'Feast of the Epiphany': Film Review
This narrative-doc hybrid from the cofounders of the film site Reverse Shot premiered at New York's BAMcinemaFest.
As the film journal Cahiers du Cinéma greatly shaped the French New Wave, the film review site Reverse Shot may soon be remembered as the New York indie hub for critics turned filmmakers. Reverse Shot is host to some of the best criticism of our generation, and it's the site's co-founders, Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert, along with writer Farihah Zaman, who have co-directed this feature, a narrative-documentary hybrid that is perhaps more interesting than it is good. (Disclaimer: I do not know Koresky, Reichert or Zaman personally, but we’ve either briefly met or at least been in the same room before.)
The film, which had its world premiere at BAMcinemaFest on June 23, starts with a Kate Plays Christine-type meta scene of the actors in a room talking about their upbringing and sexual orientation. They feel like standard talking heads until the line between fiction and nonfiction gets blurred when you realize they may have been reading scripts for an audition the whole time.
The film then becomes decidedly fiction. We follow Abby (Nikki Calonge), a 20-something Brooklyn woman, as she gets rid of her puppy-dog-like lover before a big dinner party with her friends. She goes to a farmers' market, has an awkward run-in with an acquaintance and starts preparing soup and empanadas. It's hard to read what exactly Abby is thinking or why there's an anxious air about her, but she becomes visibly annoyed as her first guest arrives early, interrupting her concentration — and even more so as she gets to know a man named Jacob, a new beau of her friend Ryan whom she was not informed about (the lack of introduction has her peeved, too). Cinema has given us many an awkward dinner party, and this one certainly qualifies: You immediately get the sense that the dinner will end in some sort of friend group explosion.
Instead, the dinner ends with more of an implosion, and for a film that seems so intent on showing not telling — as there are a lot of quiet, suggested moments and body language scribbled with subtext — the character fill-ins at the very beginning seem out of step and gimmicky. Still, there's an intriguing, mysterious setup around the character of Sarah (Jessie Shelton), whom Abby supposedly needs to "be there for." For a minute it seems the party guests don’t actually like one another and have grudgingly gathered out of obligation, but it's soon revealed that at the center of this dinner table is grief; Sarah is healing from the death of a loved one.
Around the halfway mark, the movie starts to look, feel and move like a stage play, and reaches its most dynamic point. But as soon as the tension in the room is relieved, the directors shift our attention to a long, quiet interlude of snowy Brooklyn scenes, before taking us somewhere completely different.
Feast of the Epiphany takes a jarring turn around the 40-minute mark and becomes a documentary about two sisters who run a farm together (Reichert and Zaman both have documentary-making experience). This is not your typical documentary-fiction hybrid; there's not really a hybrid within a single scene, but rather the second half fully pivots to nonfiction filmmaking. Even the style of shooting makes that clear: We soon witness a talking-head interview with a farmer about chemical and industrial agriculture and the nature of her labor.
The transition is so sudden that audiences will certainly be confused. While the connection between these two halves isn't immediately obvious, the scenes of free-roaming animals and acres of farmland recall the earlier scene of Abby shopping at the farmers' market. The film never makes an overt tie between the two, but it leaves the viewer to piece them together — if they so wish — or consider them as separate films. Even as one may bridge the gap, there's no grand "aha!" moment as to why these two shorts make a whole.
The documentary section is perhaps less intriguing in setup than its narrative counterpart, but there's a quietly poetic slice-of-life atmosphere that's enjoyable (one idyllic scene of a man picking products while facedown is particularly soothing). It’s not until near the end of the movie, with a reveal about one of the documentary subjects, that the two films finally, even if vaguely, feel coherent in theme. Separately, the works may be rather unremarkable, but somehow, patched together, Feast feels thoughtfully crafted.
Production company: Reverse Shot
Cast: Nikki Calonge, Jessie Shelton, Meng Ai, Frances Eve, Sean Donovan, Shonni Enelow. Jill Frutkin
Directors: Michael Koresky, Jeff Reichert, Farihah Zaman
Screenwriter: Michael Koresky
Producers: Caitlin Mae Burke, Jeff Reichert, Farihah Zaman
Associate producers: Roberta Mercuri, Kate Patterson
Directors of photography: Ashley Connor, Jeff Reichert
Editor: Ben Garchar
Composer: Jean Sibelius