Mardi Gras Film Festival 2023 Review: Shall I Compare You to a Summer’s Day? (Bashtaalak sa’at) ★★★

An experimental blend of film, poetry, song and more, Shall I Compare You to a Summer’s Day? (Bashtaalak sa’at) is an art piece that defies linear narrative or easy interpretation. We may start with a play on Shakespeare, but where we’ll end up…well, that’s anyone’s guess.

Egyptian filmmaker Mohammad Shawky Hassan has given us a story about stories. Two lovers dissect their past relationship from their own perspectives, finding truths, misunderstandings and miscommunications as they open up about their own journeys as young gay men. The same stories are retold, shifting each time. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this is some narrative puzzle to be solved. Instead it’s the spine to a multi-disciplinary collage of sights and sound—animation, songs, poetry, tableaux—that feel part-dream, part-therapy-session. It’s this confessional nature, much of it is told by characters speaking to camera as if prompted by a documentarian, that gives the film its drive. All the first-person stories build a multifaceted picture of what queer relationships are, what they could be, and what we want them to be. But also how difficult it is to hold a relationship together when we all bring our own assumptions to the table.

There is a density of style that makes Shall I Compare You… feel longer than its svelte 66 minutes. There is so much to unpack in this rich, pungent experience it’s almost claustrophobic. There is a sense of hidden desire, of gay Arabic men enjoying each other in dark rooms hidden away from a repressive world. The experience of watching it is almost as intimate and intense as the moments they describe in their straight-to-camera monologues.

For all its big swings however the final result veers toward self-indulgence and the layers of artifice rob the stories of some of their emotional resonance. This is queer filmmaking on every level and if you’re attracted to something more avant-garde, then Shall I Compare You to a Summer’s Day? might be the respite you’re after from the usual LGBTQIA+ cinematic offerings.

By Chad Armstrong

Shall I Compare You to a Summer’s Day? plays Queer Screen’s 30th Mardi Gras Film Festival, running in cinemas in Sydney and on demand Australia-wide from February 15th to March 2nd, 2023. Click here for tickets and more information.

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