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TRIBECA 2022 | YOU CAN LIVE FOREVER Is A Spellbinding Story Of Love and Faith

With You Can Live Forever, writer/director duo Sarah Watts and Mark Slutsky craft a spellbinding film full of longing, faith, and drama. Growing up a queer teenager in a Jehovah’s Witness community, Watts described this film as, “The movie I always wanted to see as a teenager”. It’s clearly a film based off the impact her upbringing had on her, but importantly, it honors those who have been, or are still in, a similar situation. It’s a very special type of film, wherein it highlights a deeply complex structure that rarely gets represented or understood in a way that doesn’t feel completely damning. With Watts’ direct upbringing in this community, You Can Live Forever is a direct beacon for those in need of guidance. It’s immensely powerful, and the duo were able to hone into something deeply moving and effective in such a short runtime.

Jaime, played by Anwen O’Driscoll, is sent to live with her aunt and uncle after her father dies and her mother suffers a mental breakdown. As part of the town’s Jehovah’s Witness community, Jaime is forced to grapple with a deeply unfortunate situation: she knows no one and cannot be her true self. As she is roped into attending a religious service, she looks upon Marike, played by June Laporte, the daughter of the community elder. This first sighting is so gorgeously handled, it’s instant proof that the film is in more than capable hands. As the religious music fades out in time to the slow zoom on Jaime’s gaze, You Can Live Forever expertly captures that essence of falling head over heels. As the two become closer, it’s clear that they are doing all they can to dull the sparks that are glowing brighter and brighter between them. Not merely for their own sake, but for that of their families and largely, all that they know in this small community. The fallout of such a revelation could be catastrophic in the eyes of this religious community that punishes homosexuality with “disfellowship”. As their feelings become more intense and harder to hide, the film soars as the two leads share fleeting moments of tenderness whenever possible.

Both O’Driscoll and Laporte have some of the most expressive eyes seen on screen this year. When paired with the immense longing the two share, literal fireworks might as well appear. It’s utterly engrossing, and every stolen glance or soft brush of the hands is akin to complete catharsis. Yet with these moments, there’s also a deeply visceral sense of tension. As Jaime and Marike gather more eyes upon them, every familial encounter or Witness activity shared brings a sense of dread that they will soon be caught. When these sensual moments are quickly shattered due to a horn honking or door opening, it’s as if the earth is opening up and swallowing them whole. That feeling of being blissfully lost in someone else makes way for a single question: when can it be experienced again? The main piano composition of the film is tonally perfect in this regard, building an aching suspense for when the two can fully embrace one another without worry.

Even as Marike and Jaime admit their true feelings towards one another, the looming belief of Marike’s religion seems to be ever present. As the two spend more time together in supervised activities, Marike hopes to change Jaime’s mind about the Witness theology. In these moments, Laporte is able to play her characters naivete incredibly well. Marike would very much like to have her cake and eat it too, no matter how tragic the end result will become. These moments of religious explanation make way for some genuinely lovely scenes, such as the “baptism” or what is akin to walking through paradise. Due to the nature of Jehovah’s Witness however, these tranquil moments of beauty the two share quickly remind the audience of the unfortunate situation at hand: these experiences very well may be fleeting, and who knows how many more are left before it could all fall apart.

Thus, You Can Live Forever is deftly able to balance the faith and love these two characters have in one another. Full of nuance, this film thrives in its subtleties both in front of and behind the camera. Those moments that cannot be described are often the most special, and somehow, Watts and Slutsky were able to vividly bring them to life. The intense drama of those around them paired against the passionate love the two find themselves in clash with one another as if the fate of the world depended on it. It’s reminiscent of the “new system of things” the Jehovah’s Witness in the film continually bring up. “Only after the world ends will paradise come forward”; You Can Live Forever simply aims to show that the heaven being sought after can be found right here on Earth, you just need to not run away from it, and embrace it with loving, accepting arms.

You Can Live Forever is celebrating its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Tickets for screenings and more information on the film can be found right here.

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