By Roger Costa
WELCOME TO THE USA
In her narrative feature debut, Kazakh filmmaker Assel Aushakimova paints a moving and intimate canvas of her country’s socioeconomic crisis seen through the eyes of a desperate for freedom 36-year-old lesbian. An outstanding autobiographical drama, the film opens with an anxiously Aliya (Saltanat Nauruz) sitting at an interview for the US Immigration, as she claims her lottery-winning Green Card. She is given 6 months to pack and leave, and then a farewell journey starts as she must navigate how to say goodbye to the loved ones who had always been in her life.
Influenced by Neo-realism, and presenting her own unique skills of storytelling, developed with an elegant, intellectual tone, Aushakimova follows Aliya through her personal (and momentarily secret) process of letting go her roots and the sense of belonging she always knew (her ill mother, her unhappy married sister, her close friends, and a liberal lover), punctuated by the cultural and bureaucratic obstacles she finds along the way. In these revelatory scenes, Aushakimova fully discloses the troubles and challenges endured by the working class, especially when related to sexual orientation.
In the role of the heroine, actress Nauruz gives a nuanced performance, embodying observational moments of melancholy, uncertainty and desire. She also has a strong presence and discreet charisma, developing an immediate connection to the audience. Anchored by this complex persona, Aushakimova achieved an enthusiastic and timely journey, a promising debut.
NO HARD FEELINGS
An accomplished look at racial tensions in Europe, first time director Faraz Shariat observes the turbulent encounters of a gay teen as he explores his sexuality and virtues. Working at a refugee camp, the second generation German son of an Iranian-immigrants family, develops a tender, complicated and intimate relationship with a handsome refugee and his sister. They struggle to help and clear her documents, as she is waiting on her deportation orders, while exploring the city’s effervescent dance scene and the uncompromised Grindr hook-ups.
Leading actor Benny Radjaipour gives a breakthrough performance, highlighted by his courageous attitude and solidarity.
Sensitive, honest and exuberantly fresh, Shariat imprints originality to the immigrant condition filtered through the experiences of a young gay man facing modern xenophobia and topics of equality and justice.
(Both films are playing as Official Selections at NewFest NYC 2020. Available Virtually thru October 30. Go to https://newfest.org/ for tickets and details.)