London Film Festival 2020: Cicada review – realistic portrayals of love make for a touching, funny film

Cicada film review

LGBT+ cinema hasn’t always been particularly good at showing realities. It’s often a case that we see the tragedy of being a lesbian or a homosexual, or we have to endure the harassment of a Cis person pretending to be trans. Worst of all might be cinema’s portrayal of bisexual people, which is pretty much non-existent except to underpin an evil character or to be a joke.

Cicada follows Ben and Sam, who begin a relationship, both with issues in their past along with their own insecurities. Ben is bisexual, and suffering from a trauma he won’t talk about, Sam is aware of the stigma that being both gay and black might have on him.

Writer-co-director and star Matt Fifer, as well as Sheldon D. Brown, both have an understanding of the situation they’re in. It’s a film that says “based on a true story” and has the smack of authenticity. That’s not to say that it doesn’t also have some cinematic invention to enjoy.

The beginning shows us Ben’s life: largely involving meaningless sex with men and women, not really being honest with himself, and avoiding dealing with his problems. There is humour to be mined from the meaningless sex, occurring in pretty much every situation.

Sheldon D. Brown in Cicada

Sheldon D. Brown in Cicada.

Despite the premise, the film has a serious intent to it. It’s dealing with themes of abuse, and crime, and it doesn’t shy away from that, but it’s much more subtle than just a story of abuse. Fifer and Mulcare put the relationship between Ben and Sam at the front. The early scenes of them meeting is played like a classic romcom, talking, flirting, hooking up, and as the intimacy grows so does the feeling of truth about them both.

One thing that certainly deserves commendation is the acknowledgement that Sheldon D. Brown’s Sam has a colostomy bag from an attack in his past. It’s never made a big deal of, but it is portrayed in a realistic way, it shows that you can still be an active normal person and have a fulfilled life with a health condition.

A small role for Cobie Smulders as a slightly obnoxious therapist is also very funny; it hews close to who she is as a person in terms of talkative and friendly but as a therapist it’s a funny juxtaposition to show one who is talkative and opinionated.

Cobie Smulders and Matthew Fifer in Cicada

Cobie Smulders and Matthew Fifer in Cicada.

The conversations between Ben and Sam have the smack of authenticity and feel completely natural. It’s here that the film finds it’s footing and the portrait of two people together getting to know each other and their insecurities is one that matters, it reminds us that while there are nuances to LGBT+ relationships that ultimately it’s about two souls connecting and that is a universal story.

The portrayal of PTSD in the wake of trauma is never overblown or over-egged, instead, both Sam and Ben’s are treated with respect and care. Neither of them are shown to be victims who have had their lives dictated by the events, but they have had their lives affected by it. It’s important that the film shows people never move past these things, they stay with you, be is a shooting or sexual abuse but it doesn’t rule you, you can still have a fulfilled life.

While there is a lot of humour, and a lot of beauty in this film dealing with a small scale romance, there is also this feeling that the film will speak to more people than expected. The conversations and issues in it are ones many people are dealing with, and as a film that walks the line between realism and movie making artifice, it’s a beautiful portrayal of two people discovering one another.

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