Port Authority review – a heartfelt and sensual trans love story | Film

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Here is a heartfelt and unexpected love story from the streets of New York City by first-time writer-director Danielle Lessovitz, a film-maker interested in intimacy; she gets her camera in close to faces and bodies.

The title refers to the Port Authority bus terminal, an often grim place of unhappiness and loneliness, where those arriving with little or nothing – transients and the homeless – first experience the cruelty of the big city.

Fresh off the bus from Pittsburgh is Paul, played by the British actor Fionn Whitehead (from Dunkirk and The Children Act), who has naively trusted that his half-sister – whom he has never met – will be there to take him in. Of course, she is nowhere to be seen and he is confronted with the reality of homelessness. In some ways, the film reminded me of Lodge Kerrigan’s film Keane (2004), which featured Damian Lewis as a man haunted by the horror of losing his daughter in the same bus terminal.

A faintly sinister and predatory guy called Lee (McCaul Lombardi) saves Paul from being beaten up on the subway, and gets him a place in a hostel, and a job with what turns out to be an aggressive bailiff crew removing people’s possessions.

Through the hostel, Paul makes the acquaintance of Wye, who is a dancer and part of New York’s Kiki ballroom scene – a carnivalesque LGBT club culture that evolved from voguing. Paul is captivated by the beautiful and charismatic Wye, but unable to cope with his feelings when he grasps that she is transgender. (Wye is played with charisma and style by the transgender dancer and model Leyna Bloom.) Lessovitz conveys the pure, painful and absurd muddle when Paul confronts Wye with what he feels is her deception: he angrily tells her he isn’t gay, to which Wye, baffled and exasperated, replies that she is not interested in gay men.

Soon Paul has to cope with feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing that run alongside his almost ecstatic sense of romance. He is desperate for a family, but his wary sister (a small, interesting role for Louisa Krause) cannot provide that – a lack made more painful because Paul is pretending to Wye that he is staying with her. The alternative family may appear to be Wye’s ballroom comrades, who are all crashing in her apartment. Of course, a conflict of loyalties is on the way.

Port Authority is vehement, urgent and sensual – not perfect, and I would have liked to have seen more extended dance sequences. But it is made with storytelling gusto and heart.

Port Authority screened at the Cannes film festival.

Source: The Guardian
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