Written By, Clent Bowers
The Family Tree, by Writer, Director, Producer, Jorge Ameer, Is the latest in a series of stories that center around Male attraction, affection, and sexuality.
A great deal of thought goes into an Ameer film, as in most independent films. Each time Ameer introduces a new piece, his signature becomes clearer and more refined. His subject and field of interest have not wavered over the years as he digs deeper into the subconscious of what it means to be a man, in today’s vernacular who is, fluid. This means in this case, pan-sexual or able to love someone regardless of gender, completely.
His narratives also eternally yearn for an understanding of the one who would be distanced and polarized, to instead be, valued, cared for, and allowed to thrive without judgment. In essence, be one’s authentic self, amidst what the rest of the world insists must be normal. In each film, Ameer finds ways to uncover, through fictional situations, this very real human condition that has been a troublesome cornerstone for same-sex relationships in particular for centuries.
In the world of Opera, Ameer’s narratives express somewhat lavish ideas. Even if the budget doesn’t allow for the full realization of what he has imagined. His strokes are normally broad, and therefore, in his passion, he often misses fine details.
But here, his inspiration has taken a long-awaited leap. Bringing a subtle and personal intimacy to the forefront of his work with great success and that is a welcomed development. A huge compliment to his imagination and concepts.
In “The Family Tree”, for the first time, Ameer comes closer than ever to capture a full and complete love story between two men. We begin of course during the holidays. It’s New Years’ Eve in Panama and we open meeting our young protagonist, Victor Gardel, played by KEITH ROENKE, as an isolated and fear-filled soul. We find him riding his bike while hearing a voice talk of the hardships of failed love.
Next, we find Victor at his apartment making a giant Muneco. A tradition of making a life-sized doll out of an easily destroyable substance (newsPaper, water & starch), and blowing it to smithereens to make a wish for something good or to get rid of bad memories. This year, Victor has made his doll to be the likeness of Santa. A universal symbol of patriarchal compassion and generosity; and it must be noted, discipline.
He puts firecrackers inside the doll, takes it outside, and proceeds to blow it up. He does this ritual alone. While he takes out the old and brings in the new, Victor mentally speaks about his childhood fears of being loved and rejected. He thinks aloud about the fear of being left alone after a death or of someone dying. He also remembers being diagnosed with philophobia and Thanatophobia, as a child.
During the fireworks and victor’s thoughts, we see a series of transitions that include a beautiful color display amidst an undertow of unintelligible dialogue. Along with a series of several blurred images including parts of blown-up Santa and what turns out to be a pair of boots on a costumed Santa…somewhere. When the vision clears, we are at an urban fashion show.
Here we meet Victor’s girlfriend, Alina, Played by the lovely, ANAIS LUCIA, who is hopelessly in love with Victor. Fashionable and smart, she instinctually feels her love for Victor is not being returned for more than friendship. She, therefore, appears melancholy as well.
On their way home from the celebration, where we have learned tonight is her birthday, Victor initiates a stop by his mother’s apt where he has arranged a human “Male- Gram” Birthday card to deliver his wishes, as a surprise.
Once there, The Male-Gram, who arrives dressed in the Santa Suit, Roy, played by, MICHAEL JOSEPH NELSON, cool, scruffy and mysterious, takes a stiff drink from a flask before he knocks on the door, and recites the poem that Victor has written. There is no initial chemistry between Roy and Alina. However, there is a brief sudden spark from Roy to Victor. Victor does not respond. Roy is invited in and the three have a good conversation. Roy decides to not wear out his welcome and leave. Afterward, Victor asks Alina to Stay the night and she declines. Victor concedes and walks her home.
Of course, they will all meet again very shortly. But from the moment Roy enters the scene, the chemistry between the three is palpable and we have a movie that is now on fire.
This chemistry will set the tone for the duration of the screenplay. Until this scene, The film at times is rough and hard to stick with. That is only due to a few technical elements that sabotage the film; such as sound. At times, it is a crucial problem, especially within the first fifteen minutes.
But once these three characters take hold of us, we are all in for the duration.
By far, the pinnacle moment of the film is in the culmination of the second act where the most impressive moments live; the love scene between Victor and Roy will leave you breathless.
It is one of, if not perhaps the best depiction of emotional male to male intimacy and self-discovery ever captured in a narrative film. Every moment speaks fearless truth.
Even the music, which Ameer neglects to credit, becomes a crucial character propelling the action forward. It perfectly accompanies the alchemy of emotions created by these two phenomenal actors during the scene. Their affection for each other jumps off the screen and grabs your heart.
Every element created centers around their performances and perfectly meld. Set, costume, cinematography, editing, direction, and, here definitely, sound, is pitch-perfect; holding you captive throughout. Making it beautiful and breathtakingly crystal.
What naturally follows the love scene is even more alluring, fresh, unpredictably, tender, yet heartbreakingly truth-filled; Every beat, compassionate, giving.
This, of course, has primarily to do with the continued commitment to uncover and reveal deep-seated truth by these two men.
Their brave ability to be present, open, and emotionally available. Taking steps into the unknown. The What If? Not knowing if either will be alright. But somehow, trusting both will emerge on the other end, supported, unharmed.
You believe they truly love each other.
Time and time again these actors express this exchange of care and affection with a clear, raw, moment to moment intimacy that captivates the spirit.
Including the beautiful scenes with Alina, whose character arc adds several surprising twists within Ameer’s plot.
Michael Joseph Nelson, Anais Lucia, and Keith Roeneke set ‘The Family Tree’ on Fire.
Throughout the film, Victor is the caregiver. The one who looks out for everyone. The one who seemingly does not think of himself. The pleaser. He’s even maybe apologizing for not being like everyone else. He spends all his energy caring for the ones who fall by the wayside; Be it animals, humans, or lost causes.
Ameer would have us believe that it is Victor who has been rescued by Roy. That Roy helps him rejoin the living and learn to love.
But from all indications throughout, Roy is as clueless to what is happening to him as Alina who believes Roy maybe some kind of wanted criminal.
What we see happening appears to be Life itself. Bringing to a pinnacle our protagonist, Victor’s, natural humanity of generosity and compassion versus his unnatural fear of receiving affection and of death.
This we can only derive may be based on his relationship with his father who constantly chants out his desire to have a traditional son and marriage. Not the part of himself, Victor has obviously hidden from everyone. Life in these days and months of this story has perhaps teamed up to pull Victor through to his true nature. In order to thrive in a period of his life where he may finally know and embrace the man he is, has always been, and Live. This, only Ameer can tell us for sure.
The Family Tree is an epic film with landmark moments If all other elements were in place throughout the entire film, Ameer, the cast, and his team, we believe, would have a competitive chance for many awards. As is, its merits can not be denied.
The Family Tree reflects a current segment of society youth. Who have been brave enough to acknowledge a condition of being that has long been a truth but shunned upon. They call it, being fluid. The ability to love someone completely without judgment and without limits, regardless of gender.
When a person’s “forever essence” is more important than what is limited about them.
Are these men homosexual based on their mutual attraction? If so, what were they before they met, having led heterosexual lives? Often individuals like this, nomadic and isolated souls, meet and become a family. Different and unique, yet by definition, a family. and today have become beautiful rare trees and bear equally beautiful fruit.
Yes, Ameer has achieved another milestone with “A Family Tree”. He still has a way to go technically. Until he addresses the technical elements and invests as much intense effort as he does with his creative storytelling he may not reach the goals he so clearly deserves.
As for KEITH ROENKE and MICHAEL JOSEPH NELSON, these men could have a formidable career as a blockbuster team in any genre of storytelling along with their Co-Star, beautiful ANAIS LUCIA. The camera loves them and so do we.
A police action drama or a sequel perhaps?
Rated R: for Nudity Sexual Adult subject and content Not for language
” I simply Loved this Movie”, Monica Mbegeure