A trans woman, Deusimar (Yuri Yamamoto), runs a bar in what looks like a storage room, where her clients are a bunch of misfits including a man painted completely silver, a bearded Wonder Woman and a hoary old Spider-man, and her staff includes a man dressed as a rabbit. A stranger, Jarbas (Demick Lopes), comes into the bar, and soon starts an affair with Deusimar. She falls deeply for the sailor but in his wake the influences of the outside world come into this safe but unusual world, which increasingly threatens its existence.
My Own Private Hell is certainly a strange movie and initially I thought it was going to be a bit pointless and too pretentious for its own good. However, it quickly disabused me of that notion, revealing itself to be far more complex and heartfelt than it first appears. It’s essentially a devised piece created between the troupe of actors and the directors, which allows its unusual characters to have more depth than they probably would have otherwise.
By setting it in a strange place that’s partway between reality and something else, it encourages the viewer to consider and question what they’re seeing – it may be a ‘Private Hell’, but what is hell to some is a safe refuge for the queer people and outsiders who’ve made it their home. Even the way it’s filmed, where things in the same room – such as the bar and the seating area – are treated almost like separate universes, is incredibly effective. As the destructive influence of the outside world, from capitalism to gentrification, becomes more acute the physical space becomes more connected just as things start to emotionally fall apart.
With sequences of lo-fi green screen and an aesthetic that brings to mind things such as the heightened world of Querelle, along with an absurdist streak and a nice sense of humour, it’s a surprisingly effective movie. It’s undoubtedly a difficult film to describe as it’s not quite like anything else, but it was undoubtedly one of my favourite films of the BFI Flare Festival, with a neat ending that gets you thinking.
Overall Verdict: A strange film set in its own unique world, but an extremely effective one which takes its misfit characters and treats them with great compassion.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac