In a filmic landscape where women are often represented through stereotypes, So Long, the latest film by Caitlin Farrugia and Michael Jones and premiering at the 2018 Melbourne Queer Film Festival, offers something different. “We wrote this film wanting to have really intricate characters for women, sick of having women being typecast by being mothers, or lovers, or girlfriends, or that sort of thing. We wrote the film really wanting female representation – and good female representation.” The fact that the lead characters of the film are lesbian is also important: “It was about them being women and them being lesbian – and having that representation on film and seeing it in its normality.”
So Long is, in fact, about Emily (Kimberley Lisle) and Ray (Eva Seymour), who are in their twenties, and follows them as they grapple with their post-breakup lives. Yet, as Farrugia says, “they’re not defined by being women and they’re not defined by being lesbians; they’re defined as just people who live lives.” Indeed, the film, split into two parts with each of the parts following one of the characters, is about them “regaining their independence. We wanted to show them by their pursuit of identity and independence.”
The filmmakers show this pursuit in a naturalistic way. This approach began through their work with the actors, who integrated, as Jones says, “their personal lives into the character’s lives. We wrote the script, but it was quite loose, and it was quite improvised. It was about giving the actors the freedom to bring their own experiences to the role to make what their characters were going through feel real.”
In fact, while Farrugia originally wrote character backgrounds before they cast the film, these were changed after Lisle and Seymour came on board. While shooting, Farrugia explains, “we’d just talk to the actors about what we’d want to achieve and then the actors, who are amazingly skilled and creative, would come up with the dialogue in that moment. And we didn’t do a lot of rehearsals either because we wanted the dialogues to be fresh and in the moment so that if people stumble on a line or repeat something, we liked all that!” The improvisation was later cleaned up during post-production: “some of the scenes might last three minutes but a rough cut of that scene could have run twelve minutes,” explains Jones. “We’d have to cut out so much improvisation to make it, I guess, not boring.”
Lisle and Seymour were certainly up to the task. Both had previously worked on the directors’ previous film, Lazybones (2017). Lisle is also a stand-up comic and they first met her at one of her shows. Her comedy skills can be seen in So Long: “A lot of Kimberly’s funny bits in her part of the film are all her stand-up stuff,” explains Farrugia. “And if we had written funny parts for her, she would take them and make them better.” They met Seymour through casting and after working with her on Lazybones became good friends: “she’s really talented and we wanted to work with her again,” says Jones.
Her character’s narrative feels particularly contemporary, as it includes a scene in which she is harassed by a man. Despite this, So Long was completed before the Harvey Weinstein scandals, and, as mentioned, the directors didn’t want to make a film where being women was a defining thing. However, Farrugia explains, “as I wrote Eva’s section of the film, it just kept coming up. It was almost inescapable, unavoidable. I think part of being a woman is that the majority of women will have these stories of harassment and abuse, whatever the scale is. So, that just wound up in the story because I think it’s just a natural part of female’s narrative.”
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Caitlin Farrugia and Michael Jones