A semi-naked blonde boy stands motionless outside his family home, seemingly frozen in position. Buzzing from the summer insects intensifies, and the boy is no longer a boy – he is a man who suffers from intense nausea and won’t tell his flatmate why. This is Ben (Matthew Fifer), and he’s got a long journey ahead of him.
Cicada is a symphony of fact and fiction following two men navigating modern New York, beautifully blended by writers Mathew Fifer and Sheldon D. Brown, who both perform as the central couple (Fifer as Ben, Brown as Sam) with sincerity and depth. I could have watched their electric surge on screen for hours, and thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in a story that felt so raw. Supporting roles also include the likes of Cobie Smulders and David Burtka.
Ben is seemingly distant and quiet – the first bit of dialogue we hear from him is when introducing himself to a new coworker Theresa (Jason Greene) who he hooks up with. The sequence that follows is a montage of hookups, mainly with men but a couple of women too. Although seemingly cheap in passing, – not deeming it a ‘bad’ portrayal but one of artificial sexual intensity – its juxtaposition with Ben’s established isolated sense of self creates a deeper focus on longing, of disconnection. One look across a bar or the subway and the sexual tension is ignited – Ben is clearly a pro. The right glance at the right time can guarantee a fun night, yet Ben has this mastered suspiciously well. Hooking up gives you that instant relief, but to have someone close to open up to is a whole other ball game.
He approaches Sam outside a bookshop, and after some light conversation they spend the rest of the day together exploring the city. Instead of sharing each other physically they open themselves up to each other emotionally in the most heartfelt scene so far. As we’re invited to look closer it is evident that Ben uses humour as a masquerade for his lack of a means to express how he feels, a mirage to keep others from getting too close, yet Sam’s honesty is enlightening. Can they both learn to let their guard down with each other?
There is a sense of nostalgia that slices through the narrative as they sit on the roof, roam the parks all the while discussing their family history, coming to terms with their queerness.This isn’t romanticised, indeed far from it as it has a looming presence that can only be ignored momentarily. The message that you can only survive for so long before addressing your past is truly prominent. It is in these moments that act as a reminder of the factual elements behind the piece, playing out like a cinematic interview but in a way that is gentle and filled with humanity. The handheld imagery of the city compliments this well, correlating with the documentary feel and equally the fluidity of Ben’s sexuality (a direct definition is never stated, yet he is pictured both with men and women). All the while there is a sense of comfortability in the space, the city acting as an inviting environment.
A moment midway through that seemingly sucked the air out of the room was Sam’s monologue, opening up about how he received the scar that covers his stomach. His previous expression of uncomfortability with affection makes this all the more powerful, and the camera refuses to draw away from his face, as though the audience is forced to relive this pain with him. To say that this portrayal of suffering from PTSD was touching is a gross understatement, and it is not one to be forgotten anytime soon.
This blurring of realism and construction allows for the spectator to realign their viewpoint on the narrative; they are able to get lost in the conversations and the intimacy between the characters that is reminiscent of various other romance films (not necessarily a bad thing, simply something that is easy for spectators to recognise and find escapism in) but also this subtle reminder of the truth, the raw power behind the story between these lovers who both have suffered from their own trauma.
The cicadas come out of hiding every 17 years. “Surviving mechanism,” Ben’s mum (Sandra Bauleo) says. Left to ponder over our own methods of survival, this piece remains a heartfelt story about a blossoming relationship while navigating the acceptance and rejection of parts of your identity, and taking control over how you choose to identify yourself. It is also made painfully clear how we are severely lacking positive stories about male/male relationships, something that I can only hope will shift soon (long overdue).