Cicada is a tender and vulnerable piece of cinema. A powerful, yet graceful debut feature for Matthew Fifer and Kieran Mulcare.
Introspective bisexual Ben (Matthew Fifer) drifts from one casual encounter to the next. While his recent relationships barely last past morning, things change when he meets Sam (Sheldon D. Brown), a handsome stranger with whom he forms an immediate connection. But as they spend more time together, both men begin to recognise the need to confront past traumas if they are to truly let the other person in.
Films made by filmmakers that are semi or autobiographical about themselves always have to tread a tricky line. Matthew Fifer and Sheldon D.Brown however take this pressure in their stride and present us a memorable and poignant debut. I mention Brown here as he in fact provided experiences that he has been through for his characterisation of Sam and is listed in the writing credits for it. It is a brave move, and fortunately here it pays off to bare your own soul to the screen in this romance.
Ben has just broken up with his female partner and is very much on the rebound. One day at an outdoor bookstore he meets Sam in a rather stereotypical rom-com meet up. Set in 2013, we take a small but meaningful step back in time for our characters. The 2013 timeline allows for us to see Ben become triggered with PTSD from the Jerry Sandusky trial. Sam and the audience soon finds that Ben’s closed off nature regarding his past is due to the still bubbling trauma of being abused as a child. Ben’s struggle to defeat those demons of his past continually rise up throughout the film. But Sam has his own very visible scars too.
Barely surviving an attack that leaves a large scar on his torso Sam has to handle the idea of still being closeted, due to the fear of being ostracised for not only being black, but also gay. Sam is carefully trying to navigate a world where he can prepare to come out. His fear of disapproval from his widowed Pastor father stays at the forefront. However, a more pressing thought does as well. He is a gay black man and has true fears of being the token person in a group, or in a relationship for his race, thus his reluctance to go forward with previous relationships. This specific scenario comes to a head when Ben brings Sam to meet his friends, who are all white. His paranoia is heightened and after being made to sing and perform in front of everyone, he thinks his fears are coming real.
Luckily for the audience, this is rejected by Ben. Though it does help him see Sams side and in fact helps strengthen their budding relationship. It is moments like this in Cicada that show the careful narrative being woven by our writers. Not every relationship is simple and there is a past to everyone. But also, not every disagreement needs to end in an over the top breakup with an almost cynical reconciliation. This is a real relationship with real characters and that is how Cicada shines. This is an honest representation of a relationship where trauma has come before it, be it a homosexual relationship or otherwise, that is what makes Cicada so good. Everyone can relate in some fashion.
An aspect of the film that goes under the radar is how relatable these men are. Maybe because they are basing their characters on their own lives they can work more with their performances. They exude a realness that isn’t seen as much as we would care for in films such as this. They exhibit a relationship that feels lived in despite them meeting at the beginning of the film. With each return to them we see the comfortableness they have with one another. It is a comfortableness that helps the audience create a strong bond with our leads who performances will linger around with you long after the films credits have rolled.
For all of the tenderness and obvious thoughtfulness we see here in Cicada, there are portions that perhaps could have been done without. We do not necessarily need to see Ben have his therapy sessions as he is already revealing his inner thoughts to other characters, it seems superfluous to have scenes like this in the film, but it is understandable as to why they exist. There are others too, but when Cicada tries to be too humorous it loses its way a tad. This is very much a drama with some comedy elements to help alleviate the tension, not a dramedy as it sometimes albeit thankfully briefly presents itself to be. These are minor complaints to a film that is overall a tremendous success.
This is also a New York that you are not likely to see overly often on screen. Instead of the usual bustling city, we are presented with a quieter, more peaceful city. With a narrative as brave as it is, it is important that we have visuals that echo it and we do in spades here. We see a side of New York that you would perhaps not know about unless you lived there. We hang on rooftops far away from the streets noise to allow our characters to contemplate, we sit with them on rocks to look back at Manhattan at night. It is peaceful, and allows us to focus on our two leads as they navigate this new relationship together.
Cicada is a raw film, coupled with a naturalistic lens we experience trauma, and like our two leads hope that the future is just that bit brighter now they have found someone to support them through it. A wonderful debut feature from Matthew Fifer and Kieran Mulcare
To view more of our reviews as we cover the London Film Festival 2020, please have a gander below!