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The Falls is an affecting, touching film despite its flaws. The script at times is creaky. Some of the acting, especially the part of R.J.'s father, is unconvincing. Certain scenes, even important ones, don't work because they are under realized, not carefully enough thought through. Yet enough does work in it that it succeeds in being a better movie than many low budget gay films have been. It has an emotional conviction running through it, a seriousness, that sustains it. And some moments in it, even what might seem to be relatively unimportant ones, like that of the two guys riding the bus, looking at each other, being affectionate, glow with feeling.
The sequel, The Falls: Testament of Love, is a better movie. Though it is also marred, it is more emotionally complex, the script is tighter and more purposeful, and, perhaps in part because of the larger cast, it is better acted. R.J. Smith, in a sense the movie's "frame," or at least the character who begins and ends the film and upon occasion serves as its narrator, is still stolidly, monochromatically acted. Most of the time, he appears stonily glum. His boyfriend Paul is so much more animated and emotionally alive and responsive, that one might wonder what he sees in R.J. who responds to him often so coldly.
R.J. is the film's biggest problem. His love for Chris appears almost obsessional, troubled and troubling. His trip to Salt Lake City, what he does there, are disturbing, just a few steps away from his turning into a stalker. It is unclear, at least to me, whether the film itself sees how excessively, and obsessionally, he is behaving, though by the end, in Chris's statement that "he forgives him," one gains a clarity that might have been shown earlier if R.J. had been acted with more subtlety. I am not judging R.J. He does what he does. I am just wondering if his character, the troubling side of it, is sufficiently portrayed, if he couldn't have been made less stiff and more emotionally conflicted, more self aware. He doesn't seem to know how bizarrely he is behaving, as when, just to offer one instance, he insinuates himself into staying overnight at Chris's and his wife's home.
One can say, of course, that he does what he does out of his love for Chris, to free him from his internal crisis by forcing him to admit that he is gay both to himself and to others. Yet his way of doing so at times borders on craziness, the lover in pursuit of his beloved no matter what, the selfish lover in short. Does the film see this? Or is it just me? I don't know.
The complexity I miss in R.J. is, however, much more fully present in Chris. Benjamin Farmer's performance of the character in the sequel is far more interesting than it was in the earlier film. His inner struggle, his suffering, his anger, the ways in which his closetedness endangers his life and lives of others, all these and other emotions are visible at times merely in his eyes. It is sensitive work that carries the film over its rougher moments.
Much of the supporting cast is also good, Chris's wife in particular, and some of the minor characters, like Aaron, another closeted and married former missionary, have scenes that are more convincing and resonant than any moments in the earlier movie. A few of the actors are still weak. R.J.'s father remains insufficiently depicted, for instance. But, since this is largely Chris's movie, it succeeds much more consistently than The Falls.
Of course, this is still a low budget movie, and moments in it betray that fact. The anniversary party looks to have been attended by about ten people, even though it means to fill a large hall. It is clear that much of it was filmed in the same location. There are gaps in the plot's logic that I can't elaborate upon here without giving away too much. The ending feels to me too tacked on, its openness less a gesture toward a more generous future than uncertain about who these two main characters, said to love each other, might be and become. Such uncertainty, one might say, is true to life. Fine. But the ending nonetheless strikes me as abrupt.
Still, like its predecessor, the movie carries with it real conviction. The best of Testament of Love is far better than the earlier film, better acted, much better written, and better shot. It is a stronger movie, serious in ways that far too many low budget gay movies don't aspire to be. Though it is flawed as well, it is even more moving, and what it is concerned with goes much deeper. The movie's religious themes, if often still superficial, nonetheless give it a resonance it would lack without them. But the heart of it doesn't lie in them. That is fortunate, I think. This is not Bresson we are watching, after all. It lies in the relationship between the two men.
At least one person in that relationship must dig deep inside himself to endure, to save himself and to love others, in particular to love a man openly and freely. One might wish at the end, perhaps, that the man he has loved and apparently loves still, R.J., had reached as deeply inside himself as Chris must do, to find himself as clearly (however differently) as Chris has begun to. It's an uneven film, then, yet, despite its small and not so small failures, moving and worth seeing.