Something You Said Last Month

The St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival wrapped up in October. Its closing night program offered up two unforgettable films as a parting gift; Vegas and Something You Said Last Night.
Something You Said Last Night (Dir. Luis De Filippis) was the RBC closing night feature at the 33rd St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival this past October.

It’s been nearly a month since the 33rd annual St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival came to a close. Before October dissolves into the rearview mirror, it’s worth acknowledging that the Festival once again gave our community an opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements in the film industry, and an occasion to appreciate and enjoy the fruits of their talent, dedication, and hard work this year.

The Festival was launched in 1989 in response to the significant under-representation of women in the film and television industry, especially behind the camera. Since that time, the event has been taking a leading role in promoting gender equity in the industry.  In the intervening years, the term “woman”’ and how we define it has broadened, and the 33rd Festival embraces this spirit of diversity and inclusion.

Vegas

Rhiannon Morgan plays the titular character in Vegas (Dir. Anna Wheeler, 2022).

The Festival’s closing night program began with a screening of Vegas, a short film directed by local filmmaker Anna Wheeler, last year’s winner of the RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award. The film tells the tale of a young woman named Vegas (Rhiannon Morgan) who has a compelling encounter with a passenger (Brian Marler) in her taxi cab.

When we meet Vegas, she is eating directly off the hood of her cab in an act of defiance against her employer. A mysterious man in a suit approaches her from the sidelines. Once inside her cab, this masculine-presenting, authoritative man morphs into a figure of beautiful ambiguity. The passenger becomes both feminine and masculine and everything in between, a sight that captivates Vegas. 

Brian Marler plays opposite Rhiannon Morgan in Vegas (Dir. Anna Wheeler, 2022).

The passenger is able to perfectly intuit Vegas’ own internal struggles,  noting how her job entails helping people get to their destinations, meanwhile she struggles to find her own. Vegas describes her ideal place as a secluded meadow. She is taken aback when her passenger expresses that theirs is to be seen, no matter where, as long as others are able to see them as their authentic self.

Through her film and the intimate encounter it portrays, Wheeler has gifted us with an important lesson. Like Vegas, we are bound to feel lost until we permit ourselves to express fully who we are, rather than limiting ourselves to the conventional directions that society has set out  for us.

Something You Said Last Night

Carmen Madonia as Ren (centre), Ramona Milano as her mother (left), and Joe Parro as her father (right) in Something You Said Last Night (Dir. Luis De Filippis, 2022).

Vegas was followed by the evening’s feature presentation of Something You Said Last Night. The directorial debut of Canadian-Italian filmmaker Luis De Filippis, the film captures the many complexities of being a woman and the on-going process of self-determination. 

The story follows a young trans woman named Ren (Carmen Madonia), and her family, as they endure the chaos and sometimes banality of their family vacation. The beauty of the film lies in its simplicity. De Filippis skipped an epic drama and an explosive conclusion and created a space for us to just be with the characters and witness the reality of their lives. Ren’s gender identity is an integral part of who she is, and it is not treated like the most prominent thing about her. She is a complex and fully-realized person. Her self-assuredness  makes her an empowering character.

De Filippis also side-stepped the typical clichés that often beset trans women represented in film. Instead, the audience is treated to an attentive, introspective view of a trans woman’s experience as she navigates through her daily life, and the familiar trappings of a family vacation.

The dynamic between Ren and her family is one of love and acceptance which is refreshing. In contrast to the common portrayal of the conservative family who refuses to accept their child for who they are, De Filippis demonstrates and normalizes the possibilities of unconditional, unwavering family love. The family dynamics are nonetheless complicated. They have an incredible way of saying a great deal with only a few words or saying nothing while screaming a whole hell of a lot. All the while, still supporting one another. 

From the moment we are introduced to Ren, her boisterous mother (Ramona Milano), her subdued father (Joe Parro), and her intense younger sister (Paige Evans), it is clear that discomfort looms in the background of their idyllic family trip. Ren is coy and withdrawn as she struggles to keep from her mother the fact that she lost her job. Meanwhile, Ren’s sister, Siena, is also withholding her decision to drop out of college. 

The constant bickering between Ren, her sister, and their mother is largely about small, trivial things. In an attempt to avoid the more significant issues at hand, they let their frustrations out over seemingly minor inconveniences. In reality, they’re upset about so much more. These underlying tensions begin to fester and escalate–until the sources of their resentment come to light. 

This scenario is common across all interpersonal relationships. De Filippis creates relatable situations based on these human dynamics, reaffirming the common struggle we all share. The trouble of communicating with the ones we love, but also the difficulties we face when we try to define ourselves as individuals in relation to our families, and the conflicts created by our will to independence and our deep need to depend on others. 

Having a loving family does not take away from the daily struggles that Ren still faces as a young trans woman. Having a safe space, supported by her loved ones all go a long way, but it doesn’t reach far enough to banish the cruelty that persists in our society.

Carmen Madonia as Ren from Something You Said Last Night (Dir. Luis De Filippis, 2022).

An unforgettable scene in the film depicts Ren in a moment of solitude, swimming on a secluded beach. Her unequivocal beauty and inner stillness radiate outward, off the screen. However, this moment is cut short when her solitude is interrupted. She frantically puts her shirt back on. The unfortunate reality is that she has to be alone in order to feel this complete sense of relaxation, to feel free to just be herself unapologetically.  

We can all learn from Ren. Throughout the film, she affirms her self-worth even in moments of vulnerability when she is yearning for external validation, or to feel closeness with someone. She continuously demonstrates her strength in her courage to be authentic, in the ways she  advocates for herself when no one else will. Ren reminds us of the fundamental similarities we all share, our desire to love and be loved for who we are. 

The representation of indie films at the box office these days is scarce, especially here in St. John’s. Films like Something You Said Last Night are a rare gem. In a time where big, action-packed blockbuster movies about superhumans are at the forefront, this one offers just the contrast we need. It elevates the beauty and pleasure of small stories about everyday humans who are showing us how to be in the world. 

I’m thankful for the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival for bringing experiences like this back to us, if only for a few precious days. 

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