Have you ever had a film you really, desperately wanted to love?
"Lexie Cannes" was such a film for me.
Writer/director Tom Bertling contacted The Independent Critic directly, inquiring as to whether or not transgender films were up my alley.
I was intrigued, so I inquired further.
Okay, so "Lexie Cannes" isn't technically about transgender issues.
Then, I learned that central character Lexie Cannes is deaf.
So, now we have a transgender angle AND a disability angle.
I was even more interested.
If I were to try to come up with a film that parallels "Lexie Cannes," I might have to stretch all the way back to "Pop Skull," a film from a couple years back that played the Indianapolis International Film Festival. Like "Pop Skull," "Lexie Cannes" is a uniquely written and photographed film that almost taunts the audience with a dizzying array of imagery, emotions, dialogue (mostly spoken in American Sign Language) and grainy, mind-altering cinematography that is never really comfortable.
To call "Lexie Cannes" a transgender film is to do a great disservice to the film...indeed, the film has transgendered central characters, but Bertling has fashioned together a film that is part romance, part mystery, part social statement and nearly always a complex exploration of one woman's relationship to the world that surrounds her.
As Lexie, newcomer Courtney O'Donnell builds her character nicely given the challenge of creating an ever-changing young woman without the use of the spoken language. O'Donnell does this with her facial expressions, her body language and those hypnotic eyes of hers that grow increasingly wary as the film progresses.
Valeska Francisco, as Maya, and Jeska Duckworth, as Rhonda, also do a nice job in supporting roles, though the chemistry between Duckworth and O'Donnell felt a bit off and made the film's more intensely emotional scenes ring just a touch hollow.
"Lexie Cannes" benefits tremendously from the mood-setting score of composer Bill McGee, and Bertling's cinematography is often appropriately unsettling.
To be sure, "Lexie Cannes" is hindered by its modest, under $10,000, production budget. Given the film's mature themes, unsettling cinematography and marked lack of spoken dialogue, it should almost go without saying that "Lexie Cannes" will be unlikely to find anything beyond a festival following with a decent life on home video if placed in the hands of the right marketing minds.
As much as I found myself wanting to wholeheartedly embrace "Lexie Cannes," the simple truth is I never truly connected with the film.
Despite O'Donnell's best efforts, I never surrendered myself to Lexie's multi-layered journey and invested myself in her welfare.
While it's easy to admire and respect Bertling's bold vision and style, there were times when the film's unsettling cinematography was more distracting than inviting.
"Lexie Cannes" is not a film for the casual filmgoer, nor is it a film for the lazy one. It is, however, a film for the discerning audiences who find inspiration in unique artistic visions, intriguing characters and filmmaking that defies any semblance of the Hollywood machinery and the cinematic crap it produces.
While it may not always succeed in its lofty goals, "Lexie Cannes" is a promising first effort from writer/director Tom Bertling and a fine example of the independent spirit in filmmaking today.
For more information on "Lexie Cannes," visit the film's website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic