- Sequin in a Blue Room. R18+, 80 minutes. 5 stars.
Many years ago I helped to run a small queer film group.
The monthly screenings aside, the group was social, a way to meet people in a sometimes unfriendly town, in the days before meeting people like yourself happened online, and quickly, and often.
In some ways the films we screened were irrelevant against the social interactions, which was good because gay cinema was pretty bloody awful. That's a sweeping negative statement though at the time it felt pretty accurate.
I remember a conversation among the committee that selected the films to be screened, with me asking, "Why would we screen this film, it's terrible," and receiving the reply, "Yes, but ... it is gay."
I'm being unfair, of course, because all of those filmmakers, even the bad ones, did the pioneering work that allow a film like Sequin in a Blue Room to exist today.
Sequin is the online name of the lead character, played by Conor Leach. Still at high school, Conor lives with his straight single dad (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor). Father and son are sometimes two ships passing in the night as both are out there in the dating world - dad in an open and analogue fashion, his son discreetly and online.
Sequin uses the social hookup platform ANON to find men in his local area. A teenager with a teen's flair for drama and obsession, Sequin barely acknowledges Tommy (Simon Croker), the boy from his high school trying to make a real physical connection with him.
Instead, immersed in his screen, he runs through a series of hook-ups, including the older B (Ed Wightman). Sequin tells B he doesn't like to meet people more than once, and he blocks B on social media while walking away from the encounter.
Invited to an anonymous singles-only party that B is also at, Sequin runs off with a handsome young man (Samuel Barrie), initially to escape the older B who appears to have become obsessed with Sequin.
But Sequin begins to have obsessive and romantic thoughts of his own about the young man whose name and identity he is determined to uncover.
First-time feature filmmaker Samuel Van Grinsven opens with that declarative statement "A Homosexual Film", possibly as a warning, though in many ways the fact that Sequin is gay or that the film is peppered with gay sex is irrelevant. The film's themes and its storytelling run far deeper than sex or gender.
In one scene, the disembodied voice of Sequin's English teacher lists couples from literature, including, among the Lizzies and Darcys, Patricia Highsmith's Ripley and Dickie, echoing a number of the film's relationship dynamics of obsession and identity.
Particularly interesting are the power dynamics between the cynical older characters of B, D (Damian de Montemas) and Virginia (Anthony Brandon Wong), and the younger characters who like its filmmakers have come of age in a different era.
Often shot from below, Conor Leach has cheekbones that cast a shadow you could stand under. He is a charismatic and commanding presence, confident in his physicality that represents a progression beyond the old archetypes of butch and femme and plays through the thousand shades on the palette between and beyond.
While hardly role modelling, what must it like to be a young queer-identifying teen and seeing your own struggles in an online-fuelled modern world? How fortunate.
Sound artist Brent Williams provides an electroacoustic soundscape that is felt as much for its immersive presence as it is, at times, for its absence. The film is crisply shot in Sydney locations by Jay Grant and Canberra-based Tim Guthrie provides its clean editorial lines, leaving many long-form scenes intact to good effect and placing title cards breaking up Sequin's encounters.
The film deservedly won the Audience Award at this year's (online) Sydney Film Festival.
Samuel Van Grinsven is a talent to watch out for and Sequin in a Blue Room will sit alongside films like Head On and Holding The Man for its evolution of queer representation onscreen.