In Saturday Church, Ulysses is a 14-year-old boy whose family has bee devastated by the death of his father in combat. He is also starting to explore his feminine side by trying on his mother’s shoes.
When his religious aunt comes to live them to watch over him and his younger brother, Ulysses begins to spend more time out in the streets. Here he meets a few sex-workers who take him to a queer and trans drop-in center called “Saturday Church”, where he learns about voguing, among other things.
In the meantime, because he is bullied at school his aunt signs him up to be an altar boy at traditional Sunday church.
Torn between these two religious worlds Ulysses, and the people around him, occasionally break into song. But this is not a traditional musical; the singing is more akin to heartfelt poetry at heightened parts of this gritty story. With the first song coming twenty minutes into the film, it also does not follow the usual musical structure.
The songs instead add a dreamy and passionate expression to deepen the drama, rather than overtly call attention to them.
Writer and director Damon Cardasis says this story is inspired by true events and that might explain why there is such depth and lack of sentimentality. There are heartbreaking moments and quiet moments that simply ring true.
There is excellent work by the cast. Highlights include a Regina Taylor who is so understated as the religious aunt, and Indya Moore as one of street women with a quirky way of talking.
But it is the dynamic and open performance by young Luka Kain as Ulysses that makes this movie resonate. What could be cliché or overwrought is handled with a simplicity that is quiet, and yet speaks volumes.
The acting is great, the storytelling is gritty but sensitive, real but surreal. It is an emotionally satisfying story with people I was grateful to meet.
Saturday Church screens as part of the 2018 Vancouver Queer Film Festival on Thursday, 16 August 2018 at 9:30 pm at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts. Visit queerfilmfestival.ca for tickets and information.