One of the themes running through the 2021 North Bend Film Festival was Identity. There were so many films that focused on the varying ways that one can become oneself. Queer Identity, Immigrant Identity, finding your adult identity as you come of age. One of the more haunting explorations of identity came with Erin Vassilopoulos’ haunting film Superior.
Superior opens with Marian (Alessandra Mesa) having a fight with her abusive husband. She manages to escape, running him over with her car in the process. Breathless and terrified, she makes her way to a small town in upstate New York. It is her hometown, in fact. The one that she left six years prior. It is the small hometown where her twin sister Vivian (Ani Mesa) still lives.
On the surface, Marian and Vivan are polar opposites. Marian is in a band. She lives a very free lifestyle, going from one place to another on a whim, playing music, drinking and living for the moment. Vivian lives a very domestic life. She is a homemaker, married to a very bland man named Michael (Jake Hoffman). She keeps house all day, they stay in all night, and have calendared their sex life because they have been trying to have a baby. Neither one of them really seems to be excited by the relationship, but it is consistent, which is what they both seem to prefer.
Marian shows up on Vivian’s doorstep, looking for a place to stay “because she has an upcoming recording session in the city,” she claims. Vivian is surprised, having had no contact with her sister for years. But she agrees. As the days go on, Michael becomes increasingly inconvenienced by Marian’s presence (they are constantly out of milk, for heaven’s sake), and demands that she start chipping in, if she is going to be staying with them. So she gets a job at a local ice cream shop to placate him. The gig is kind of boring and not her style. Plus, it is keeping her from working on her music. So she suggests to Vivan that they trade places for the day. Vivian will work at the ice cream shop, and Marian will cover the chores at home, which will allow her to work on her song.
One day turns into two which turns into more. The more time the sisters spend in each other’s lives, the more comfortable they begin to feel. They find some of the things that they have each been missing. Vivan finds life and connection outside of her home, and Marian finds a sense of security that has been eluding her.
This peace slowly begins to crack as Marian becomes aware that she is being sought by the police in connection with the accident. The accident that didn’t actually kill her monster of a husband, and that he is in all likelihood out there looking for her. Memories and phantom images haunt her dreams and eventually her waking moments as she starts to feel more and more at risk in her new life.
Vassilopoulos does a magnificent job in taking these two, very different individuals, and slowly painting them together. The character work flows like a watercolor. Separate at first, and then slowly pooling over into one. Vivian and Marian begin to take on one another’s characteristics. Over the course of the story, they flow together, becoming less two separate characters and one more one single character with two different bodies.
It’s a stunning transformation, and the way Alessandra Mesa and Ani Mesa play it makes it all the more powerful. It’s less a Prince and Pauper scenario and more the idea that the women are one organism that has been incomplete since they separated. And reuniting has brought something back into both of their lives. Something more than just the presence of a sibling. They begin to feel whole and one.
The film is haunting in a very unexpected way. It starts out as a bit of an awkward family drama, but as the characters begin to know each other and to know themselves in new ways, it morphs into something more abstract. The film is still narrative and plot driven, but it also becomes something that explores this sense of identity from an almost primal level.
Movie Score: 4/5