Review by Frida Runnkvist
How do you tell someone that you are in love with them? Do you tell them? Take the risk of losing your best friend and being called a poofter or a faggot, for the remainder of your school years? These are the questions tackled in ‘The Language of Love’, a ten-minute monologue written and performed by cinematic newcomer Kim Ho and directed by Laura Scrivano. With a witty, poignant script and a heartfelt performance by Ho, the film gives an honest look into the mind of Charlie, an Australian teenager coming to terms with who he is, who he loves and the confusion and frustration that comes along with it.
Set during a French exam in an eerie assembly hall, Charlie is asked to write a letter to his best friend. This catalyzes a thought process that quickly drifts away from French grammar and spirals into something far more intimate and vulnerable when he begins to talk about his relation with best friend, Sam. Some might be apprehensive about the film’s theatrical aspects and the lack of set-changes – fearing stagnation, but the text stands strong on its own and is performed with such sincerity that it grabs a hold of you without letting go until the final line is spoken.
As the film is a monologue, great pressure is put on Ho’s shoulders to carry the piece – and he absolutely shines. His performance is nuanced and the lines are delivered with conviction that makes him relatable. Nervously he fidgets with his librarian-pin, tiptoeing, telling amusing anecdotes before bluntly spurting out: “I’m in love with Sam. I’m in love with my best friend [—] and it scares me shitless.” The dialogue is witty and hard-hitting. It does not sound written but flows naturally as Charlie speaks about aggravating teachers and the Shakespearian qualities of STD-names before plucking up the courage to open up about his true feelings.
Although Charlie’s thoughts sporadically change direction the camera rarely leaves him, but the innovative use of lighting and editing keeps the film visually interesting. The camera swiftly cuts between different frames of Charlie’s face, his shaking hands and an emptying classroom, which externalises his growing anxiety and makes it tangible. This combined with the green tint of the film and a sidelight that quite literally places Charlie on a border between the shaded and the illuminated parts of the hall, gives the film its poetic and atmospheric tone that makes it so immersive.
Occasionally, the accumulation of these stylistic devices does come across as somewhat excessive, but it is a minor problem. Cutaways to Sam silhouetted against a window are not essential to the narrative, but are beautifully captured and representative of the level of enthusiasm and ambition held by the crew. As a result you still appreciate the creativity and the effort put into the making of the film, especially in light of the fact that it was shot in one day.
Love is confusing, messy, exciting and terrifying, and with compelling performances and an innovative visual style ‘The Language of Love’ effectively conveys the overwhelming nature of it all. Matters of tolerance and LGBT are key, and it is the honest way in which they are brought forward that makes them so forceful. Ultimately, Charlie is in love and the filmmakers understand that this is a universal phenomenon, that is not reserved for a chosen few. Rather than labelling his feelings and separating them from a supposed norm, they are paralleled with the feelings experienced by anyone who has been in love – regardless of sexual orientation.