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‘See You Then’ burns out a complicated past

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Have you ever boiled all the water away from a pot? What begins as an innocuous simmer suddenly drains all the liquid away until you’re just burning the pot, rendering it unusable. Watching See You Then at this year’s SXSW felt like that.

see you then mari walker
See You Then (2021), directed by Mari Walker.

See You Then, directed by Japanese American filmmaker Mari Walker, is a story of attempted reconciliation between two formerly estranged friends, Kris (Pooya Mohseni) and Naomi (Lynn Chen). The film takes place in the span of a single night of nostalgic walks and painful re-livings of a past left unsettled as Kris and Naomi go back and forth between their careers, Kris’s new life as a trans woman, and Naomi’s domestic mediocrity. Drawing from director Walker’s own experience as a trans woman, See You Then incorporates earnest conversations about gender, family, and the relationships that get left behind.

Through ninety-nine percent of the film’s runtime, we are cradled between Kris and Naomi’s dialogue of who they are to each other, how long it has been since they last spoke, and what their lives look like now. It takes a while for the film to find its footing, and it throws out so much exposition that it’s difficult to assess why any of the information seems relevant other than just spending time with these characters. 

There are definite moments of bracing vulnerability, such as when Kris divulges that being a woman is more difficult than being trans or when Naomi outright calls the kids she teaches in her art class “snowflakes,” but they are too few and far between. Yet a layer of tension is omnipresent between the two and it feels like the most important aspect of their meeting is being hidden from us even as we spend more and more time hearing their thoughts.

see you then film
Kris (Pooya Mohseni) and Naomi (Lynn Chen).

This is confirmed in a final act confrontation where the most visually impressive scene of the entire film takes place. Kris and Naomi don’t hold anything back as the ruinous events of their past rise up and allow them to go for the jugular with accusations, counters, and some of the angriest tears I have ever seen in a film. I was holding my breath at how devilishly well crafted this scene was and it made me rethink how exactly we got here. Rather than suggestively push me in the direction of the film’s climax, I felt led on by its ferocity and surprised by the searing lack of reconciliation between two long-time friends. The ending alone gives a realistic element to the entire story, bringing up specific questions of what it means to see both your qualities and faults through the eyes of someone who used to love you and what it means to confront difficult inner truths between women.

However, the pot has been burned. The incredible ending makes the journey pale in comparison. I lean on saying that beyond a few key moments, we can just skip to the end of See You Then–watch the burn take place and speculate on the rest.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

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See You Then was covered as part of this year’s 2021 SXSW Festival.

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