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Imperfect Unions, a series of thematically-related shorts is playing at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival. The shorts are connected merely by the title’s weighty meaning: a collection of couplings that branch outside of societal norms.

There are films (none longer than twenty minutes) about the elaborate flag-lowering rituals held at the Pakistani/India border town of Wagah (Wagah, directed by Supriyo Sen), about the connections between Turkey and the EU and somehow coffee (Coffee Futures, Zeynep Devrim Gürsel), about interracial couples and the difficulties inherent in exposing traditional parents to a not-so traditional relationship (The Visitors, Samina Akbari) and much more.  It’s a fairly disparate smattering of subjects, and at times even the thematic connection seems strained, but, like any short program there’s good, and bad, to be had.

The film that stands out head and shoulders above the rest in the program is Wen Chih Yi’s Sleeping With Her, a beautifully composed piece about a young girl and the harsh rule of her sickly employer.  Quite honestly the film rises above the rest because of its high production value.  The lighting in the film, creepy and tinged with greens, captures the mood of lower-class Taiwan to a tee.  Even better, the dim lighting and sparse urban setting are used to invoke a sense of fairy-tale, a sort of Taiwanese Sleeping Beauty, arcade-game playing prince included.

Harriet Storm’s Beyond Kaden lacks in the striking production values, but still manages to explore an interesting subject: the issues dealt with in a gay relationship when one partner decides to become transgender.  The film is hampered by its gimmick (the framing interview segments are done in all animation) but still does a better-than-average job of frankly exploring the process of changing from female-to-male.  We see Kaden’s breast removal scars; we hear the worries of moving to the suburbs, the fears of future children’s unattended birthday parties; we hear the stories of testosterone’s rampant sexual side-effects.  Most interestingly, Kaden discusses the worries of fully completing the female-to-male change and how she worries that her identity will be relegated to the boundaries of gender-norming.  Beyond Kaden isn’t a ground-breaking film but it certainly portrays a sometimes “tough” subject with grace and respect.

Aside from Wagah and Beyond Kaden, the rest of the films in Imperfect Unions seem to address the same “controversial” subjects we’ve been addressing since the early-90s in surprisingly similar ways.  It’s not to say that  issues like the relationship between Iran and the USA aren’t important and shouldn’t be revisited, more so that these issues are still rife with interest, they just need to be approached in new and interesting ways.  An idea Imperfect Unions doesn’t always fully grasp.

What can be derived from a selection such as Imperfect Unions is that every union, between countries, states or individual are inexact, flawed and all the more beautiful for it.  Be it in the imagined cultures of a distant land or the carpeted entry way of your tiny apartment on 18th and San Carlos, we are all different, and our interactions, imperfect or not, reflect that.

Showtimes:

Thu, May 06 / 2:00 / Kabuki /