With a cast of stunning Latin women, and Patricia Velasquez playing Liz, you would think writer-director Fina Torres was casting a beauty pageant and not a movie about complex characters dealing with issues of identity, grief and death. Not to stereotype these human emotions and experiences or to objectify beautiful women, it strikes me that, apart from Velasquez’s role, many of the characters in Liz in September fall flat as living, emotional human beings.
Liz’s love interest, Eva (Eloisa Maturen), who has just lost a child to cancer, whose husband is cheating on her and who is being seduced by a dying woman, is exceptionally flat. The few lines that are given to her don’t convey much emotion, and while she is going through intense experiences, her face, though incredibly attractive, often remains expressionless. Mimi Lazo, who plays Liz’s ex and a medical doctor, does a better job at expressing fear, love, grief and a plethora of other emotions that appear essential to me in the context of Liz dying of terminal cancer.
While I found the cinematography simply beautiful, with aquatic colours that make me wish I was by the ocean, the camera-work did not appeal to me. This is of course a question of subjective taste: I rarely like shakiness or blurriness. I have no doubt, however, that others will say that the form fit the content. Liz is sick and the disoriented camera fits with her experience of living with an illness that leaves her floored on more than one occasion, necessitating medical intervention to regain control of her body.
What I did love, and always appreciate in cinema, is the narrative of friendship between a group of women. It is the backbone of the film, set in a seaside cottage owned by Margot (Elba Escobar), a character that stands out for her drunken fantasies. Eva, who has just lost her son to cancer, is on her way to meet her husband when her car breaks down. The mechanic sends her to Margot, who may be her last chance of finding a bed in town. Liz, who is unpleasant with Eva at first, invites her to have dinner with her friends. Coqui (Danay Garcia) and Dolores are a couple, as are Any (Arlette Torres) and Alex (María Luisa Flores). The women who at first don’t appear overjoyed at the idea of having a straight woman interrupt their heaven, become interested in Eva after Liz bets them that she can sleep with her within three days. The bet is on and we discover Liz’s character through her seduction of Eva.
The movie is loosely based on the 1980 Jane Chambers’ play, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove. In an attempt to reflect the reality of 2015, much of the play’s thematic concerns about marriage, children and coming out were replaced with themes of illness, transition and closure. Yet, I would have liked to see some characters develop around the theme of children and family, particularly Any and Alex, who in the end adopt a child. Nonetheless, Torres’ decision to leave some things out and focus on others is a good one.View the trailer below: