Aug. 20-22 and 27-29: Webster University’s Winifred Moore Auditorium in Webster Hall, 470 E. Lockwood Ave.

Tickets/Passes: Tickets are $14 for general admission; $11 for students and Cinema St. Louis members. Two types of passes are available: Five-Film Passes are $60, $45 for CSL members; All-Access Passes are $100, $80 for CSL members. Passes and advance tickets can be purchased through the Cinema St. Louis website. More Info: 314-289-4150, cinemastlouis.org

The 13th Annual Robert Classic French Film Festival — presented by TV5MONDE, sponsored by the Jane M. & Bruce P. Robert Charitable Foundation, and produced by Cinema St. Louis (CSL) — celebrates St. Louis’ Gallic heritage and France’s extraordinary cinematic legacy, offering a revealing overview of French cinema.

The Robert Classic French Film Festival is the first CSL in-person event since the Covid-19 pandemic. The host venues — Washington University on Aug. 13-15 and Webster University on Aug. 20-22 and 27-29 — have not yet determined whether capacity limits or masks will be required. Details will be announced on the CSL website when available.

The fest annually includes significant restorations, and this year features a quintet of such works: Melvin Van Peebles’ “The Story of a Three-Day Pass,” Diane Kurys’ “Entre Nous,” Joseph Losey’s “Mr. Klein,” Jacques Deray’s “La piscine,” and the extended director’s cut of Jean-Jacques Beineix’s “Betty Blue.”

The fest also provides one of the few opportunities available in St. Louis to see films projected the old-school, time-honored way, with Agnes Varda’s “Vagabond” screening from a 35mm print.

As part of CSL’s year-long Golden Anniversaries programming, which features films celebrating their 50th anniversaries, the fest includes a pair of films from 1971: François Truffaut’s “Two English Girls” and Claude Jutra’s French-Canadian “Mon oncle Antoine.”

Completing the fest is a pandemic-delayed tribute to the late Anna Karina, who died in December 2019: Jean-Luc Godard’s essential “Vivre sa vie.”

Every program features introductions and discussions by film or French scholars and critics.

All films are in French with English subtitles (“The Story of a Three-Day Pass” is in both English & French).

TV5MONDE serves as the fest’s presenting sponsor, and the Jane M. & Bruce P. Robert Charitable Foundation is the event’s title sponsor.

Schedule

For film synopses,  see the CSL website

7:30 PM FRIDAY, AUG. 13, WASHINGTON U.

Mon oncle Antoine

Claude Jutra, Canada, 1971, 104 min., color, DCP

With an introduction and post-film discussion by Lionel Cuillé, teaching professor in French and director of the cultural center French ConneXions at Washington University.

7:30 PM SATURDAY, AUG. 14, WASHINGTON U.

Entre Nous/Coup de foudre

Diane Kurys, France, 1983, 110 min., color, new restoration, DCP

Entre Nous

With an introduction and post-film discussion by Colin Burnett, associate professor of Film & Media Studies at Washington U. and author of “The Invention of Robert Bresson: The Auteur and His Market.”

7 PM SUNDAY, AUG. 15, WASHINGTON U.

Mr. Klein

Joseph Losey, France, 1976, 123 min., color, new restoration, DCP

With an introduction and post-film discussion by Pier Marton, video artist, self-described “Unlearning Specialist at the School of No Media,” and former instructor at several leading U.S. universities.

7:30 PM FRIDAY, AUG. 20, WEBSTER U.

The Story of a Three-Day Pass/La permission

Melvin van Peebles, France/U.S., 1967, B&W, 86 min., English & French, new restoration, MP4 file

With an introduction and post-film discussion by Diane Carson, professor emerita of film at St. Louis Community College at Meramec and film critic for KDHX (88.1 FM).

7:30 PM SATURDAY, AUG. 21, WEBSTER U.

Vagabond/Sans toit ni loi

Agnès Varda, France, 1985, 105 min., color, 35mm print

With an introduction and post-film discussion by Kathy Corley, documentary filmmaker and professor emerita of film at Webster University.

6:30 PM SUNDAY, AUG. 22, WEBSTER U.

Betty Blue

Jean-Jacques Beineix, France, 1986, 185 min., color, new restoration of extended director’s cut, Blu-ray

With an introduction and post-film discussion by Andrew Wyatt, editor of and film critic for Cinema St. Louis’ The Lens and the Gateway Cinephile film blog.

7:30 PM FRIDAY, AUG. 27, WEBSTER U.

Vivre sa vie/Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux

Jean-Luc Godard, 1962, 83 min., B&W, Blu-ray

With an introduction and post-film discussion by Pete Timmermann, director of the Webster U. Film Series and adjunct professor of film studies at Webster U.

7:30 PM SATURDAY, AUG. 28, WEBSTER U.

La piscine

Jacques Deray, 1969, France, 122 min., color, new restoration, Blu-ray

With an introduction and post-film discussion by Calvin Wilson, theater critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who also writes on film, dance, and music.

7 PM SUNDAY, AUG. 29, WEBSTER U.

Two English Girls/Les deux Anglaises et le continent

François Truffaut, 1971, France, 130 min., color, Blu-ray

With an introduction and post-film discussion by Robert Garrick, attorney, board member of the French-preservation nonprofit Les Amis, and former contributor to the davekehr.com film blog.

The Whitaker St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, an annual presentation of the nonprofit Cinema St. Louis (CSL), serves as the area’s primary venue for films made by local artists. The Showcase screens works that were shot in the St. Louis region or were written, directed, or produced by St. Louis-area residents or by filmmakers with strong local ties who are now working elsewhere. 

Because of the continuing Covid-19 health crisis, the Showcase will again be presented virtually in 2021. CSL will once more partner with Eventive on the virtual festival. Films will be available to view on demand anytime from July 16-25. There are no geographic limits on access. Once a ticket-holder begins watching a program, access remains available for 48 hours. 

The Showcase’s 15 film programs range from narrative and documentary features to multi-film compilations of fiction and documentary shorts. Feature programs will include recorded Q&As with filmmakers, which will also be available on CSL’s YouTube channel. In addition to the film programs, this year’s event will feature four free master classes focused on key aspects of filmmaking. These will be offered as livestreams at specific times/dates during the Showcase. 

The July 25 closing-night awards presentation will be either an in-person outdoor party or a livestream. Visit the CSL website for updated info. Announced during the event will be nearly two dozen Showcase jury awards — including a $500 prize to the Best Showcase Film. Cinema St. Louis staff will also announce the films that will move on to the 30th annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival in November.

The 102 films and four master classes in this year’s Showcase will be available to be seen worldwide and include the following:

  • Animated and Experimental Shorts: More than two dozen animated and experimental works will be presented in two colorful shorts programs. 
  • The Balancing Act: Circus Harmony’s Jessica Henthoff directed this charming peek behind the curtains at how current and former performers coped during the pandemic.
  • Doc Shorts: Two illuminating and thoughtful documentary-short programs feature a wide range of stories and subjects.
  • The Final 19: Director Tim Breitbach tells the astonishing true story of Sgt. Dan Hefel, one of the final 19 prisoners of war to come home from Vietnam. 
  • House of Thunder: Paul Schankman produced this fascinating documentary about a pivotal but little-known Revolutionary War battle.
  • Indians, Outlaws, Marshals and the Hangin’ Judge: Director Larry Foley uses a first-person re-creation of an account written by St. Louis Republic reporter Ada Patterson to tell the story of infamous “hangin’ judge” Isaac Parker.
  • Interrobang: This sexy, “adults only” comedy anthology was directed by former St. Louisan Paige Feldman, who was an intern for the St. Louis Film Office when it produced the very first St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase in 2000.
  • Master Classes: A series of four free master classes — featuring filmmakers and industry professionals — focused on key aspects of filmmaking: Special and Visual Effects (July 17), Cinematography (July 18), Sound (July 24), and Historical Documentary (July 25).
  • Narrative Shorts: Five eclectic narrative-short programs include comedies, dramas, horror films, and thrillers.
  • Once a Hero: Showcase alum Tim Reischauer directed this poignant drama about a veteran haunted by his PTSD. 

The Whitaker Foundation again serves as the Showcase’s title sponsor. The foundation’s twofold mission is to encourage the preservation and use of parks and to enrich lives through the arts. The Chellappa-Vedavalli Foundation is underwriting both the Showcase’s master classes and the $500 prize for the Best Showcase Film.

The event’s other sponsors include the Arts & Education Council, Grizzell & Co., Joni Tackette Casting, Missouri Arts Council, Missouri Film Office, Regional Arts Commission, and St. Louis Public Radio.

Instagram@stlfilmshowcase Twitter: @stlfilmshowcase Facebook@STLFilmmakersShowcase

For more information, visit cinemastlouis.org


21st Annual Whitaker St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase

Dates: July 16-25, 2021

Tickets: Individual tickets are $14 for general admission, $12 for Cinema St. Louis members and students with valid and current photo IDs

Passes: 5-film passes are available for $60, $50 for CSL members; all-access passes are available for $135, $105 for CSL members

Ticket and Pass Purchase: cinemastlouis.org/st-louis-filmmakers-showcase

By Alex McPherson

Director Caleb Michael Johnson’s new film, “The Carnivores,” is a lurid and disturbing psychological thriller that actually prompted nausea at one point, which is no small feat.

This bizarre story follows Alice (Tallie Medel) and Bret (Lindsay Burdge), an amiable yet stressed couple contending with several unaddressed issues. They each work dead-end jobs and can hardly afford to pay vet expenses for their dog, Harvie, who suffers from a terminal illness.

Alice is particularly jealous of Harvie, who receives more attention from Bret than she does. Hungry for intimacy and sleepwalking on a regular basis, Alice barely maintains her sanity. She develops a newfound fascination with meat, having been a vegan previously. When Harvie disappears, Bret becomes increasingly paranoid, and their relationship encounters a veritable smorgasbord of challenges. What follows is a deadpan, sometimes shocking film about the all-consuming pull of passion and the lengths that some will go to satiate it.

With hints of David Lynch and the off-kilter humor of Lorgos Lanthimos sprinkled throughout, “The Carnivores” definitely won’t be for all tastes. Like it or not, Johnson’s vision is undeniably striking — providing richly conceived visuals, devoted performances, and a genre mashup that’s difficult to look away from, even if you want to.

Indeed, “The Carnivores” is a refreshingly unpredictable experience, with slow-burn pacing and a tone that swerves noticeably from one moment to the next. I’m kept in nervous discomfort, never quite sure how to feel about the craziness unfurling before my eyes.

Alice is a perfect vessel for the film’s absurdist leanings. Although “The Carnivores” begins with her already in a state of mental anguish, Johnson’s film does an exceptional job at establishing her malaise with her day-to-day life. Despite her character’s potential for violence, Medel’s performance and the script’s blackly comic dialogue generate empathy and occasional amusement from her situation.

“The Carnivores” excels at a particular kind of droll comedy that befits this twisted tale perfectly, creating an uneasy atmosphere that simultaneously prompts laughter and grimaces. It’s a tricky balancing act, and Johnson more or less pulls it off effectively, especially in scenes involving Alice’s chatterbox boss and her obsessive preoccupation with slabs of meat.

Bret’s character doesn’t receive nearly as much development, but Burdge still gives her a raw edge beneath her compassionate personality. Watching her take matters into her own hands, as Alice’s life seemingly slips away from her, is upsetting but grimly compelling — not always making much sense, but building towards a suitably ravenous climax.

Of course, much of the film’s strengths lie in its cinematography and score, which constantly keep viewers on edge as to whether or not scenes are taking place in reality, or merely within Alice’s mind. Sensual, vivid imagery of her yearnings and obsessions — including a particularly memorable shot of Alice and Bret making out from either side of a shower door — have a mesmerizing quality that, while sometimes too overt for their own good, are admirable in their confidence.

Unfortunately, however, this tonal mishmash ultimately lessens the film’s emotional impact. “The Carnivores” held my interest throughout, but there are some plot beats that don’t ring as poignantly as they could have, especially near an ending that feels oddly cut and dry.

The premise is also inherently difficult to buy into, and I couldn’t become much involved in the proceedings due to its blunt, in-your-face imagery, especially in the latter half. Perhaps I will grow to appreciate “The Carnivores” more upon repeat viewings, but I couldn’t help but feel slightly distanced from the characters and the peculiar journey we’re taken on.

An acquired taste, “The Carnivores” bites off slightly more than it can chew, but remains satisfyingly well done nevertheless.

“The Carnivores” is a 2020 comedy-drama-thriller directed by Caleb Michael Johnson and part of the 2021 Cinema St Louis Q Fest April 16-25. Starring Tallie Medel and Lindsay Burdge, it is not rated and runs 1 hour, 17 minutes. Alex’s Rating: B.

By Alex McPherson

Olivia Peace’s directorial debut, “Tahara,” provides an incisive look at identity, grief, and societal pressures.

Unfolding during a single day within a Jewish synagogue, the film centers on best friends Carrie Lowstein (Madeline Grey DeFreece) and Hannah Rosen (Rachel Sennott) as they attend the funeral services for their Hebrew school classmate, Samantha Goldstein, who was shunned by her community for her queerness. Carrie, a soft-spoken Black woman, quickly realizes the hypocrisy on display from her peers and instructors, especially during the “Teen Talk-back” session in which she and her classmates are forced to discuss faith in relation to Samantha’s death. They are enacting a performative ritual that contradicts how many of them treated Samantha while she was alive. 

Everyone besides Carrie is seemingly driven by selfish interests, especially Hannah — an impulsive, reckless individual. Hannah is solely focused on attracting the attention of pretty boy Tristan Leibowitz (Daniel Taveras), rather than on grieving the loss of her classmate. After she coerces Carrie into “practicing” her kissing skills, Carrie’s true feelings for her come to the forefront. Hannah is forced to confront her own insecurities, and Carrie must navigate the troubled waters of their friendship.

Although the topics broached don’t break the mold for the coming-of-age genre, “Tahara” makes a positive impression from its opening frames and remains compelling throughout. 

The film’s distinctive style is apparent from the get-go — utilizing a 1:1 aspect ratio that creates a confined atmosphere, enhanced through frequent long takes. Additionally, when the characters experience a euphoric moment, the picture widens to fill the entire screen. During the aforementioned kiss, for example, colors whirl from all directions while Carrie and Hannah become smooching claymation figures — briefly existing on a different plane of existence, only to return to the restrictive norm immediately after.

Indeed, the whole film revolves around Carrie and Hannah’s relationship, as their bond is put to the test. Carrie’s mild-mannered personality sharply contrasts with Hannah’s, but “Tahara” effectively conveys their years of friendship through dialogue that, while often sardonic, feels authentic. DeFreece gives a particularly noteworthy performance as an individual facing challenges from multiple angles who eventually recognizes the importance of asserting herself. 

While Carrie remains sympathetic, Hannah is practically unbearable. Her self-absorption makes her difficult to watch at times, and her stubborn resistance to change proves incredibly frustrating. Sennott’s masterful performance, though, renders Hannah more complicated than she initially seems — an individual deeply unsure of her future and grappling with the person she wants to become. Although the film’s condensed time-frame limits how much we can learn about Carrie and Hannah individually, “Tahara” does a commendable job at illustrating their tensions, rendering each deeply human. 

Overlooking a few exaggerated side characters, Peace’s film successfully peels back the layers of its subjects’ cynicism to reveal a tragic, at times heartbreaking situation with young adults weighed down by external expectations. Religion, mourning, regret, self discovery, social status, and toxic friendships are all explored to various extents in this microcosm of teenage uncertainty. 

Despite some jokes that fail to land and occasionally heavy-handed symbolism, “Tahara” remains engaging from beginning to end. I wish Peace’s film wasn’t limited to showing a single day in the life of these characters, however, as the conclusion remains frustratingly open-ended and fails to give one specific character the resolution they deserve. The film’s initially comedic bent gives way to straight-up drama by the end credits, not shying away from ambiguity and leaving the future unpredictable.

Multifaceted and surprisingly ambitious, “Tahara” is a coming-of-age film worth experiencing, as well as an impressive calling card for director Peace.

“Tahara” is a 2020 movie directed by Olivia Peace that runs 78 minutes. It is a narrative feature selected for Cinema St Louis’ annual QFest, which will take place virtually April 16-25. For ticket information and festival offerings, visit www.cinemastlouis.com/qfest. Alex’s rating: B+

Stay home and still get your Q on!

The 14th Annual QFest St. Louis — presented by Cinema St. Louis (CSL) — will take place from April 16-25. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, CSL will offer all programs virtually, protecting the health of patrons. Programs can be streamed at any time during the festival’s dates. Recorded introductions and Q&As will be available for most film programs.

The St. Louis-based LGBTQ film festival, QFest will present an eclectic array of 24 films (14 shorts, six narrative features, and four documentary features). The participating filmmakers represent a wide variety of voices in contemporary queer world cinema. The mission of the film festival is to use the art of contemporary gay cinema to spotlight the lives of LGBTQ people and to celebrate queer culture.

The fest is especially pleased to host the St. Louis premiere of new works by internationally acclaimed filmmakers Agnieszka Holland (“Charlatan”) and François Ozon (“Summer of 85”). Another QFest highlight is this year’s Q Classic, the 50th anniversary of the trippy, experimental 1971 film “Pink Narcissus.”

Thanks to several generous sponsors, CSL is able to make the festival more accessible to all by offering both shorts programs free for the duration of the event.

For the full schedule of screenings, including trailers and descriptions of the films, visit the festival website at www.cinemastlouis.org/qfest. Advance digital screeners of the features and some of the shorts are available for press review on request. Please inquire with QFest St. Louis artistic director Chris Clark.

The 2021QFest St. Louis begins on Friday, April 16, and runs through Sunday, April 25. Tickets go on sale March 24. Tickets are $14 general, $10 for Cinema St. Louis members and students with valid and current IDs. Passes are also available: Five-Film Passes are $60, and All-Access Passes are $115. All screenings will be held virtually for residents of Missouri and Illinois via Eventive, CSL’s online presentation partner. Direct ticket links are available on the QFest website.

QFest St. Louis is sponsored by AARP Missouri, Arts & Education Council, CheapTRX, Grizzell & Co., Missouri Arts Council, Bob Pohrer & Donnie Engle, Crafted., Just John Nightclub, Matt Kerns, Regional Arts Commission, Deb Salls, St. Louis Public Radio, Cindy Walker, and Webster U. Film Series.

Social media: Facebook: @QFestSTL | Twitter: @QFestSTL | Instagram: @QFestSTL

“Charlatan”

FEATURES

THE CARNIVORES director Caleb Michael Johnson

U.S / 2020 / 77 minutes

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/388481118

One of the oddest and darkest films screened at QFest to date, “The Carnivores” features a young lesbian couple, Alice and Bret, whose dog, Harvie, is slowly dying. The vet bills are adding up fast, Alice is quietly panicking, and high-strung Bret dotes on the dog and ignores the reality of the situation. When poor, innocent Harvie goes missing, the fragile status quo is finally shattered, and both women go off the deep end in their own way. What had been a bright and happy little family unit is undone by self-doubt, suspicion, and a disturbing amount of ground beef. The Hollywood Reporter writes: “(Director) Caleb Michael Johnson employs a dreamlike, David Lynchian aesthetic to the proceedings throughout the film. If you are a fan of abstract, surreal storytelling supported by strong central performances and a fascinating relationship dynamic, then ‘The Carnivores’ has more than enough meat for you to chew.”

KEYBOARD FANTASIES director Posy Dixon

U.S / 2019 / 63 minutes

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xLkZirOa4k

As a sci-fi-obsessed woman living in near isolation, Beverly Glenn-Copeland wrote and self-released the album “Keyboard Fantasies” in Huntsville, Ontario, in 1986. Recorded in an Atari-powered home studio, the cassette featured seven tracks of a curious folk-electronica hybrid, a sound realized far before its time. Three decades on, the musician — now Glenn Copeland — began to receive emails from people across the world, thanking him for the music they’d recently discovered. Courtesy of a rare-record collector in Japan, a reissue of “Keyboard Fantasies,” with support by such electronic musicians as Four Tet and Caribou, had finally found its audience two generations down the line. “Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story” tells an intimate coming-of-age story that transmutes the pain and suffering of prejudice into rhythm, hope, and joy. Half audiovisual history and half DIY tour video, the film provides a vehicle for this newly appointed queer elder to connect with youth across the globe and serves as a timely lullaby to soothe those souls struggling to make sense of the world.

PS BURN THIS LETTER PLEASE Directors: Michael Seligman & Jennifer Tiexiera

U.S / 2020 / 101 minutes

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqGRrAjYgq4

A box of letters, held in secret for nearly 60 years, ignites a five-year exploration into a part of LGBTQ history that has never been told. The letters, written in the 1950s by a group of New York City drag queens, open a window into a forgotten world where being yourself meant breaking the law and where the penalties for “masquerading” as a woman were swift and severe. Using original interviews, never-before-seen archival footage and photographs, and stylized re-creations, “P.S. Burn This Letter Please” reconstructs this pre-Stonewall era as former drag queens now in their 80s and 90s — including James Bidgood, director of this year’s Q Classic, “Pink Narcissus” — reveal how they survived and somehow flourished at a time when drag queens were both revered and reviled, even within the gay community. The government sought to destroy them and history tried to erase them, but now they get to tell their story for the first time.

TAHARA, director Olivia Peace and writer Jess Zeidman

U.S / 2020 / 78 minutes

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mk_cB8HgDU0

In this queer coming-of-age dramedy, two girlfriends attend a “Teen Talk-back” after the funeral service of their former Hebrew-school classmate. Although the session is designed to help them understand grief through faith, it instead leads to other discoveries, with surprising sparks igniting when one of the girls is manipulated into a romantic encounter with her best friend. The Queer Review writes: “Filmed on location at the Rochester synagogue where (screenwriter Jess) Zeidman attended Hebrew school, there’s a claustrophobic authenticity to the film’s setting. Much of the success of ‘Tahara’ relies on her well-crafted, layered screenplay and the two rich, subtle lead performances by (Madeline Grey) DeFreece and (Rachel) Sennott (also wonderful in ‘Shiva Baby’) keeping things compelling and intriguing. Refreshingly it’s a teen film that doesn’t look down on or objectify its characters, examining our shared human foibles with humor and poignancy.”

SHORT FILM

Eleven Weeks – director Anna Kuperberg (Wash U grad)

U.S / 15 MINS / 2020

Faced with a fast and aggressive cancer, Carla Jean Johnson accepts her diagnosis with clarity and grace, as photographer Anna Kuperberg, her longtime wife, documents their final days and weeks together.

“Pink Narcissus” celebrates 50th anniversary

By Lynn Venhaus
In a powerful feature-length film debut, Shatara Michelle Ford presents a gripping, relevant view of how traumatized women are still treated in the aftermath of sexual assault and the prevailing patriarchy about womanhood and consent.

Ford, who grew up in St. Louis, wrote and directed “Test Pattern,” which was shown at last year’s St. Louis International Film Festival. It won the inaugural Essy Award for best narrative feature, which is given to a film shot in St. Louis or made by a St. Louisan.

It’s about how an interracial couple’s relationship is tested after Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) is sexually assaulted and her live-in boyfriend Evan (Will Brill) drives her to several hospitals in pursuit of a rape kit.

Defying stereotypes, and with its exploration of identity and race, this work has flourished on the festival circuit, and as of Feb. 19, Kino Lorber is distributing it as a video on demand through their Kino Lorber Marquee platform (https://kinomarquee.com)

Ford’s realistic drama veers into psychological horror as everything about Renesha’s girls’ night with best friend Amber (Gail Bean) turns into a nightmare, from the predatory actions of brash e-commerce entrepreneur (Drew Fuller) to its day-after blurry, drugged, foggy trauma.

Not only does Ford delve into these ongoing systemic issues, but also features a frustrating quest to seek answers and justice that serves as an eye-opening indictment of health care inequities.

It is a lot to take on in one film, and Ford has much to say, but she uses one couple’s experiences as an intimate portrait of modern relationships and the framework to look at external forces affecting life today.

Using flashbacks in key moments, self-assured Ford establishes a loving opposite-attracts relationship between an easy-going white tattoo artist, Evan, a superb Will Brill, and a bright, beautiful black development director, Renesha, played shrewdly and delicately by Brittany S. Hall.

Interestingly, they meet during an innocuous girls’ night out of drinking and dancing. Their awkward encounters lead to a first date, then a first night together, then fast-forward to ‘now.’

As their mutual attraction has led to commitment, they have moved in together in a small starter house in Austin. Convincing in every way, their performances are intertwined in a truth.

Bored with the corporate world, Renesha has started a new job working for a non-profit, the Humane Society.  

That night, her pal Amber wants to celebrate, so she reluctantly goes to the Hacienda Social Club. Everything that unfolds screams “bad idea” – Amber, eager to party and already losing her inhibitions, falls prey to a pushy guy, Chris, (Ben Levin), who is toasting a business deal with his friend.

The flashy white guys keep the champagne flowing as they pressure each girl to drink more and dance – and despite Renesha’s repeated attempts at no, and that “I have a boyfriend,” she is stuck in this situation with her fun-loving friend, who is having a good time.

At some point, Renesha is slipped a “roofie,” the illegal date-rape drug Rohypnol, and when incapacitated, she is taken to Mike’s apartment, where he rapes her. She wakes up with little knowledge of how she got there or what happened.

A concerned and devastated Evan wants answers, insistently pursues a rape kit, but Renesha doesn’t want to go through the process. The tense journey does not go well, as each deal with their own emotional responses while facing the bureaucratic red tape of health care hell and a police report.

What is in no doubt is that they have been forever changed as a couple, tested both by gender roles and prejudice.

At only 88 minutes, the film leaves out some pertinent details, and the abrupt ending is not satisfying. But Ford’s flair for dialogue and crafting authentic characters is strong.

Cinematographer Ludovici Isodori’s has contrasted the two storylines masterfully, locations are well-chosen for a low-budget indie, while Robert Oyuang Rusli’s string-heavy score accents an entire gamut of emotions. Tchaikovsky’s “The Waltz of Flowers” from “The Nutcracker Suite” is a clever choice for a compelling scene.

Oscar Wilde’s quote, “Everything is about sex, except sex, which is about power,” is used as the film’s tagline, and Ford has wisely applied it to a modern exploration of how women are conditioned about sex and consent. Add institutional racism from a black woman’s perspective and the power shifts between couples, and you get one potent thought-provoking film.

“Test Pattern” addresses similar territory that “Promising Young Woman” tackles and will add more to the national conversation.

Like the impressive female-directed and written 2020 social commentaries “The Assistant” and “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” with this film, Ford proves she is an exciting new voice. Her name can be included in the growing list of formidable female directors with something to say.

Shatara Michelle Ford

“Test Pattern” is a 2019 drama written and directed by Shatara Michelle Ford, starring Brittany S. Hall and Will Brill. It is not rated and the run time is 1 hour, 22 min. The film is available as a video on demand through Kino Lorber Marquee. Lynn’s Grade: B+