Writer: Matt Fifer with Sheldon D Brown
Director: Matt Fifer and Kieran Mulcare
Ben is sick with desire, it seems. He picks up men and the occasional woman and has sex, but he never wants to be intimate, as an early scene reveals, moving a sleeping man’s arm that is draped in a post-coital manner over Ben’s chest. But in between these scenes of passion, Ben staggers bleary-eyed into his apartment and complains to the doctor that he can’t swallow.
Perhaps he will be saved by Sam, a man he picks up at a bookstall. Ben’s interest is piqued when Sam refuses to have sex at the end of their first date, but Sam has his own dark reasons for not wanting sex. Despite the secrets, their relationship thrives and Matt Fifer and Kieran Mulcare’s Cicada appears to be heading smoothly into rom com territory, but even though Ben and Sam argue and make-up, there is a edge to this film that ensures this is not a straightforward boy-meets-boy movie.
Quite early in the film, which is based on a true story, we realise that Ben was abused as a boy, but he has told very few people. The abuse, an unlikely beer-swilling therapist suggests, has caused his fear of intimacy and she encourages him to be more open about this incident. Fifer plays Ben, and gives an incredible performance coming to terms with his past. Tears always appear to be ready to flow from his eyes, even when he is joking and acting the fool. The effects of the abuse and the effects of keeping the experience silent have entered Ben’s very core, and Fifer reveals this perfectly.
Sam, played by Sheldon D Brown who contributed to the story, is equally as good, caught between his love for Ben, and his ‘closeted’ stance as a gay, black man. Being open about his sexuality nearly cost him his life and so Sam is wary of being too public about his love of another man. But in an effort to be true to himself he takes Ben home to meet his father. Ben is introduced as a friend, and the scene, played wonderfully, is reminiscent of a similar scene in the Kenyan documentary I Am Samuel, also at the London Film Festival, when one man takes another home to meet the family.
Tempering the sharp edges of Cicada, are the film’s rom com credentials, taking Ben and Sam to Central Park, Coney Island, Manhattan stoops and Brooklyn viewpoints. Dressed as hipsters with their turned-up jeans, and their assortment of hats and caps, they complement the urban landscape impeccably and with a summery soundtrack this film is cool, achingly at times. Of course Ben hails from Long Island, and it is here that he hears the cicadas of the title.
Surrounding Fifer and Brown, is a strong cast of supporting actors, all lending their characters a larger-than-life attitude. Jason Greene plays Ben’s predatory work colleague Theresa, while Cobie Smulders plays the unconventional therapist. Only Michael Potts, as Sam’s father, appears to rein in his performance, and doesn’t seem as quirky as Ben’s friends and family.
Cicada is sensitively filmed, with lots of short scenes signifying the passing of time, but the editing here does suggest that Ben’s sister breaks her leg twice over one summer, and Sam seems to recover too quickly from his own injury. This recovery upsets the earlier balance of the film where both men are battling with their bodies.
However, at the end of the film, it’s clear that Cicada is more about Ben, and Fifer’s performance in the last few minutes is breath-taking, and heart-breaking. Rather than being a story of same-sex love, his film is a story of self-love and self-care.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from 7 to 18 October