A Strong And Important Statement: Our Review of ‘A Moment in the Reeds’

Posted in Movies, VOD/iTunes/DigitalDownload by - December 03, 2018
A Strong And Important Statement: Our Review of ‘A Moment in the Reeds’

A latent function of LGBT cinema is to show what people do and don’t have in common. Jouko (Mika Melender) and Leevi (Jaane Puustinen) are father and son but they might as well be from different families. The sticking point for Leevi is how Jokuo treats his dead mother’s belongings. He stores them in a box in the shed, probably going on sale with the rest of the cabin they’re both working on. Contrarily, these objects, like a copy of Walt Whitman’s poems, have a more lasting effect on Leevi.

Leevi studies literature while Jouko, as the audience discovers, delivers trees to paper mills. The son is gay, the father is homophobic. Fathers and sons are often different in LGBT movies as they are in real life. But I want to see another film where father and son are alike except for their sexual orientations. Or ones that explores that relationship more to see those commonalities and differences. But alas, films like this predicate on fathers whose absence let their sons explore their freedom and sexuality.

Enter Tareq (Boodi Kabbani), an architect in Syria who, because of his language skills, has to slum it and help out as a contractor for guys like Jouko. If Jouko and Leevi are vastly different, Leevi and Tareq, despite growing up in separate continents, have the same interests. Leevi is comfortable sharing his thesis arguments with Tareq. They have these discussions in English, the language they’re both fluent it. This is great but I would never talk to anyone who works for my dad. It’s church and state.

But I suppose that’s the movie’s message, to reach out and give olive branches to people we wouldn’t otherwise talk to. Because we might have more in common with them that we think. Let’s talk to them, and when dad is away, let’s share a sauna with them, and drop hints about us being gay in case they’re also gay. LGBT films are full of examples with such a premise. More lurid versions of that also exist in it adult versions.

Doing the festival rounds and finally coming to streaming services, Mikko Makela claims that his directorial debut A Moment in the Reeds is the first Finnish LGBT film ever. This is a great achievement, and better than other first LGBT films that other countries ever made. Its two sex scenes are passionate and long, its nighttime scenes letting its leads glow. When they’re not together it shows its grayer version of the lazy summer afternoon aesthetic, showing Leevi reading while Tareq works on a project despite nearby distractions.

The passion between the two is undeniable, something that we can predict not just because of the genre expectations. It’s also in how they express their sexuality through either physicality or a gaze. There’s also the contradictory feelings that come with watching them sneak off and have their affair. The bitter, cynical, gay thirty-something in me is having a perpetual panic attack that they’re not mixing work and play well – emphasis on the work. But there’s a thrill in doing something they shouldn’t which most LGBT people can still relate to.

The movie is at its best when playing with such contradictions. Or perhaps I’m just seeing a different perception on how to live as an LGBT person. But a few things within these characters still bug me. Leevi, specifically, still seems too vulnerable even as someone who, as he says, has been in love before. Also, despite having deep discussions about this, he still doesn’t acknowledge that Tareq has his own life and priorities. And the film strangely plays it off as a third act momentary separation.

Again, the chemistry between the actors is undeniable, which is more than I can say about other LGBT movies that cast people together and hope for the best. I feel bad for pointing out the flaws keeping this from what could have been a good love story between two people who found themselves despite everything. But then again, stacked together, these flaws make for a harmless film. And I’m sure Makela can fine tuning the visual instincts and potential that he showed here to tell a better story.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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