Relationships make for an easy subject matter to explore within fiction. With most people on the planet engaging in, or trying to engage in, romantic relationships, and with the varied different forms those relationships take, it seems like there’s no shortage for different approaches to take. See You Then, written and directed by Mari Walker, looks to explore a relationship that ended suddenly, one that still preys upon the minds of the two people involved, and what happens when they meet up years later.
The story begins simply enough, with two old college friends who became lovers meeting up for dinner. Kris (Pooya Mohseni) is in town to take part in a business conference, and decides to meet up with her old flame Naomi (Lynn Chen), who still lives in their old college stomping ground, and even teaches art at the college. You immediately see that both parties are nervous about this meet-up, and it soon becomes apparent why, as the film doesn’t try to hide what makes this a bit different from other stories about exes meeting: when they were dating, Kris presented as a man, and she’s since transitioned.
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It turns out that Kris is trans, and that she didn’t really realise this about herself when the two of them were dating years before. Kris talks about how she kind of knew, but was still figuring it out, and that her doing so was the reason why she up and left Naomi without warning. Despite the potential bad blood, and lots of nerves, the evening seems to go well between the two women, and as the night wears on they travel from one location to the other, talking about their lives, their careers, families. The two of them begin to reconnect. However, as they spend more time together more painful parts of their old lives begin to come to the fore.
See You Then is not going to be the kind of movie that everyone will like. It’s a conversation piece, following these two women as they dissect their lives and discuss their dreams for the future. They’re joined briefly at times by other characters, often men who appear for but moments, but ultimately it’s just the two of them. They haven’t met for any real reason, there’s no big thing that one of them is waiting to bring up, and it just feels like a snapshot from real life, of the kind of meeting that I’m sure we’ve all experienced at one time or another. But even within the realms of these kinds of films it feels like See You Then tries to do something a bit more.
Queer voices are often overlooked in media, trans ones especially, so getting a film that squarely centres a trans woman’s experience is wonderful. Especially as the film doesn’t try to sensationalise anything. Kris is a regular, normal person. She has a boring sounding job where she works in tech. She goes to dull work conferences. She’s recently gotten out of a relationship with a man she met through her hobby. She’s a normal person. And the film makes a big point of this. There are times when Kris talks about her transition, how it saved her life and how she wouldn’t be alive if she hadn’t done it, but she downplays the idea that it’s anything ‘amazing’.
There’s a moment in the film where Kris gets visibly angry with the idea that her having transitioned makes her special, condemning the term ‘brave’; something she’s heard a lot. This is a narrative that is so often used in media that it seems to be the only alternative to the other big media representation of trans journeys: the tragedy. Trans people are either treated awfully, having lost their families and homes, forced into crime to survive, and often then victims of murder. Or they’re overcoming great strife, staring down fear and hatred, to blossom and become amazing. And Kris rejects these notions, showing that her life is no different from the average cis person’s, and that transitioning wasn’t something that makes her brave. It’s something I’ve encountered myself, more than once, and it’s a narrative that might seem benign, even positive, but often puts undue pressure on regular, ordinary folks who just happen to be trans.
Getting to see a trans woman represented as a regular, ordinary person was such a refreshing change. Especially as Kris is far from perfect. Over the course of the film we see that Naomi has her issues with Kris. Not for being trans, but because of the way she ended their relationship. Naomi has clearly been carrying this baggage around with her for years, and it may even be part of why her happy life, a life where she should be at peace, seems to leave her feeling empty and even jaded at times. Kris coming back into her life brings some of these issues back up to the surface, and over the course of the movie we get to explore this long held trauma.
The acting in See You Then is what really makes the film work. The script is well crafted, and it feels like a natural conversation, something that other films like this sometimes fail at, but it’s the two leads who carry the entire movie, and make it work. Lynn Chen is great throughout, and even from the first moments she meets Kris you can see that there’s something under the surface. Whilst at first you can pass this off as just surprise at seeing her ex having transitioned, you learn that there’s more to it than that. You can feel the discomfort and the pain bubbling just beneath the surface, even when she’s trying to be happy and kind.
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Pooya Mohseni is fantastic as Kris, and I think the fact that the film actually cast a trans woman in the role makes a huge, huge difference. Her pain over the hard parts of transition and the damage to relationships feels completely genuine, and she’s able to capture the absolute euphoria of getting to live as your true self in ways I’ve never seen a cis actor do so. The two of them manage to breathe a lot of life, and huge amounts of honesty into the portrayals.
See You Then takes a look at a very personal, intimate evening between two people whose lives have had a huge impact upon each other. It examines the ways that relationships change, how people evolve, going from wonderful moments of joy to some devastating revelations, and manages to feel incredibly genuine throughout.
See You Then is out on Digital Download on 11th April from Blue Finch Releasing.