Cousins is a delightful look at finding your own identity and being able to express that within your own culture. Karina Dandashi’s short is an impressive watch as she continues her upward trend as a filmmaker.
Two cousins born in separate countries reunite in Brooklyn when a run-in with an ex turns the night into a mission of revenge.
A palpable awkwardness to the opening section of Cousins evolves throughout its runtime. First, we meet Layla in a frustrating position in her life. Recently broken up, she has to deal with her ex-girlfriend’s stuff still lying around her apartment. Add to this a meet-up with her visiting cousin Tarek and her evidenced lack of enthusiasm can be summed up with a simple thumbs-up emoji.
Karina Dandashi’s Cousins is a great look at the struggles of a woman opening herself up to her family about her bisexuality. Add the cultural reasons for Layla hiding her sexuality from her family; you have a much more layered and nuanced story. She is hiding her true identity, and if it wasn’t for the nightmarish position she finds herself in at that bar in Brooklyn, then who knows when her truth would be revealed to at least one member of her family.
When Clair does make an appearance, we are given the most awkward of scenes that we must fight through as Clair and Layla try to one-up one another. As excruciating as this is, Cousins shines when we focus on just Tarek and Layla. Tarek sensing that Layla has a heavy load to get off her chest, offers his own confession, thus enabling a connection that will live long in their memories. Karina Dandashi’s Ribal Rayess’ chemistry is gold here, as the duo bounce off one another excellently.
In a film that only runs for just over 12 minutes, we learn so much about our characters that while the ending is perfect for this story, you are disappointed that we only get this brief glimpse into both cousins’ lives. Dandashi’s writing of her story and characters is so strong that this capsule of time is not enough, yet somehow you are perfectly fine with how the story finishes.
By the time we get to the last scene, not only are our shoulders as relaxed as Layla’s, but we have a smile on our faces. Layla has found an ally to help her through this moment in her life and, hopefully, the confidence to get past Clair. Cousins is the perfect type of short, willing to challenge but not afraid to give the audience what they need. Dandashi continues to strengthen her short film catalogue after the excellent Dress Up (check out below). She is an obvious talent in front and behind the camera and one that we should keep an eye out on.
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