Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Utterly fresh and naturalistic, like a documentary with no conscious framing."

One of the strangest things about becoming part of what's now known as the underclass - living hand to mouth on the streets, in squats or slums - is the abrupt experience of invisibility. Most more fortunate people, whilst aware that this world exists, imagine it as somehow far away from their own. They don't expect to speak to one of its inhabitants; they don't really expect them to think and feel as they do. Cati Gonzalez's film plunges us into the heart of that world, vivid and immediate, tearing back the veil.

Jake Mestre is Ekaj, tired to living with a father who wants him to be straight, to abandon his feminine presentation, to live a respectable life. He's young and naive enough to figure that he can make it on his own as a hustler, constantly making small adjustments to preserve his own illusions. He'll get money without actually needing to get fucked, he believes; then, he'll only do it if he feels an attraction. Sexual violence is a shadow he ignores for as long as he can. Pain and suffering, when they become undeniable, are, he insists, things that will make him stronger.

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There's a sweetness about this way of thinking that's every bit as appealing as the natural good looks Ekaj trades on, but neither is a substitute for street smarts, nor for an understanding that just because on can separate sex and love doesn't mean one can thrive without the latter. Fortunately, he meets the wily, ebullient Mecca (Badd Idea), a young man with elaborate tattoos who takes him under his wing. But Mecca has troubles of his own, and the closeness that develops between the two comes with its own share of sorrow.

Utterly fresh and naturalistic, like a documentary with no conscious framing, this film recalls the likes of Kidulthood and Tangerine. There is no distance allowed between viewer and subject, either emotionally of in terms of framing, with the camera almost always up in somebody's face. No attempt is made to pass judgement on the characters' behaviour, nor to apologise for it. There's a sharp wit present in Gonzalez's dialogue but it is always naturalistic first, as if it were the result of patient observation and clever editing.

For all the romanticism that its central character clings to, this film doesn't pull any punches. It presents a world that is rarely seen onscreen like this, recognisable to those who have lived in it. It tells a story that is cruel and urgent, passionate and real.

Reviewed on: 17 Apr 2018
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A runaway teenager tries to make it as a hustler.

Director: Cati Gonzalez

Writer: Cati Gonzalez

Starring: Jake Mestre, Scooter LaForge, Badd Idea, Vinny Cruz

Year: 2015

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US


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