It can’t be easy to release a film when half the world is in various forms of lockdown, cinemas are closed, film festivals have gone online or postponed, and no one has worked on projects for half the year. It’s even more challenging when you’re an independent film trying to make your debut like Sergei Alexander. However, despite these extra hurdles, I feel like this incredible film will gain traction because it is certainly worth watching! The short trailer, with it’s beautiful melodic tune, draws you into a story of a drag queen looking for a protege, a strained loose-knit “family” hurt by their past, and a young man in search of his real family. Even though they tiptoe through the taboo and illicit activities, “Your Eyes On Me” will draw you in and keep you watching until the very end.
Opening with Gloria performing, “Your Eyes On Me” kicks off with a bang. Before tonight’s show, Gloria (Paul Stone) is sitting at her dressing table while her/his best friend Toni (Niamh Sullivan) relays a dream she had about “Julia”. Before we can learn more, it’s dawn and young Alex (Jean-Philippe Boriau) is waking up and limberly stretching. During a brief interchange with his girlfriend, Kate, we learn that Alex is a dancer in search of the next gig. But later that night, Alex gets a phone call to meet someone the next morning. Turns out, he’s meeting a detective who has found whomever Alex is searching – his father a. Meanwhile, Toni and Gloria, who stays in character all day and not just while performing, visit a gravestone. Later that night, Alex visits the bar and after downing a few shots on the house from Toni, sits back to watch Gloria perform. However, Alex isn’t quite able to cope with the fact that his potential father is a drag queen. He bolts, but the uncertainty draws him back.
The next day, Alex returns to the bar to actually talk to Gloria but is confused with the auditions being held the following day. In an odd twist, Alex decides to dress up in drag himself and audition to be Gloria’s next protege as Kandi. After an odd and awkward audition, and despite being an even worse drag performer than Gloria, Kandi succeeds and gets the gig. Unfortunately his girlfriend finds the dress and leaves Alex. While Kandi and Gloria bond at their first rehearsal, things turn a bit seductive – until Toni’s daughter, Julie shows up and confesses that she needs a break from their little “family”, and her mom. Unfortunately, Julie does not take this news well. But while Julie is wallowing in her sorrows and wine, Alex and Gloria continue to bond at Alex’s apartment. In a weirdly seductive scene, their wigs get knocked off and Alex wipes away Gloria’s makeup to reveal the man underneath, Sam. They continue their seduction and share a kiss, which leads to a rather sensual sex scene between the two, whom we presume are father and son!
When Sam finds a photograph of his wife, Julia, on the floor with the note “my mother” penciled on the back, he discovers the truth – and runs. Returning to his dark days, Sam returns to alcohol and won’t answer the door to Alex’s frantic attempts to talk and explain. Thankfully, Julia is able to get through to Sam and lends that support. During this time, Alex has sex with his girlfriend Kate, perhaps to question his sexuality after sleeping with his father. Sam goes back over to Alex’s, but Alex sends him away. The next morning, Alex meets with his detective and is given an envelope. He finally goes over to Sam’s flat to talk to him. In a rather touching scene, Sam explains that he knows that Alex is his son after finding the photo of his wife and Alex’s mother – the same photo he carries in his own wallet. Alex admits that it’s true, the envelope contains the DNA test results confirming paternity.
Except the tenderness continues and despite knowing who they truly are, the embrace and end up in bed! But in the morning, the hint of romance is gone when Sam tells Alex about how his mother died in childbirth and that Sam blamed him for Julia’s death. When he finally realised how wrong that was, Alex was already given away. Later on, Toni explains how she fits into the picture and how she knew Alex as a baby! Toni met Julia while pregnant, and Julia persuaded Toni to not have an abortion. When Julia delivered premature and died, Toni also went into labour. Even though she had promised to look after Alex, because she was not family, she couldn’t take care of her own daughter, Julia, and keep Alex. All seems to be lost and shattered, but while Gloria plays the piano on stage, we are treated to a montage of scenes including Gloria calling Toni’s daughter about coming home, to Alex accepting his father and moving in with Sam, to Sam and Alex visiting Julia’s grave, and finally – Toni’s daughter returns home as well! A rather pleasant ending actually.
Initially, I was put off by what seemed to be a bad script. The trailer and synopsis focus on Gloria’s story, a drag performer searching not only for a protege but potentially a new lover. That’s the film I was expecting. Yet not even ten minutes into the film, we have the bombshell dropped that Gloria is potentially Alex’s real father. Even though we don’t know for sure yet, the many not-so-subtle hints are so obvious – it actually feels like the surprise is spoiled; that it was revealed too early. Thankfully, my initial impression was wrong. Or rather, what feels like the bombshell is actually a false summit when the REAL twist drops later on! And that was only the beginning of the roller coaster of connections between these initial strangers.
But despite the incredibly well-woven plot, there were some moments where I couldn’t connect with the action on screen. Specifically, there’s a scene between Gloria and Toni in the staircase of the old bar/theatre. The dialogue doesn’t seem to fit in with the prior scenes; it actually felt like they were acting a melodrama for fun – but they weren’t laughing, or there was nothing comedic afterwards. It just was jarring. Thankfully, moments like this were few and far between.
The third issue is actually connected to the script issues – I didn’t always feel a real connection between characters in scenes. While our rather unknown leads all did a fabulous job, it was difficult to assess whether the issue was between the actors/actresses or due to fallacies with the script itself. (Though one could argue that a great actor can breathe life to a poor script). Paul Stone as Gloria, at times, felt flat. While I strongly hope that this was a character choice (reinforced later when we learn more of his/her past), initially it was jarring. Equally, Niamh Sullivan as Toni seemed a bit off as well. When the two had scenes together, it was difficult to determine if their characters are just that cold and stiff, or if they lacked that back and forth connection that helps bring life to a scene. I know one thing for sure – we can hope to see a lot of great work from all of the cast in the future!
Cinematographically, “Your Eyes On Me” is stunning. Sergei Alexander brings in a depth of colour to each scene, creating beautiful images in every scene. There’s almost an art film vibe, as Sergei skilfully balances between imagery and dialogue. It creates a strong base for the powerful story to unfold upon. And boy does the script unfold! When Gloria is performing at the opening of the film, she’s captivating (even though her actual drag performance is a bit off). Later, when Gloria sits down to play the piano onstage, we are not only treated to her incredible talent, but Sergei takes us on a visual journey as we bounce to the other key figures in this drama before pulling it all together. Oh – and it’s set to a hauntingly beautiful score!
Sergei has written a beautiful story between two men: one is a not-so-talented drag queen, the other is a young dancer in search of someone. While we learn early on that there is much more than meets the eye between Gloria and Alex, the script tiptoes a quite taboo topic: incest. Early on, we get hints that Alex is looking for his father and strongly thinks that Gloria IS his father. As the story unfolds and Alex inadvertently auditions and wins the role of Gloria’s next drag protege, Alex’ initial conflict slowly morphs into something more – sexual attraction. We follow along this potentially disastrous path as both Alex and Gloria/Sam try to sort out what kind of love is there: the love between two men, the love a son has for his father, the love of an orphaned child finally reconnecting with his family.
Even though we instinctually know that any sort of romantic relationship between them is wrong, I was quite surprised to find myself wanting the two of them to work out; I wanted Alex to be wrong about Gloria. The true twist comes later, after the dramatic irony is shattered and everyone knows the truth – they still love each other and want more! And if this isn’t enough, Sergei weaves a strained mother/daughter plot that initially runs parallel before crash colliding and become entangled with the boys. For a budding writer/director, the end result is simply incredible and award-winning!
“Your Eyes On Me” was truly an enjoyable film, sending me on an introspective and thought-provoking journey. Sergei Alexander wrote and directed a brilliant film that delicately handles a very taboo topic: incest. But he does so by turning our expectations on our heads and instead of showing us how wrong it is, instead shows us that things are not always what they seem. The line is not always black and white; you cannot always help who you fall in love with. Not everyone will agree, but this film does one thing brilliantly – it forces us to rethink. Being this is Sergei’s debut film, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more incredible films in the future from him!