As noted above, the invite for Steve Balderson's latest feature, El Ganzo, swore that something special was going to occur between a gay man of color and a white female within its running time. Here was an intriguing come-on, one hard to cold-shoulder, so I didn't. Happily, the film is a well-acted, beautifully shot, two-hander about a couple of gentle souls, thrown together by fate, who wind up the better for the confrontation.
Susan Traylor plays Lizzy, an attractive American tourist in Mexico on her way to a hotel. After her cab gets into an accident midway to her destination, she abandons her nonplussed driver, grabs her shoulder bag, and starts walking in the midday heat, seemingly stunned. Maybe she's received a slight concussion or maybe . . .
Many sunstruck hours later, Lizzy arrives at the hotel and falls instantly asleep even before the manager who shows her to her room can leave. She awakens the next day unsure of where she is, but she does find a wad of cash taped to her leg. Down in the lobby, she asks for her luggage, unaware she's left it in the cab. That isn't all she's forgotten. She's also wondering just who is this Lizzy.
Emotionally winded, she spots a handsome man (Anslem Richardson) sitting at table nearby and asks if she can join him. He nods. They chat. He says he's a travel photographer. She says she's a travel writer. You sense at least one of them is lying. Maybe more.
The pair go for a walk, and the guy quotes the poet Miller Williams, "You don't know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone." He leaves off the beginning of the poem, which might be even more relevant: "Have compassion for everyone you meet, even if they don't want it."
The chap is then on the phone with his boyfriend fighting. He hangs up, and eventually Lizzy and he make love. They go shopping, they go swimming, they walk past sculptures and paintings, and they connect. Is this connection more than one of two ships passing in the night or will they be dropping anchor? Probably the former, but . . .
This might seem minimal and possibly less than "unique," but in the hands of Balderson, his cinematographer Daniel G. Stephens, and his two actors, the result is a highly substantial and satisfying meditation on need and survival. Nearly every shot is germane to the characterizations, and that is re-enforced by Balderson's artful editing that now and then jumps a second, capturing Lizzie's state of mind and her mate's creative search.
Ms. Traylor, the daughter of the two legendary acting teachers, Peggy Feury and Bill Traylor, has a compelling presence on screen. As Lizzie, she dons the lovely visage of a ten-year-old who suddenly finds herself enveloped in a much older body and doesn't know how that happened. There is a delight here that fades into confusion and pain and back again to joy.
As for Richardson's homoflexible lover, he commands the screen allusively. He's masculine, attentive, and huggable, winning your affection and empathy without demanding them.
Adding to the festivities is the Mexico on display here; "splendorous" is an adjective that comes to mind accompanied by the unstoppable desire to start packing and head south.
(El Ganzo, the winner of Best Film, Best Actor, and Best Cinematography at the Salento International Film Fest, will play from September 9th on, at the Arena Cinema in Los Angeles.)