“TURTLE HILL, BROOKLYN”— An Urban Love Story


“Turtle Hill, Brooklyn”

An Urban Love Story

Amos Lassen

Will (Brian W. Seibert) is turning 30 and he has secrets. He is gay and lives with Mateo (Ricardo Valdez) but now something has slowed down their relationship. As he prepares to celebrate his birthday, Molly (Jeanne Slater), his sister arrives early in the morning and discovers that her brother is gay. This upsets her and he whole day moves forward with this “gay business” hanging around. Mateo is also upset because Will told him that he had come out to his family. This also brings an atmosphere of dishonesty about the guy’s relationship. But there is something else and this is what could ruin the relationship of Will and Mateo.

People arrive for the party and with it the fun. As always happens, politics becomes a hot issue and there is a lively discussion about gay marriage. An uninvited Log Cabin Republican has his say as well. Before the party ends, a secret is revealed, there is a fight and the festivities continue. When Luis (Ariel Bonilla), Mateo’s friend arrives and tells everyone that he is going home to Mexico because he cannot find suitable employment and is tired of being treated as a second-class citizen. We learn that Mateo shares that feeling although Will was not aware of it.

The screenplay is by Seibert and Valdez so it is no wonder that they wear their roles so well. As Will and Mateo they are trying to work out their relationship and look at what they need as individuals and what is necessary for the two as a couple. Of course, things are put on hold for the birthday party when a group of friends arrive and they are diverse—men, women, straight, gay, Latino, American—everyone has come to wish Will well and little did anyone know that this party would turn out to be something else.

The director, Ryan Gielen, had a wonderful script to work with and since the writers are also the actors, directing them was almost easy, I would guess. With the feelings and tensions of Will and Mateo at the center, everything else revolves around that.

While this is a movie about a gay couple, the movie should appeal to a broader audience than just a gay one.  This is a personal story, all of us have been through something like it and many of us are well aware that a relationship must be based on compromise and it is necessary to give in order to take. Being involved does not mean cruising is out, it does mean (unless agreed upon by both men) that cruising is looking and nothing else. You can still go to the restaurant and read the menu; you just cannot order what you want.

The entire film happens during the course of just one day and what happens at the birthday party. The party serves as the scrim against which the relationship hits a crisis when a guest arrives. I love the way the party is filmed and the way the dialogue sounds so completely natural and never allowing us to forget that we are at a party. We see the day of the party in a vignette style and these vignettes all come together at the party. We see the passage of time through the muting of colors.

The cinematography is also interesting. From what I understand the film was shot by a hand-held camera which recorded the activities while a second camera focused on how others felt about Will. The way this camera was introduced was clever— it was Mateo’s birthday gift to Will and it is then used by one of the party goers.

I think what is the most surprising aspect of the film is how we feel we are actually there. It is the realism of the script and the actions of the cast that draw us in. Additionally, we are witness to a situation that is not really very far from any of us. Siebert as Will really turns in a fantastic performance as a man facing the crossroads of his life. On the other hand, Valdez as Mateo seems to be overdoing it a bit and this is probably deliberate so that we understand that is almost impossible for Will’s sister and Will to discuss his lifestyle.

This is the first film that I have seen by Ryan Gielen and I am totally impressed by what he has done here. Now I am going to have to locate his other films and join his fan club.