In the opening moments of writer/director Brendan Prost's Heavy Petting, we're easily lulled into a sense of certainty that the story about to unfold is one of queer love, admittedly a bit unusual as presented but one with such a strong romanticism to it that it very quickly feels safe and true.
Then, the real story dwelling within Heavy Petting begins to unfold.
Heavy Petting, which had its world premiere at Nashville Film Festival where it was nominated for the Best Graveyard Shift Short, is a deeply moving and profoundly insightful short film with a sublime ensemble cast clearly aligned with Prost's universal vision for the film. The foundation for the film lies within the hands of two lonely cat enthusiasts, Marina (Haley Midgette) and Jordan (Sam Calleja), the former intensely grieving her missing cat and the former missing, perhaps, something or someone just as if not more profound.
They have an encounter with an awkward intimacy that somewhat reminded me of the best moments of Lars and the Real Girl, though when Marina's cat returns her void no longer exists and Jordan is suddenly, seemingly uneventfully cast aside.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is much more going on in the 18-minutes of Heavy Petting than one initially suspects.
Heavy Petting has a vulnerability that is almost jarring, at first it appears as intimacy yet evolves into something more guttural and stark. Calleja's performance here is, quite simply, extraordinary. This is a performance that could have so easily gone awry, yet Prost's confident direction and Calleja's sense of surrender to this story and her character both add up to a turn that is aching and revelatory. This is perhaps because Calleja's Jordan reminded me of so many people that I've known along my own journey in life and, yes, perhaps myself at one point as a deep hunger leads to skewed realities and an existence where every thought is profoundly consequential.
After watching Heavy Petting, I was surprised to discover only three credits to Calleja's name. There should be many more to come.
Haley Midgette is exceptional, as well, comforting us into accepting this story as one thing before it becomes something else. At first, it appears that Heavy Petting will be centered solely within her universe and this is largely because Midgette allows Marina's grief to consume the screen and draw us in. It's a meaningful performance that could have so easily felt like a caricature and yet never does.
Chris Reineck's original music serves as a perfect complement for this emotionally resonant story with deep themes yet moments of simplicity and even a little wonder. Gayle Ye's cinematography is so intimate that it's jarring and it's as if the camera is saying to us that these people must be seen.
Indeed, they must.
Prost has always proven willing to tackle the complicated matters involved within being human. Heavy Petting is no exception and it may very well be one of my favorite Prost films to date. It's a film that resonates universally yet also feels even more profound and appropriate in the ever so slightly post-COVID days as we're all coming out of our cocoons warily yet with an amplified awareness of who we are, what we need, and how our minds and our bodies demand attention.
Heavy Petting continues on its festival journey and should, if justice is served, receive a warm reception and offer even more opportunities for its outstanding ensemble cast.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic