Runtime: 73 minutes
Directors: Sungbin Byun, Yujie Cao, Akira Kamiki, Arun Fulara & Dan Dansen
By Calum Cooper
“Love or Something Like It” (2020) is a collection of short films that are united by a lot more than their identities as LGBTQ+ media. Although each short is unique, be it the visuals, length or even language, all of them are encompassed by their shared views. The title really is appropriate as there may be some extent of love within the narratives, but it is as much about the desire of physical and intimate companionship.
Presented as part of the Scottish Queer International Film Festival, “Love or Something Like It” tells five separate stories: the first is of a mother of a disabled man finally learning of his sexual preference. The second is an experimental stage play of sorts that demonstrates how childhood memories shape our most intimate relationships. The third is a retelling of an 18th century poem, conveyed through mobile phone images. Fourth is about a middle-aged man going to the barbershop where his crush works; the final, and longest, short features three men in an open relationship going on a countryside holiday and finding conflict with one another.
Each one of these shorts have their own identities, with all featuring their own directors, styles, and even countries of origin. They span countries including, but not limited to, South Korea, Brazil, Germany and the UK, but there is a universality to their structure. Even though the first short is in black and white, another two are effectively just a collection of images, and the last two are vastly different in length, they all share a common ideal – that love can take on many shapes, specifically in regards to sexual awakenings and urgings. Discovering our sexualities is exciting, but how we choose to express it is just as fascinating. Each short on its own conveys this theme, but in stringing them all together we can see a full spectrum on love and lust and how the desire of companionship is something that isn’t governed by borders, cultures, language or time.
The film does a solid job of maintaining engagement with its audience via its multiple creative styles and execution of common themes. The third and fourth shorts (known individually as “Haiku from a Dead Poet” (2020) and “Sunday” (2020) respectively) are particularly strong, perhaps due to their sentimental tones. It’s exciting to see just how many ways one core message can be delivered depending on who is at the helm.
“Each short on its own conveys this theme, but in stringing them all together we can see a full spectrum on love and lust and how the desire of companionship is something that isn’t governed by borders, cultures, language or time.”
However, there are things worth knowing about the film before considering a watch. The very first short, “Hands and Wings” (2019), is quite graphic, as it depicts a mother helping her disabled son to masturbate. The primary point of the short appears to be about consent and parental pressures regarding sexuality, especially the stigma surrounding anything other than heterosexuality, and it does do this well in fairness. But its execution through its depiction of sexual abuse is still something that can cause more discomfort for certain viewers than perhaps the short was intending.
Also, it is unfortunately one of those compilations where the stronger shorts feel head and shoulders above the weaker ones. None of the shorts are bad per se, but shorts two and five (“The Room Between Her and Her” (2020) and “More than Two” (2020) respectively) do leave something to be desired. Short two is experimental admittedly, so some of that can be down to my own interpretation, or lack thereof. But short five feels like its runtime has been deliberately stretched out to suit a story that feels rather hollow in its characterisation. They’re both well-made, and short five makes impressive use of improvisation from its actors, but they feel like they don’t say as much as they could’ve done with their chosen subject matters, be it childhood influences or jealousy.
“Love or Something Like It” is an example of a film that is arguably greater than the sum of its parts. Say what you will about the shorts on an individual basis, but the joint statement all of them make is a vital one on diversity and acceptance that we desperately need to hear as the world we live in becomes seemingly bleeker. Love and intimacy is something everyone regardless of background or orientation can understand, and the way “Love or Something Like It” champions this makes it worth the price of admission.