Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"The performances are relaxed and natural, the focus less on doing than on being."

Set in the wide open landscapes of New Mexico where everything seems tactile yet insubstantial, Firstness is the d├ębut feature film by established artist Brielle Brilliant, and one of the more unusual works at this year's Outfest Los Angeles. Functioning in many ways as a critique of established form, it follows three lost souls who are looking for their own ways of perceiving, understanding and communicating with the world around them, a process that emphasises their status as outsiders but could ultimately lead to a form of liberation.

Keith (Tim Kinsella) is a fragile man trying to deal with the pressures of single fatherhood whilst putting himself through drama therapy in an effort to get his life back on track. Julian (Caleb Cabrera) is a recently released prisoner diligently searching for a home and a job despite nobody seeming to want to take a chance on him. And Tavi (Spencer Jording) is Keith's child, a non-binary kid patiently trying to clue n the adult world to things their own generation see as clear as day, whilst exploring the world and all the forms of learning it has to offer.

Tavi is not a big fan of school. "I have other things to do," they say with a shrug during one of Keith's doomed attempts t confront them about it. Whilst Keith constantly second guesses himself and outright fails to pay attention to many aspect of his kid's life, Tavi is assured and quietly confident, delighting in new experiences, in firstness. A keen observer of people, they are drawn to Julian after seeing him fall over in the street, and a curious friendship is formed. Julian is badly in need of sympathetic human contact, and though the two don't talk much, they spend increasing amounts of time together doing nothing in particular. Naturally this worries some of the adults who encounter them, and though most are willing to brush it off, too preoccupied to step up for a child who may be at risk, it will ultimately lead to confrontation.

What is it that draws us to some people and makes it hard to connect with others? In his therapy group, Keith acts out scenarios based around various kinds of communication or miscommunication. None of it seems to touch on his fundamental difficulty. He persistently overlooks what seems like flirtation on the part of another group member, and seems unable to figure out how to reconcile his allotted role as a father with being the weaker party in his relationship with Tavi. Unable to understand some of his child's choices, he is at a loss as to how to engage, perhaps not understanding how he is valued.

Patent and sensitive in its exploration of these intersecting relationships, , Firstness unspools gently beneath pale skies, replete with possibility. The performances are relaxed and natural, the focus less on doing than on being. Through simple observation, Brilliant gives us an intimate connection with characters who are just beginning to discover their potential.

Reviewed on: 20 Aug 2021
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A maladjusted dad is trying to heal in an experimental therapy group called Infinite Beginnings. Meanwhile, his non-binary kid is getting close with an older man. Their relationship feels both dreamy and concerning-depending on who is watching.

Director: Brielle Brilliant

Writer: Brielle Brilliant

Starring: Tim Kinsella, Spencer Jording, Caleb Cabrera

Year: 2021

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: US

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