An is it a romance or isn’t it centered around a teenage suicide does not seem like a natural fit, does it? And yet that is the territory director Olivia Peace ventures into for her first feature film.
Screening at this year’s edition of Oxford Film Festival, Tahara is an odd film. Taking place today in Rochester, New York, it is a LGBTQ coming of age. That is the rather straightforward part. The not so obvious parts are the characters themselves (quirky to say the least) and the fact that the story is driven forward by a teen suicide. Not a subject that usually gets mixed in with romance.
Classmates at a particular Jewish school are shocked and upset when one of their own, Samantha Goldstein, takes her own life. A special class is set aside as a kind of therapy session for all of them to talk about death and how they feel about it.
Best friends Carrie Lowstein (Madeline Grey DeFreece – appeared in episodes of Succession and She’s Gotta Have It) and Hannah Rosen (Rachel Sennott – first feature film) have been friends forever. They attend Samantha’s funeral together and sit together at the in-class talk back session. The session looks at death through the lens of the Jewish faith.
Hannah is anxious by nature and worries about a lot of things. Especially boys and whether she is good kisser. So worried about the latter that she convinces Carrie to kiss her so she can let her know if she is a good kisser or not. Afterwards it is Carrie and not Hannah who has a revelation. This complicates everything. Especially when Tristan (Daniel Taveras – first feature film) enters the picture.
The fact that she is an interdisciplinary artists as well as a filmmaker shines through in the film as at several points the emotions of the characters are illustrated via animation and clay figurines. Adds an interesting twist.
Teenage girls…oufff! Tough! Tough in many ways. For them going through it. For their parents having to deal with all those hormones, mood swings, anger, and acting out. What this film does well is to not judge those jumbles of human emotions. No looking down its nose at Hannah’s anxiety and subsequent self absorbed behaviour. Peace gives them the space to eff up and be teenagers.
Silently we see the end of a friendship and more importantly see, with out own eyes, how friendships can be toxic. Doesn’t matter that you have been friends forever, if the person is no good for you move on! Friends are vital for us during our formative teen years, but the wrong friend(s) can have disastrous effects. Film encourages young people to explore who they are and to be alright on their own. Independence!