I missed Ruth Caudeli’s Second Star On The Right when it played at Inside Out in 2019 and I was not going to miss her follow-up with Leading Ladies. And oh, how happy I am that I didn’t.
As five friends gather for a dinner party, they discover that one of the things they all have in common is keeping explosive secrets from one another. As their various points of view unravel over the course of the evening, we see how each woman’s version of events leads to one whole truth. And as each reveal pulls the women further apart, they must fight to remember what brought them together in the first place. Will years of friendship prevail or are past secrets too much to overcome?
There’s something that just feels so personal about the way Caudeli decides to frame every single shot. The film is a slice of life, a showcase of a moment in time. One where everything falls apart and reveals the true nature of each of the women. By creating vignettes, Caudeli is able to show the different perspectives of the same event. Able to show how the same night looks different for everyone. That isn’t just accomplished with dialogue, but by the way, the shots are framed, by the use of light in the vignette, by the selections of what moment to show from which perspective. Ruth Caudeli showcases an eye that is unmatched, a perspective that is so unique and yet feels personal at every turn.
Improvised, the film relies a lot on the five actresses and their chemistry. Each and every single one of them brings something unique to the table, and each gets a chance to showcase their skills. By making the story be told from different perspectives, Caudeli is able to peel the layers one by one, each reveal coming slowly and yet, never feeling far-fetched. This approach brings the film together, leaving the audience at the edge of their seat as more and more is revealed, as the secrets start pilling up and suddenly the rug is pulled from under everyone’s feet. It’s a technique that might have made the film feel long and repetitive but by simply using clever shots, Caudeli is able to create a film that instead feels fresh and exciting.
Queer friendship isn’t something that is explored a lot in feature and when it does, it is often done by making it about a queer man and a queer woman. Films that explore the friendship between a group of women are more often than none about straight women, but Leading Ladies takes a different approach. Yes, the film is about queer women lying to each other and we are watching the destruction of their friendship in a way, but by the end, the film is still hopeful, ending on a note that leads us to believe that their friendship isn’t over even with all that we have witnessed.
Usually, I would be annoyed by a film that is all about queer friendship and yet, is all about them lying to each other. But the way this film portrays it never made me mad. I don’t know if it’s because of the way the film just brings you in with the performances and the cinematography or if it is the story being so honest, but I never felt like I was watching something that I didn’t want to see. Too often, queer stories that are about betrayal are told from a straight perspective and so, queer people are framed as the villain. But here, the film instead asks the question of what if everyone is just flawed. No one is perfect in Leading Ladies, the characters make mistakes but they also never try to frame it as the end of everything, their mistakes are informed by who they are but they also feel remorse and they want to be better. But in the end, they are all human.
Leading Ladies’ intimate feeling is brought on by Ruth Caudeli’s eye for detail and the way everything is framed. The use of improvisation helps creates the dynamic story, creating this effect that we feel like we are watching five friends having a diner where everything just goes wrong. It’s personal, intimate and a film that just brings you in from the very first frame.
If you are doing films during Inside Out this year, I can’t recommend enough this gem.