August 17, 2020

SCREEN | Queer Trauma – 'Cicada' Sleeps Around x VQFF 2020

"You're pregnant with glow."
Cobie Smulders Matthew Fifer Kieran Mulcare | Cicada | VGFF 2020
Vancouver Queer Film Festival
Freshman filmmaker Matthew Fifer writes, produces, co-directs (with Kieran Mulcare), and stars in the queer indie romance Cicada about a newly out bisexual Brooklynite who, after breaking off an engagement with a woman, indulges in a string of meaningless sexual encounters with mostly men as he tries to heal himself. Based on his own experiences, it's an endearing film in the manner how it soulfully expresses men dealing with past sexual trauma.

Fifer's Ben soon meets Sam (Sheldon D. Brown) who interrupts his cruising escapades for something more meaningful. They bond over their frank but uncomfortable recollections of homosexual abuse and homophobic violence while hanging out and walking the streets of Brooklyn. Fifer and Brown have a casually subdued but palpable chemistry as unassuming interracial lovers. How Sam patiently unlocks Ben's anguish while revealing his own feels particularly genuine.

Both are dealing with destabilizing trauma from the past relating to their queer identities. As victims of different kinds of abuse/discrimination related to sexuality and race, they have to overcome each other's baggage and coping mechanisms to remain together. It's a slow but thoughtful rumination on psychological triggers and the pressures of being totally out in various ways.

Sheldon D. Brown Matthew Fifer Kieran Mulcare | Cicada | VGFF 2020
The Film Collaborative
Cinematographer Eric Schleicher's somber visuals make the drama more poetic in relation to our characters' anxieties through a soft pallet of textures on screen. The naturalistic handheld camerawork and focus on the actors' body language let the story's mosaic and loose narrative give off a quiet sense of healing.

Cobie Smulders shows up in a fun but unexpected role as Ben's cooky therapist who helps him investigate his unhealthy relationship with sex. Her brief but offbeat appearance brings further context to the mannered intimacy of the central relationship. Ben slowly tries to overcome his childhood abuse while Sam deals with paranoia as a closeted gay Black man from a religious community while they struggle to maintain a functional romance.

Fifer and Brown make Cicada such a quietly vibrant film through their low-key performances. There's an appealing moodiness that makes its clear yet underlying queer themes of identity so poignant. How it layers past trauma and stories of abuse feels natural and consequential.

Cicada screens virtually as part of the 2020 Vancouver Queer Film Festival's online programming on August 23rd.


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