Sandra Pankhurst’s difficult life journey as well as that of her business. The subject of trauma cleaners is a fascinating one and anyone intrigued by the subject will find the documentary very rewarding. Sandra herself was charismatic and endlessly interesting. So many aspects of her life are explored including her traumatic adoption story, the search for her birth mother, her journey as a transgender woman, her health struggles and her triumphs as a business owner and public speaker.
The documentary feels disjointed, depends a bit too much on reveals and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Sandra was fiercely private in regards to some aspects of her life so there are some things that the filmmakers just couldn’t show. With that said, the filmmakers show a lot of respect for their main subject Sandra as well as her cleaning team and their clients. While the film might leave viewers wanting more, it’s still well worth a watch.
Clean had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
Directed by Gosha Shapiro (they/them), cosboi is a short film that follows the story of a genderqueen teen who goes on a journey of self-discovery through TikTok and anonymous Uber-type rides. Through the power of the For You Page on TikTok, the teen is inspired by advice and wisdom to venture out and practice new forms of themselves in conversation with rideshare drivers. This film beautifully demonstrates a pivotal time in a teen’s life when they are discovering who they are through self-reflection, media consumption, practice and rebellion.
cosboi premiered at the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival.
Lucy (Dakota Johnson) and June (Sonoya Mizuno) are inseperable. When Lucy discovers that June is moving to London for her job, she’s beside herself. Especially because Lucy is starting to come to terms that despite many attempts at heteronormative relationships, she’s really not interested in men at all. June tries to help guide Lucy in her new journey of coming out of the closet but their disagreements on how Lucy should go about it and what will happen to their friendship when June leaves for London threatens to tear their relationship apart.
Directed by Stephanie Allynne and Tig Notaro Am I OK? is not your typical coming-out story and in that way it feels fresh and different. Lucy struggles with the intricacies of same sex attraction, especially the mixed signals she gets from her coworker. This film didn’t wow me but it was enjoying. Am I OK? is a heartfelt comedy about friendship and sexuality.
Note to add: I’m not sure when this was shot but there are several scenes that take place in the old 101 Coffee Shop which was a Hollywood treasure until it closed during the pandemic. It’s now one of the locations for the Clark Street chain.
Am I OK? premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
J.C. Leyendecker was one of the most influential commercial artists working in the early 20th century. His work graced many magazine covers, including The Saturday Evening Post, and his character The Arrow Collar Man was one highly recognized figure in advertising. He influenced how illustrators approached advertising and magazine art and was an early inspiration for Norman Rockwell. But perhaps more importantly, Leyendecker, a gay man whose lover Charles Beach was the primary model for his work, coded his art with homoerotic imagery that was both subtle and subversive.
Directed by Ryan White, Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker is a fascinating portrait of a lesser known LGBTQ icon. The documentary explores his work, his long-term relationship with his partner/model Charles Beach and the many ways he influenced advertising and popular culture through art. It includes interviews, examples of his art and animated sequences.The film tries to make a direct connection to the modern day representations of LGBTQ models in commercial photography but not very effectively. It’s 29 minutes long and I think it could be expanded into a feature length documentary to offer more biographical details and historical context.
Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of their Meet the Press programming.