Unidentified Objects

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Unidentified Objects
"A quirky yet moving character piece full of absurdist comedy, with an optimistic streak which is rare in cinema today." | Photo: Courtesy of Inside Out

A cynical young men who lives alone. A wide-eyed, hyperactive young sex worker who unexpectedly takes a shine to him. A road trip to an uncertain destination, which evokes painful memories and leads to self-discovery and a strong new bond – with a sprinkling of criminality along the way. You would be forgiven for thinking that you’ve seen this film before. You haven’t. It does play with stereotypes, but it turns many of them on their heads. It’s a quirky yet moving character piece full of absurdist comedy, with an optimistic streak which is rare in cinema today.

Peter H (Matthew Jeffers) is a quiet man who prefers to avoid his neighbours. He’s tired of being objectified because of his dwarfism, and at this point in life he’s also dealing with unemployment and the recent loss of a much-loved friend. He’s also gay, which ought to offer some defence against the in-your-face yet whimsical charms of Winona J (Sarah Hay), who lives in the same building and uses this flimsy pretext to try to talk him into giving her a ride to Canada – yet try as he might, he just can’t persuade her to give up. As it turns out, he has his own reasons to head in that direction anyway, so he reluctantly agrees, whereupon she makes it her mission to provoke him into loosening up and having some fun en route.

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Winona’s reason for travelling is an unusual one. She was, she says, abducted by aliens many years ago, and now they have contacted her again and told her to meet them so that they can take her away for good. Peter is not convinced, assuming that she’s delusional, but gradually comes to realise how important it is to her emotionally to see this through. Whilst much of this engagement is played for laughs, Winona is not treated unsympathetically. There are hints that she might have been institutionalised, or in an abusive situation, until very recently. In one scene where she becomes convinced that somebody is coming for her, she reveals real terror (Hays is superb), throwing everything else into sharp relief.

Peter’s journey is lower key and more nuanced. Rather than obliging him to open up completely and revise all his ideas about life, the film acknowledges that he has reason to be guarded – what’s important for him is processing his grief and recovering his ability to invest in the close friendships which shore up his world. As Winona seeks to escape the world, either physically or mentally, he grapples with the task of carving out a space within it and regaining confidence in his own worth. Little people have been used to create a sense of quirkiness in any number of films (and television series), but here director Juan Felipe Zuleta flips that around. It’s Peter whose gaze informs the film, and part of the way he reduces the emotional burden created by other people’s prejudice is by acknowledging the absurdity of it, seeing people’s assumptions about him as the things that are odd and, sometimes, amusing.

Every journey of this sort requires deeper thematic elements to make it a success. Zuleta is interested in belief and with the way in which choices factors into what we believe. At one point Winona brings in a friend, a former financier named Suzee (Kerry Flanagan) who says that she lost faith in numbers and found faith in drugs, and the three of them take a trip through the woods, breaking out of the familiar structures and strictures of their world in a way traditionally associated with the magical. Zuleta’s use of light in this scene suggests that he knows what he’s doing. There is comedy, but there is also a process of transformation as Peter becomes more accepting of different ways of being.

A story about outsiders which refuses to let viewers enjoy the comfort of distance, Unidentified Objects finds humour in bitterness and warmth in unlikely connections. It’s a film full of heart which will touch yours no matter what you believe.

Reviewed on: 28 May 2022
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A lonely dwarf and his unstable, alien-obsessed neighbour are thrown together on an impossible road trip that will alter their strange friendship (and their sense of reality) forever.

Director: Juan Felipe Zuleta

Writer: Leland Frankel, Juan Felipe Zuleta

Starring: Sarah Hay, Roberta Colindrez, Matthew Jeffers, Hamish Allan-Headly

Year: 2022

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

IO 2022
OutfestLA 2022

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