By Ifan Llewelyn
The relationship between father and gay son is one we’ve seen play out many a time in countless ways on stage and on screen. It can be a sore spot for many of us who didn’t grow up to be the rugby-playing, DIY-savvy young men our fathers imagined having. Those uncomfortable parents’ evenings with the PE teacher, the long car rides with very little to say, those awkward dinners when mum’s away.
It’s the struggle of navigating this strained relationship that we see play out in A Moment in the Reeds, a gay Finnish drama from exciting new queer talent, writer/director Mikko Makela.
In this first ever gay feature film from Finland, we arrive with Leevi (Janne Puustinen) at his father’s lake cottage. Having spent the last few years studying literature in Paris, he’s back to get some space to work on his thesis and help out with some renovations.
His father has hired an extra pair of hands to help them out, Tareq (Boodi Kabbani), who’s just adjusting to his new Nordic life after fleeing conflict in Syria. When Leevi’s father is called into work for a few days, the two realise they have more in common than initially expected. Conservative families, escaping their homes in search of a new life…even their taste in French poetry. Things soon get steamy in the sauna, one thing leads to another and they develop intense feelings for each other.
This is a romance of remote parallels, with disparate lives brought together, and intertwined. The young gay guy running away from home in search of a better life and a place where he’s free to be himself is familiar to all of us, but the life experience of a Syrian asylum-seeker is something most of us will never comprehend.
Despite this, it’s a masterstroke by Makela to have his audience realise that the narratives of the two characters have their similaries. Hostile home environments, strained family relationships and those ever present pangs of guilt at abandoning those closest to you. The sustained presence of very physical intimacy beautifully express the compassion and empathy that should be shared between these narratives.
A Moment in the Reeds is a very physical film, with the leitmotif of manual labour bringing forward visceral manhood whilst subtly evoking a discussion of masculinity. The expression of Leevi’s discomfort at returning to his childhood home is also very physical, feeling very awkward in navigating his navigating. It was reminiscent of Sara Ahmed’s queer writings of sitting and not quite fitting in a chair, the slight discomfort of navigating your surroundings as a queer person. This is set against Tareq’s feelings of inadequacy, of not being able to speak the local language, and being an architect reduced to doing odd jobs.
The xenophobic and homophobic father is effective in conveying the similar degree of ignorance that forms the basis of these prejudices. Though he isn’t painted as the antagonist. There’s a real compassion in his portrayal, since he’s also struggling with his own demons, grappling with the loss of his wife and his struggling business.
One of the film’s enduring sentiments is that to truly appreciate great beauty, you have to also see the ugliness that comes along with it. The beauty of A Moment in the Reeds lies in its grappling with the uglier and more discomforting side of the queer experience. It gives a very frank depiction of gay life, from getting a bit carried away on those dating apps to oral sex. This is a romance you’ve probably had yourself, without those clichéd grandiose romantic gestures or swelling orchestral music. Just two men developing feelings for one another. Though lacking a little plot progression, it delivers a delicate portrayal of your typical gay romance, though askewed from these fresh perspectives.
A Moment in the Reeds will be playing at the Iris Film Festival and available on DVD & VOD on the 15th of October.
By Ifan Llewelyn