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▶︎ Sequin in a Blue Room is available on virtual cinemas and digital platforms including BFI Player.
In the first 20 minutes of Sequin in a Blue Room, we establish the preferred modus operandi of a gay teenager, who uses the name ‘Sequin’ on a mobile app to seek out sex with other men. The sex is anonymous and rather joyless, and the boy deletes each hook-up as soon as he leaves, never wanting to see them again. So far, so familiar to anyone who has stumbled across some of the more downbeat gay dramas mooching around the edges of queer film festivals.
Then, when Sequin is invited to a sex party in a space bathed in blue neon lighting, the film whirls into a completely different, much more exciting direction, as we are plunged into a Lynchian queer underworld. The Blue Room sequence is a dialogue-free sensory thrill, as electronic music pumps through an exhilarating sexual journey tinged with danger and, surprisingly, romance, as one sex partner smiles and leaves Sequin with a tantalising instruction: “Find me out there.” Sequin will spend the rest of the film trying to do just that, but faces great personal risk on the way.
The opening credits declare that Sequin in a Blue Room is “a homosexual film by Samuel van Grinsven”, a clear reference to New Queer Cinema director Gregg Araki (The Living End, 1992; Totally F***ed Up, 1993), although Van Grinsven’s film is tonally very different from Araki’s slacker comedies. It’s hard to pin down. Some scenes play like a romantic comedy, as Sequin amusedly contemplates the advances of an endearingly dorky fellow student. Others skid into thriller territory, as a menacing older man stalks Sequin. Yet the film is confident and coherent, and the switches in tone never jar.
In Sequin’s world, masculinity is initially defined by suppression of emotional intimacy. We never learn the real names of most of the male characters, who are referred to by their dating app aliases. The absence of women is felt throughout, though never directly acknowledged. The most sympathetic and kind character is a drag queen, played beautifully by Anthony Brandon Wong.
Sequin in a Blue Room, which started life as Van Grinsen’s graduate project, is a riveting and constantly surprising debut. The Blue Room sequence is particularly accomplished, and all the performances are strong. Its final, extended sequence may not convince every viewer, but is a fitting conclusion to Sequin’s wild odyssey.
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Sight & Sound Summer 2021
In our current (double) issue we hand centre stage to 100 hidden heroes of cinema who have shaped film history. Plus Ben Wheatley on In the Earth, Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby, Victor Kossakovsky’s pig portrait Gunda, Jane Fonda interviewed, Limbo and refugees on film, and a look back at My Own Private Idaho. Available in print and digitally.Find out more and get a copy