Even as the Coronavirus global pandemic has shut down virtually every industry, it comforts me to know films are still being released. I recently attended an on-line screening for the world premiere of RINGOLEVIO, the debut feature length film by Milwaukee-based filmmaker Kristin Peterson. (And yes, there are spoilers in the following review, but the film is an emotional exploration of relationships, not bloody Game of Thrones.)
Here is the synopsis put out by the filmmakers.
Ada (Nicole Velasco Lockard), a reserved young woman with a passion for entomology travels to rural Wisconsin with Marissa (Meredith Johnston), her free-spirited musician girlfriend. She’s finally ‘meeting the family’ – the three brothers who helped raise Marissa.Desperate to make a good impression over the course of a weekend packed with fun and frivolity, she instead struggles to find common ground. Funny, lacerating, and tender (often in the same scene), Ringolevio is a sensitive and incisive look at the games we play when trying to connect with one another.
Immediately, and then throughout the film, you will see how beautifully the film is shot, especially the closeup imagery of the insects. (No, they are not gross or icky at all, rather quite beautiful.) The scenes with human characters are energetic, both because of the exuberance from the brothers interacting with their long absent sister, Marissa, and because of the handheld camera work.
The film maintains a tension that for me as an introvert at times transforms this family drama into a horror movie. This tension Ada suffers under comes from trying to fit in, or at least attempting to understand what is happening within the family dynamics and with her girlfriend, Marissa. It is an experience all too familiar for those of us who live introverted lives. Ada expertly portrays the overreaching attempts to match the energy of the brothers, and she wonderfully displays the familiar shame and confusion that comes from yet again getting it wrong. Her gentleness and quiet ways are like a delicate sparrow catapulted off the feeder by raucous bluejays.
While the chemistry is strong between the two female leads, the emotional intimacy between Marissa and Ada continually fails as they struggle to connect and communicate. Physically they misfire too. Ada end ups causing pain when she hopes to comfort; Marissa retreats once again. Still when not overwhelmed with the alien landscape created by Marissa’s family, they display a freshness and an ease in their interactions with each other.
The entire film points to Marissa. In fact, she is the most fully drawn character. If the film were a stylized Instagram photo, Marissa would be the central figure in full-color and in sharp focus, while Ada and the brothers would be in black and white and with a blurring of their features. They frame Marissa as she wrestles with everyone including herself. Marissa is stuck in the liminal space between who she was as a child and a young adult growing up in a disastrously dysfunctional family and who she strives to be as an adult–a thoughtful artist in a stable, healthy relationship.
Marissa’s flaws are evident–the secrecy and shame she displays over a serious injury, her erratic and strong reactions to the tensions Ada stirs up in the family, and Marissa’s tendency to retreat emotionally and physically from Ada. These flaws though do not alienate her from me as a viewer. I found myself rooting for her, feeling empathy and understanding. On the other hand, I grew tired of the brothers quickly. These man babies are trapped in childhood and childish ways. They are obnoxious lost boys who might never escape the emotional Neverland that distracts them from meaningful relationships.
Ada attempts to create spaces for bringing the others into her world, but she is too impotent next to boorish brothers and a partner who is much more complex than any of them. Unlike the ease with which Ada identifies the bugs she collects then sticks pins to affix them on her displays, she cannot pin Marissa down who squirms under Ada’s failed attempts at intimacy and understanding.
There is no guarantee Marissa and Ada’s relationship will survive the family reunion. In fact, in perhaps the deepest glimpse into Marissa’s internal life, we hear Marissa predict where her current relationship might go wrong based on a past failed relationship. Ozzie, the oldest brother, plays a song from Marissa’s upcoming album. The music is rich, thoughtful, and dreamy. Marissa explains it is about an ex-partner who just couldn’t comprehend her or her painful, complicated family background (and likely the frenzied family get-togethers.)
The brothers and Ada pretty much end up where they started at the beginning of the film. Marissa on the other hand steps more firmly into the self she wants to be. I will not be surprised if she leaves everyone else behind. Maybe like the praying mantis Ada releases at the end of the film, Marissa will find her own escape.
There are never enough movies about lesbian relationships or of bisexual women in relationships with each other, and what I like about this relationship is the universality of their struggles. They happen to be struggles two women are facing, but these struggles are familiar to most of us who have chosen to love someone who comes from a different background and upbringing.
I hope the film does well in festivals and that lots of folks get to see it. And I highly recommend it to you my dear reader. Note if you are an introvert, it will be very very scary in parts, but you will be okay.
I look forward to seeing what Kirstin Peterson does next.
Learn about the film and find out how to see it at the official RINGOLEVIO site.
All photos courtesy of the film.