Second Star On The Right

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Second Star On The Right
"Varón brings depth to a character who could easily have been annoying." | Photo: Courtesy of Outfest

When one witnesses a conversation between a group of women in their late thirties and they're shouting "You're so immature!" at each other, one has to wonder if there is more than one person there who still has a bit of growing up to do.

Emilia (Silvia Varón) is on the verge of turning 35 but still finds it easier to relate to the students to whom she teaches acting than to friends her own age. Is this because she hasn't grown up? Perhaps. She drinks too much and goes out partying on nights when she knows she has to be up early the next day. She gets to work late and, as her friends see it, she doesn't have a proper job anyway. She also has a habit of turning up drunk in the middle of the night to paw at girlfriend Mariana (Diana Wiswell), whilst refusing to make any meaningful commitment to her. But there's a little more going on with all this than meets the eye. Whilst Emilia undoubtedly needs to take responsibility for her behaviour, she hasn't had the same opportunities for growing up that he friends have availed themselves of in a society that rejects her at every turn.

In terms of the legal position and general social attitudes in urban areas, Colombia isn't a bad place to be bisexual, but as Ruth Caudeli's deceptively frantic, sharply observant script reveals, it's a place still riddled with the kind of prejudice that straight people don't even see. Yes, it's obvious when one of Emilia's friends persistently claims that bisexuality doesn't exist, and the others call that out, but they're much less aware of the pressure created by their constant focus on marriage and babies and what they describe as a 'normal' life for 'normal' people. Whilst Emilia technically has the right to these things, she's grown up without it and she is still without any role models she can really relate to. It's difficult to buy into a social model one has been forced to observe from the outside.

The flip side of this is that in some ways Emilia understands that social model better than her friends do. She's aware of the ways in which it doesn't suit her. Her friends, blinded by certainty, still have to figure out the reasons for their dissatisfaction.

Caudeli's decision to shoot some scenes in colour and others in black and white (with impressive contributions from cinematographers Andrés Botero and Alejandro Sandoval) enables her to highlight the differences not between straight and LGBT life but between the world in which her protagonists live day to day and one in which they are fully realised. There are echoes of Pleasantville here but she has plenty of her own things to say. The approach also reveals the way that Emilia's partying gives her a taste of what she's looking for without, ultimately, offering a sustainable solution.

Varón brings depth to a character who could easily have been annoying and there's good work from Wiswell, who manages to avoid coming across either as a nagging girlfriend or as the boring option in Emilia's life. The love scenes between the two have real chemistry and work on an erotic level even as Caudeli uses them to convey shifting emotions and a precarious balance of power between the two women There's also a sex scene between Emilia and a man which evidences her desire for him (it's rare to see bisexual characters portrayed with this conviction without being exploited) but is similarly complex - sex, like drink, is providing Emilia with a source of pleasure yet heightening her awareness that something else is missing. The trouble is, in order to get what she wants from life she's going to have to figure out what it is.

There are still relatively few films out there that give female characters this much breathing space, going way beyond romcom territory. In some ways this one is reminiscent of Manhattan, presenting a protagonist for whom certainty may not be the best solution and emphasising the ease with which it's possible to be lonely in a crowd. This is only Caudeli's second feature but she's clearly a talent worth watching.

Reviewed on: 20 Jul 2019
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Second Star On The Right packshot
Unexpected unemployment and a friend's wedding force a thirtysomething woman to confront her dissatisfaction with her life.

Director: Ruth Caudeli

Writer: Ruth Caudeli, Silvia Varón

Starring: Silvia Varón, Ximena Rodríguez, Alejandra Lara, Tatiana Rentería, Diana Wiswell, Andrés Jiménez, Lorena Castellanos, Justin Vahala Gina Medina

Year: 2019

Runtime: 85 minutes

Festivals:

OutfestLA 2019

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