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Black Aura on an Angel
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by Tom Ciorciari

"An impressive and nervy debut."
3 stars

(Screened as part of the 2005 Black Harvest International Festival of Film and Video) Digital video has provided budding film-makers with a reasonably affordable format in which to mount their works. Of course the downside of this is that any yahoo with cinematic aspirations and a couple of bucks also the means by which to let loose on the public (see “Au Pair Chocolat”). Using equal amounts of intelligence and subtlety multi-hyphenate Faith Trimel has constructed a thoughtful and thought-provoking debut with “Black Aura On An Angel”.

The plot of Black Aura... is deceptively simple: two African-American women embark on a torrid love affair only to have one’s emotional instability and growing psychosis devastate them both. But by keeping the plot streamlined Trimel (who not only wrote, directed, produced, edited and stars, but composed the original songs under the stage name Trymel as well) gives her actors room to breathe and fully flesh out their characters.

As Phaedra, the uninhibited and psychologically unstable half of the tragic couple, Sherry Richardson has the flashier of the two leads. Sensual, unpredictable and surprisingly fragile, Richardson’s Phaedra is a thoroughly believable nightmare goddess; never does she resort to the over-the-top histrionics that characterized Glenn Close’s similar turn in the monstrously popular Fatal Attraction. Doing the most with the least (role-wise, that is), Debra Calloway Duke (Sweet Home Alabama) imbues the coulda-been-ridiculous character of Jennings, a front parlor psychic, with grace and dignity, even as she spouts some of the sillier lines in the script. Casting oneself in the lead of your freshman film can either be a stroke of genius (Citizen Kane) or, more often than not, an act of incredible hubris (The Brothers McMullin). In this case, however, the casting pays off. Trimel grounds her own film with its strongest performance. Her Angel is thoughtful and intelligent, a sophisticated and well-educated young woman, yet you never doubt for a moment that she could find herself so deeply enamored with the increasingly neurotic Phaedra, so honestly ingenuous are the performances.

Directorially, however, Ms. Trimel isn’t quite as adept as she is before the camera and almost sinks the entire film almost before it’s begun with a silly, pretentious sequence compromised solely of slo-mo and flash cuts that creates the kind of histrionics Trimel’s otherwise low-key script seems to purposely avoid. But once the story falls into the flashback mode that will bring us full circle to the events portrayed so ludicrously in those first few minutes things fall into place rather nicely (if, at times, a bit too lethargically – there’s low-key and then there’s Gus Van Zant/Jim Jarmusch territory). The theme of a lesbian affair between two African-American women could easily have gone awry. One can imagine the same plot put forth as an angry lesbian manifesto, or a sexually explicit blaxploitation flick, but it is to Trimel’s credit that neither race, nor sexual orientation is ever made a specific point of. What she presents is simply two people who fall in love. That they are women of color is beside the point. That they are lesbians is beside the point. And it is in the small moments of their relationship that the film finds its sensual rhythm; a sensuality that is portrayed with a candor, ease and confidence more at home in the unbridled 1970s than today's wary-of-offending red state mentality.

To be sure there are some technical shortcomings to be found – a result, no doubt, of the production’s limited budget – and as the film was originally prepared as a short (it was expanded to its current feature length – still a paltry 65 minutes – during production) it does at times drag as if to fill the time quota. But Faith Trimel and her talented cast do acquit themselves nicely, creating a compelling freshman film, every bit as good as the neophyte Scorsese’s “Who’s That Knocking At My Door?” was in 1967. With “Black Aura On An Angel” Ms. Trimel proves herself a talent that, I expect, we will be hearing a great deal more off.

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originally posted: 09/14/05 15:17:04
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Directed by
  Faith Trimel

Written by
  Faith Trimel

  Faith Trimel
  Sherry Richardson
  Debra Calloway Duke

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