LFF 2020: Cicada – Review

Release Date – 21st January 2022, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 33 minutes, Directors – Matt Fifer, Kieran Mulcare

Breaking from a string of one night stands Ben (Matt Fifer), trying to cope with the recurring impacts of past sexual trauma, forms an instant connection with Sam (Sheldon D. Brown)

New York City, a place often showed crammed with residents and tourists in its crowded streets and towering buildings. Not often associated with quiet intimacy and soft, brushstroke style hues as seen in Cicada. Over the course of its short 93 minute run-time its priorities are clear, specifically the emotions of the two central figures in the relationship that the film focuses on. The discussions they have and how they relate to their previous traumas, alongside the way people perceive them in public. For the most part we follow Ben (Matt Fifer), a young man spending most of his nights engaging in passionless one night stands. He regularly attends somewhat informal therapy sessions with Cobie Smulders, where he still struggles to be properly open about his past, however, things seem to change all of a sudden after a chance encounter in a book shop.

Looking through the other side of the shelves is Sam (Sheldon D. Brown). It’s a traditional place for a movie romance to start, and in some ways the pair’s relationship follows such lines. Yet, the conversations of the romance are what truly show the bond between the pair. Both figures have something they’re trying to hide. For Ben it’s sexual trauma in his past, which gradually comes to life bit by bit over the course of the film. Meanwhile, Sam is worried about homophobic abuse he might experience in public, on top of potential racial abuse, particularly after previous harsh experiences with this – this being the reason why he isn’t openly gay. For this reason Sam doesn’t even like to hold hands with Ben in public, and prefers to keep their relationship inside and private. Both figures have their struggles, and yet somehow there’s a belief in the relationship.

Ben’s nerves and worries as his reluctance to talk about the assault in his past is shown through the use of handheld cameras; particularly during the therapy scenes. The camera faintly wobbles and shakes as his voice stammers and pauses, although sometimes becoming slightly distracting after a while. This is clearly a personal film for Fifer – who stars, writes, co-directs (with Kieran Mulcare), and produces the film – and also for Brown, who has an additional story credit. Some have stated a number of the elements to be autobiographical, this is a film that itself is a very naturalistic piece, emphasising the humanity and internal thoughts and struggles of the two leads. Their situations are brought to life on the screen with thought, care and sensitivity.

There may not be a lot going on, but there’s detail and worries that keep the film going, and the viewer engaged with the development of the characters and they ways in which they cope with their pasts and current fears. The plot is light, at times it simply feels like a relationship being watched in real time – although, of course, this definitely isn’t the case. Much of the pacing is slow and gradual, although most scenes and elements of the film don’t feel like this. They take time to provide a fly-on-the-wall view of the relationship that both constricts and frees the two figures and the effects that it has on them and their mindsets. It’s certainly interesting at times and the viewpoint and focus on the characters’ rather than just their relationship helps, too. Providing that natural feel, genuine pain, reluctance and connection.

While the relationship as a whole might be conventional, the quiet, personal style and focus on the internal thoughts, fears and traumas of the pair pushes the film gently along; it’s realism showing through the bit by bit revelations showing when the characters themselves, and perhaps the actors, are ready.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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