James is the final short we will review, in this, Sundance’s unique 10/10 online series. The festival is winding down, winners have already been announced, so if you haven’t yet, make sure to jump over to itunes because these films won’t be there after tomorrow.
As for James, in what has been a very strong lineup over these 10 days, I do believe this film is my favorite. A heart-rendng gay/lesbian film of the classic “coming out” variety, James is the most emotionally powerful film of this year’s lineup, and through superior writing creates a worthy addition to this over-exposed genre. Focusing on a boy in Northern Ireland isolated by his sexuality, alienated from his family due to his parent’s marital troubles, the title character “James” reaches out in desperation to his teacher for support and guidance.
The director Connor Clements is a first-time writer/director. This film was his graduate project, and I almost feel bad for him because he hits a home-run right out of the chute. In documenting a universal experience among gays and lesbians, he discovers a new angle, crafting a story that is of course personal and local, but also challenges all viewers, not just those who are queer, with questions regarding teachers and students, that resonate in our culture.
As a student-production, there is nothing flashy about its execution. The direction isn’t unique or ostentatious, the filming is competent but not eye grabbing. It should provide heart to inexperienced filmmakers everywhere as an example that it is still true—a good script can lead to acclaim.
What I love, being again someone who likes to think about films, to chew on the topics and questions they present, is the ambiguity that is present in the film. In what is a SPOILER to those who haven’t watched yet, James comes out to his teacher, yet does not get the kind of warm response he desired. He is instead gently rebuffed from leaning upon the older man for support. Interestingly though, his teacher reveals that he was not surprised by James announcement. He also mentions somewhat forlornly about a boy a “few years back” who came out and had great difficulties, when he warns James to continue to keep his sexuality a secret. Is the teacher gay as well?
That is the reading I got. And it lends an even greater sadness to the film, as it suggests that the nature of closeting oneself off continues through time. That even though the teacher understands James’ situation, he is psychologically unable to reveal himself in a true friendship. A second possibility is that the instructor feels empathy, but needs to push James away as a matter of perception. That, perhaps especially by being in a Catholic school setting, it would be too easily misunderstood by others for him to be engaging in such a personal relationship with a young student. If that is the case it is tragically ironic, that the fear of, and potential for an inappropriate relationship, directly drives James into that exact situation.
It is these kind of deep readings which I find rare in the rather literal world of short film, and so i do appreciate it when I find them. With it also being a film that stuck with me for some time after watching it, I find it easy to heartily recommend James.
Score : 9/10