Under the Lantern Lit Sky, 2021.
Directed by Michelle Bossy.
Starring Jaclyn Bethany, Devin Kawaoka, Christy Escobar, Dan Shaked, Akilah A. Walker and Matt Citron.
Newlyweds Blanche (Jaclyn Bethany) and Alan (Devin Kawaoka) are celebrating their nuptials in 1920s Mississippi. Their union is nearing consummation when past events emerge to tarnish the moment, changing the relationship forever.
Writer Jaclyn Bethany is pivotal to the success of Under the Lantern Lit Sky. Combined with production designer Kit Sheridan, this human drama set in 1920’s Mississippi oozes decadence. Sexual repression, social taboos and conservative attitudes define this character piece. Coming in at a taut seventy five minutes, this concise study of marital convenience feeds into discussions around gender and sexuality.
Director Michelle Bossy has crafted an old-fashioned theatrical experience, relying on pitch perfect performances and an inherently southern social malaise. Devin Kawaoka and Jacyln Bethany take centre stage as newlyweds. Blanche is traumatised by the memory of an unwanted violation, while Alan is trapped by convention into hiding his desires. Veiled conversations, selective flashbacks and tragic outcomes shape the narrative of their lives.
Alan and Blanche communicate numerous insecurities confined within their wedding suite in the opening minutes. Intimacy and intellectualism clash, as differing agendas are addressed through individual memories. There is a yearning for acceptance from both, in terms of public opinion and sexual conformity. Yet Blanche’s indiscretion, provoked by inexperience and sworn to social silence leads her to Alan, who carries a few secrets of his own.
Director of photography Charlie Cole frames these characters in unflinching close-up, compounding that sense of claustrophobia already present in the piece. Dan Shaked brings in another dynamic element as Robbie, an old friend of Alan who satisfies an unspoken need. Elsewhere Christy Escobar’s Stella offers sibling support both in flashback and present day. For her marriage, status and family are everything as she vies for affections from those more drawn to sister Blanche.
Comparisons to A Street Car Named Desire or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof are inevitable, as Under the Lantern Lit Sky deals so specifically with that era. Tennessee Williams is ever present in mood and tone as turn of the century southern preoccupations prevail. Having said that Under the Lantern Lit Sky stands alone from those influences, to shape something genuinely unique which addresses the here and now.
With a score which is both achingly atmospheric and minimalist in its understatement, this film asks serious questions under the guise of old fashioned theatre. An aim which is buoyed by uniformly excellent performance from Jaclyn Bethany through to Akilah A. Walker. Non-essential exposition is banished and Michelle Bossy leans into the visual to accomplish an agenda of inclusivity. Neither judgemental nor preaching from the pulpit, she uses the backdrop of outmoded attitudes to illuminate a need for acceptance in modern society.
Under the Lantern Lit Sky will have its world premiere on June 12th at The Brooklyn Film Festival.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★