Besties Explores Queerness and the Postcolonial Condition at VQFF

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Although much of the 2022 Vancouver Queer Film Festival (VQFF) lineup was offered online, Best friends (Where Best in French) made its Canadian debut at the York Theater on August 20. The film is the only festival program to have been written and directed by a lesbian.

Director Marion Desseigne-Ravel’s play is a touching story about dealing with queer confusion and vulnerability – as well as coming to terms with the harsh realities of teenage and postcolonial French life.

Best friends joins the director’s other shorter works in telling stories about the working-class suburbs of France. Located in the growing Franco-North African community on the outskirts of Paris, Best friends follows a spirited teenager named Nedjma through life in the projects with her loyal band of best friends. She soon meets Zina, a new nice girl who has moved into the same Buchanan Tower apartment building, but has joined a rival clique of neighborhood girls.

Despite the backdrop of bullying, peer pressure and violence among groups of young women, a spark develops between Nedjma and Zina, and the plot begins to unfold. A river, bench, and rooftop encounters are all involved. Headset sharing too.

Both face a double stigma: they both cross the lines that divide their rival gangs and express same-sex love and desire in an environment that disapproves of it.

The dynamic between Nedjma and Zina gave off major Romeo and Juliet (or I guess Juliet and Juliet in this case) vibes, without the double suicides or creepy 17th century gender roles. The film’s hip hop beats, suburban Parisian slang, and portrayal of social media usage also make it a refreshingly modern tale.

This film certainly belongs in the ranks of what my French film prof would call suburban cinema and auteur cinema (arthouse cinema), genres that emerged on the French film scene in the 1970s. and 80s and which seek to explore often overlooked and multi-faceted topics such as marginalization, crime and youth.

Best friends does an admirable job of highlighting the contexts of immigrant family expectations, intergenerational differences, and the impacts of colonialism and migration on subaltern groups in the suburbs of Paris.

These themes shone poignantly through a candid discussion between Nedjma and her mother about their various anxieties in suburban life as Franco-North Africans of different generations. Her mother often thinks of her transition from colonial rule in Algeria to finding a community in France, while Nedjma seeks to clarify the hateful dynamic between rival clans within the projects.

The climax and denouement of the film seemed to come a bit abruptly, and I felt the final scene left me a bit more to flesh things out. That said, Desseigne-Ravel nonetheless made a compelling queer film that joins the ranks of other meaningful and worthy French films on my watch list.

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