There is an element of trust involved in every relationship. Mothers trust that their daughters make good decisions when they’re not around. Wives trust their spouses to remain faithful in their absence. People trust that their friends will support them through thick and thin. While You Weren’t Looking explores what happens when these bonds of trust are tested through the eyes of four women.
Dez and Terri, an interracial lesbian couple, have been happily married for twenty years, but the cracks are beginning to show as an anniversary gift leads to unexpected consequences. Their daughter Asanda has just turned eighteen and is starting to rebel against her upper class, highly educated background. When she meets Shado, a tomboy from the lower class end of town, she begins to explore her potential queer identity and the potential for a life completely different from the one she is used to.
These two stories intertwine with the issues of race, class, gender identity and sexuality, covering a great deal of ground. The film does a reasonable job of integrating all these various threads as it comments on South Africa’s culture, politics, history of racial conflict and the class divide. Asanda’s coming of age is particularly well handled as she travels to Shado’s home and discovers a life outside of her comfortable upper class life. However, the scenes of Asanda in her gender studies class beat the audience over the head with its message of gender as a social construct.
The rest of the film airs on the side of too ambiguous, resulting in the strange combination of a film that spends too much time explaining itself, while at the same time explaining nothing. It’s possible that this is a result of the “lesbian cut” that was screened at Inside Out, for which the filmmakers have eliminated several story lines. There’s also an ending that brings new meaning to the word ambiguity. For some of the relationships covered, this is appropriate, but for others, it leaves a feeling of incompleteness.
There are some lovely moments throughout, helped by wonderful cinematography and a great soundtrack. However, in the end, While You Weren’t Looking is very much about the ties that bind and the ties that break, and it would be nice if, at the end, they had done more than simply frayed.
Amanda is covering the 2015 Inside Out Festival live from Toronto. For more coverage of the festival, click here.