Any Way You Want It

(Re)framing Desire

ANY WAY YOU WANT IT | (Re)framing Desire

The first month of Summer has come to an end, full of memories of people soaking up the sun, saving it for later, going to the beach, and breathing deeply to experience the light, sunscreen-scented breeze. Everyday outside almost feels like the perfect set-design for a Summer film. After all, there are so many of them. It’s the sense of freedom that last day of school films like Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993) exude. It’s the flourishing romances created despite, or even because of, the dryness of the Bulgarian mountains in Svetla Tsotsorkova’s Jajda / Thirst (2015). It might even be summertime as a state of mind connected to a personal moment in life as in Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer (2009). 

That being said, cinema argues that Summer is the season of blooming sexuality and general self-discovery, and so does the 13th edition of the Leiden Shorts Film Festival, with its section titled “(Re)framing Desire”. Beginning with Ilias Dupuis-El Faris’ jocular Sukar (2020), the audience witnesses the connection between two teenagers, played by Walik Rakik and Nisrine Bencharaac, gradually unfolding. The backdrop, Casablanca’s beach in Morocco. The short begins in medias res. The camera becomes an omniscient eye with free will, deciding who to spy on and when. Crosscutting between noisy children playing, adults talking loudly, and couples in-the-making discovering each other and by extension themselves in harmonic semi-silence – unaffected -, the film flawlessly captures the weight such an encounter may carry. All the noise is canceled out, as that person becomes the center of attraction. Chaos and unity bring into existence the essence that is life; an interchanging of commotion and calmness – an equilibrium. There’s something about this short’s rhythm that envelops the mise-en-scene, holding it together as a unified whole that points back to the emergence of sexuailty in its palpable moment of realization.

The intensity of desire is universal, though sometimes it’s left unseen, as if not-existent, in the eyes of the dominant world-view. Jimmy Olsson’s Alive (2020) negotiates this very topic with admirable sincerity and humor when needed. A story about people with disabilities and their right to feel desire and be wanted in return, told through the life of Victoria (Eva Johansson) and her caretaker Ida (Madeleine Martin). A product of Swedish cinema, the short carries the nordic atmosphere of its locale. A gloomy color palette is used during scenes shot in interior spaces, so carefully handled by cinematographer Staffan Övgård as to create a visual harshness and by contrast a lingering, romantic aura. Inner feelings are projected onto frames to emphasize Victoria’s state of mind. Alive is a film about the role sex has on people’s existence no matter what cards life has dealt them. 

Though sexuality may be part of physical development, it’s not an identical formula replicated by every human being on Earth. An Anna (2020), a short film written and directed by Denise Riedmayr, follows Anna (Emma Preisendanz) for a few summer moments. Singing, dancing, smoking and drinking teenagers. Talking about sex and partying. Quite a common sight in movies and TV shows nowadays. Closeups of body parts, and specifically bare skin under the sunlight that’s not explicitly sexual, but it nonetheless brims with sensuality because everything does at that age from time to time. There’s even the typical pool scene of coming-of-age features, which indicates an identity rebirth, but it feels somewhat out of place since nothing of significance precedes it. Working with mirroring effects throughout its 20-minute running time, that instance of revelation in terms of Self will eventually come, when the place and the time feels right for Anna herself. An Anna talks about peer pressure. It’s emblematic of how ready people are to accept anything recognizable, but nothing that stands outside the spectrum of heteronmatve ideology. Most importantly, it’s about the strength that comes with owning who you are despite living in an environment that lacks any type of support while growing up. 

Regardless of one’s sexual orientation, however, one thing is for certain: there’s a rite of passage everyone goes through. Stepping over a threshold, people leave something behind i.e. their childhood. The section ends with David Pinheiro Vicente’s O Cordeiro de Deus / The Lamb of God (2020) showing a family’s life during the religious festivities of a small Portuguese village. The family is composed of adults, innocent children, a lamb, and the possible protagonist, a teenager who is between these two life-stages. A highly metaphorical take on sexual awakening, accompanied by the suffocating presence of heat and desire that culminates with a violent sacrifice. Ultimately, Pinheiro Vicente poses a lot of questions, but provides no answers. Truth be told, that’s the nature of his chosen topic as this developmental stage raises questions whose answers can only be uncovered by each human being for themselves. 

Overall, “(Re)framing Desire” presents a universal subject that speaks to everyone regardless of their background. From Morocco and Sweden to Germany and Portugal, the section is indicative of how desire permeates our lives. It boldly demonstrates that while it can be an instinctual response for some, it can also become a societal obsession that fosters confusion making it difficult to gain self-knowledge whenever one’s inner voice says something different from the dominant narrative.  

Ioanna Micha is a freelance copywriter based in Athens, Greece. She watches films. She reads about films. She writes about films. Generally speaking, if the word film is in the equation, she’s in.