Since I can’t remember the time and date of the embargo I signed for The Expend4bles, but I doubt that anyone involved will want to share what I write about it, we can put a hold on Megan Fox and macho buffoonery till tomorrow. Instead, let’s look at the other side of film-making, that which eschews fantasy to focus on life as human beings experience it. Writer and director Diana Zuros has made Since August an indie passion project, painstakingly taking a decade to assemble a small-scale but effective story of a tentative relationship between two women with genuine emotional scars. It’s a tiny film in comparison with meathead blockbuster fare, but hopefully there’s room for both in modern cinema.
In LA, Elizabeth Lester (Sabina Akhmedova) is a recovering addict, seeking to escape from the negative if not toxic influence of her ex-husband. Elizabeth strikes up a relationship with Vedette (Antoinette Abbamonte); Vedette is deaf, but Elizabeth teaches herself some ASL (American Sign Language) and the two women gain some kind of mutual respect and understanding. That connection, however, is threatened as we understand more about a past event that connects the two women, but also threatens to pull their friendship apart…
With crystal-clear images shot with a DSLR camera, Zuros’ film needs no adjustment due to a low budget; the story is powerful and effective, and elicits gasps when the climactic revelations come. Zuros produces and co-edits, and the result feels far more intimate than most dramas; there are comparably themed films, such as Neighbouring Sounds or The Crossing Guard, but Since August gives both female characters a strong, resonant voice. Zuros shows how Elizabeth is anything but ‘clean and serene’ as her step programme would have it, and Akhmedova convincingly expresses her trepidation but also her determination. Deaf actress Abbamonte also has a complex part to play, which she captures with empathy; with the story captured wordlessly but with an excellent music score and sound mix, and with subtitles to help the audience follow the ASL; when Elizabeth mixes up the signage for horny and hungry, we can follow exactly what’s happening from Vedette’s POV.
‘I am scared when you are nice to me…I’m not used to it,’ is a fairly representative dialogue sample here; the relationship between Elizabeth and Vedette is as fragile as one of the origami creations featured here. Audiences self-select, and for some, the sincerity and flat-out honesty of a film like Since August will be too much to bear. But the promise of digital film-making was that viewers might see a different kind of story to the traditional norms, and Since August’s careful craft deserves an appreciative audience. Unlike most movies, you can see it for free at the website below; donations are encouraged, and no more than the film-makers and players deserve.