Queer Love Blooms Amid Religious Repression

High school is often a scary and unpredictable time, but even more so under the pressure of a strict religious community. It might be easier if you were born into it, but for outsider Jamie (Anwen O’Donnell), at the center of “You Can Live Forever,” the claustrophobic nature of his aunt’s Jehovah’s Witness community and his uncle is almost too much to bear. .

Everything seems so alienating and strange until she meets Marike (June Laporte), who promises to show her the Truth.

“You Can Live Forever” is the directorial debut of writer-directors Mark Slutsky and Sarah Watts, the latter having grown up gay in a community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada. Although the film is not autobiographical, it addresses much of the discomfort, repression and ultimate hope felt by those struggling with their feelings in a repressive religious atmosphere.

It helps that Jamie is a stranger, a fish out of water, who comes to stay with his aunt and uncle after his father dies. With his mother in a state of disrepair and depression, the family thinks Jamie better uproot her life for a while while everything can get back to normal. Only Jamie’s aunt Beth (Liane Balaban) and uncle Jean-François (Antoine Yared) live a life very different from his. As Jehovah’s Witnesses, they do not celebrate birthdays or holidays, and they require her to attend Bible study on weeknights. And any talk about sexuality, including the fact that Jamie is a lesbian, is irrelevant.

Jamie is less interested in the Truth than in Marike, with whom — between long gazes and casual intimacy — she strikes up a tender romance. Slutsky and Watts build tension between the girls slowly, awkwardly. It sounds like a real high school romance. The two bond on weeknights after dinner at Marike’s, playing the piano and talking about the cities they would like to visit one day. Jamie, skeptical through and through, can’t tell if Marike’s devotion is legit or not, but her investigation only brings them closer together, not toward a religious epiphany. The chemistry between O’Donnell and Laporte is natural and easygoing, and it’s a pleasure to watch them get to know each other.

It can be easy for a movie like this to portray staunch religious followers as closed-minded and full of prejudice, but “You Can Live Forever” is smart enough to show a range of beliefs, adherence and tolerance. . Although Jamie often clashes with her aunt and her beliefs, their relationship remains loving and respectful. Nor is Marike’s devotion to Truth read as a downfall.

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Part of what Jamie struggles to come to terms with is the duality of Marike’s life, who is both gay and happy to remain a Jehovah’s Witness. For Jamie, things are much more binary. The film’s strong script’s willingness to delve into the complexities of not just religious but also sexual identity makes its tragedy all the more powerful.

All is not catastrophic. For the most part, “You Can Live Forever” is a sensitive and thoughtful film to watch, with intelligent characters having truthful conversations with each other. Jamie’s school friend Nathan (Hasani Freeman) brings a sense of humorous cynicism to the film, and when the two lay back and talk about their lives, it feels like a real teenage bond. Although there is an amateurish nature to many young actors in the film, their inexperience and youth lend an honesty to their performances.

The film suffers from a similar amateurishness, with a mixture of lackluster cinematography and no distinctive look or feel despite a supposed 1990s setting. Part of that comes down to the cloistered community at the center of the story, but the characters speak and feel like they’re straight out of the 2020s. It wasn’t until the end of the film, with a “Heavenly Creatures” poster on the wall, that it became apparent that the action is set in a past share. “You Can Live Forever” is bolstered by an inventive score from Canadian artist CFCF, whose upbeat music rescues the film from a tearful or overly tearful tinge.

“You Can Live Forever” is a sweet start and a welcome addition to the lesbian canon, neither fetishistic nor bemoaning the romance between Jamie and Marike, but rather engaging them in their exploration and study of both each other and each other. their relationship with those around them. . It’s a promising feature with an original focus, handled with romantic dexterity and thoughtful wisdom.

“You Can Live Forever” makes its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.

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