Tuesday, April 23, 2024

‘Summer After’ Looks at Heart-ache

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Summer After is a new short film from Josh Cox. It is a sequel, of sorts, to his debut feature, Summer of Mesa, a sweet observational look at the summer fling of two young girls. Except, it’s less of a sequel and more of a coda.

It’s been a year, and Mesa (Andrea Granera) is still not over Lily (Molly Miles). Worse, it seems Lily won’t be coming back this summer. Cox uses this to explore how the young can often fixate on their first love and ignore what’s right in front of them. Especially for queer people in the 80s in a small town where pickings are slim.

summer after
Mesa (Andrea Granera)

We meet Mesa’s best friend Leo (Mateo Correa) as the two drift through the summer days and nights in New England. Mesa pines for Lily while Leo constantly tries to get something going with Sam, a handsome young man with a mustache that seems to be ticking off all of Leo’s boxes. Leo knows about last summer and is trying his hardest to get his best friend to move on.

But Mesa can’t. First loves are a potent drug. After all, the libraries, music stores, and cinemas are filled with odes and elegies to youthful indiscretion and self-discovery.

Summer After takes place in 1986, yet Cox takes care to make the date seem moot. But, of course, it could be any summer of any year as far as Mesa is concerned. All that matters is she is here, and Lily is not.

But then Mesa meets Emily (Deepti Menon), and there’s a chance sparks may fly. Or they would if Mesa could be bothered to open her eyes. Either way, Emily wouldn’t mind.

Summer After shows how Cox has grown more confident as a filmmaker. He’s more willing to play with colors and framing. But it also shows how he is coming into his own style.

Early on, there’s a scene where Mesa and Leo watch a movie about two young gay men spending a summer together. It seems even arthouse LGBTQIA films can’t escape the trend of being meta. Still, the scenes of Granera and Correa in the darkened theater looking up at the screen in rapture make the characters feel lived in.

The way Granera expresses Mesa’s vulnerability and the raging storm within her with just a gasp and look is a short film all its own. Cox has a talent for giving his actors space to find their characters in a dozen little ways. It is a rare moment of openness with her.

After all, Mesa keeps her emotions close to her chest. Her thoughts and feelings are her own, and she does not share them easily. 

Cox still retains his confidence both in his visuals and his ideas. The scenes between Granera and Menon crackle with exciting energy. I loved how Cox allows the moment to play out, just two people discovering they vibe with one another. Cox and Granera don’t take the easy way out by sanding off Mesa’s rough edges. She’s as reluctant and stubborn as she’s always been.

summer after
Emily (Deepti Menon)

The beauty of Summer After is how Cox understands movement, both with his camera and within his camera. It may seem strange to comment on, but they are called motion pictures, after all. So whether it’s Correa swaying his knees as he sits with Granera or Menon leaning to get closer as Cox gently sways the camera away from her and towards Granera, Cox gives Summer After a refreshing sense of rhythmic visuals.

I kept hoping that Correa would tell Mesa to pull her head out of her butt and realize Emily’s great. But alas, she is young and still in love with Lily. Yet, the final scene left me frustrated and hopeful. We live in a world where films and audiences demand pat answers. I loved it because it allows for introspection and empathy. 

Cox is less picking up threads from Summer of Mesa than giving Mesa a story unto herself. Summer After is a mediation on the feeling of being unmoored from yourself. It is less a narrative follow-up and more a tone poem about yearning and heartache.

Images courtesy of Americana Pictures

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