A Film a Week - Bikini Moon

After a seven-year pause since his last feature Mothers in which he blended two fiction stories with a documentary about Macedonian serial killer Vlado Taneski, Milčo Mančevski is back with another lively cross-genre film experience Bikini Moon. This time, we have a documentary filming crew framed within a fiction story, a New York City-set urban fairytale touching a number of topics from homelessness, mental illness, class dynamics with a noticeable racial component and the interconnection between kindness and exploitation to the process of documentary filmmaking itself.

The titular character, played with gusto by Condola Rashad, is obviously unstable Iraq war veteran that catches the attention of the film crew lead by the director Trevor (Will Janowitz) and his girlfriend – producer Kate (Sarah Goldberg) in a social services centre while looking for a place to stay. Bikini’s story is not always coherent, but the background can be filtered out: after surviving a nervous breakdown following an explosion in the warehouse where she worked as a forklift operator, she was discharged with little to no means to support herself. Her only goal in life is to get her daughter Ashley (newcomer Mykal-Michelle Harris) out of foster care and back to her life.

Bikini is undoubtedly charismatic character, especially portrayed in arresting fashion by Condola Rashad, but unstable as she is and also prone to self-destructive patterns of behavior, she is not particularly reliable and trustworthy, which makes it harder for her all the time. At first, it is not even clear if Ashley really exist or she is just a figure of Bikini’s imagination. On more than one occasion, she would simply run out of an unpleasant situation to even less pleasant one.

Her sheer presence draws a rift in Kate’s and Trevor’s relationship. This is not all her fault, but she is still a contributing factor, maybe even a catalyst. The fact is that Trevor seems like a jerk half-interested in his own film project, but the real reason for that is Kate’s obsession with rescuing people in trouble no matter the cost. The whole thing will end with boom operator Krishna (Sathya Sridharan) stepping up as the new director and a dispute over the rights to the previously filmed material ensuing among the crew with Bikini taking a vocal part in it.

Written by Mančevski and first-timer W.P. Rosenthal, Bikini Moon offers more than enough narrative “curveballs” to keep it from being predictable and stale. The dilemma pitched by Mančevski through the character of Trevor about authenticity vs. the style in documentary filmmaking by the means of having or not having boom in the frame seems interesting enough to be explored a bit more. The decision to cast less known actors without established star presence was the right one as they fit perfectly in the background in the classical indie mockumentary style Mančevski is employing. The use of different formats and aspect ratios, including the vertical cell phone shots, is also commendable.

Mančevski’s idea was to paint the most realistic portrait of the city he lives in as independent as possible from the influences of producers, investors and politicians pushing their own agendas and he succeeds in his intentions completely, making a vibrant and serious film in process. Bikini Moon might not repeat the success of the director’s debut Before the Rain, none of his latter films did, but some festival and art house exposure is a realistic expectation.

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