TRUE TO LIFE Gibbs and Brisbon in Hide and Seek.
It's not that Eve's religious but sisterly mother wouldn't understand, it's that Eve is apprehensive about her not understanding. Not about having sex, not with a mother who casually pushes a handful of condoms across the breakfast table, but about having sex as a lesbian.
Justine Jungels Bevilacqua's short film Hide and Seek tells a story that has been told often. But she tells it in a skillful way that makes it her own, and convinces us that we're seeing it for the first time.
The film is a compact 21 minutes, its pace unhurried but covering plenty of territory. Things start out with a boy and a younger girl walking through graffiti-decorated streets, up to the front gates of Brown University, where they plunk down an upturned cap and boombox and proceed to breakdance. Despite their feeble efforts, they pull in $3.46. In the next brief scene, her mother (Rachael Jungels) comes across a Valentine heart with the name of the girl, Eve, and her friend Liz, accompanied by a love letter. A priest is in the kitchen when Eve returns, and that's all we need to know.
Then it's eight years later, and Eve (Anisha Gibbs), who still crosses herself when she passes a church, is sneaking a girlfriend into her room when her mother is out. Her single mom thinks she's fooling around with Brent (Ari Brisbon), the childhood pal we saw, but he's just acting as her beard. (When there's a knock on Eve's bedroom door, he quickly throws an arm around her and acts lovey-dovey.) More than her hip-hop moves has improved — when she and Brent trail an orientation walk at Brown, where she was accepted and given "a free ride," they joke about who has a better chance at hitting on an attractive girl in front of them.
What makes Hide and Seek work so well is less its story, sympathetic as it is, than its economic and intelligent cinematic storytelling, as indicated by the nearly wordless opening. Characterization through dialogue is also accomplished with finesse, such as when her mother establishes her money concerns at a laundromat, handing Eve a special detergent despite her protest that dry-cleaning is required.
There's no sentimentality here, no martinet of a mother who would automatically be curious if she learned of her daughter's sexual identity. Tension is provided not through easy intergenerational conflict but nuanced indications of the strong-willed Eve's uncertainties. The result is more powerful than melodrama would have been, because it's truer to life. Bevilacqua, who wrote, directed, and edited the film, got effective and natural performances from her actors. Let's hope we get to see a full-length feature film from her before too long.
Hide and Seek features faces familiar to local audiences from their work with Everett Dance Theater and independently at the Carriage House. Rachael Jungels is a founding member of the company, with which Marvin Novogrodski often performs. Everett member Sokeo Ros also appears briefly in the film, along with his breakdancing troupe Case Closed. Anisha Gibbs is a Carriage House student along with Ari Brisbon, who won the 2008 Rhode Island State Shakespeare Competition.
Hide and Seek will be screened, along with two other short films with similar themes, on Saturday, May 9 at 8 pm and on Sunday, May 10 at 2 pm at the Carriage House Stage, 7 Duncan Avenue, Providence. Tickets are $5.
The other films, also by Emerson College students, are: La Luz del Perdón (The Light of Forgiveness), by Eileen Richardson, a personal journey that uses abstract images to represent childhood memories, homosexuality, fear of rejection, and eventual forgiveness; and Just As I Am, by Carolyn Polansky, a documentary that examines the contradictions of Christianity in dealing with the sexuality of gays and lesbians.
In March, Bevilacqua's film was an award winner at the 9th Annual Emerson Film Festival in Los Angeles. It was her thesis project as a senior BFA film major. Bevilacqua discovered filmmaking at Everett Dance Theater's Carriage House School, in Providence's Mount Hope neighborhood, where the film was shot last summer.
Hide and Seek will also be shown at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on May 17. For further information, go to justine jungelsfilms.com.