SXSW 2021 ‘See You Then’ Review: An Exercise In Empathy and Forgiveness

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Reconnecting with someone from the past can bring up old memories and feelings from when you last saw them. The time you spent together, the experiences you shared — these shape the idea you have of that person, but may be far different from the person standing before you. See You Then is packed with these concepts of reconnection and memory, exploring them through the experiences of a trans woman and her ex-girlfriend. 

Mari Walker’s tightly composed and honesty-driven film is filled with insightful conversations about being trans, existing as a woman, and what it means to forgive. Naomi (Lynn Chen) is an unsatisfied art professor who tentatively agrees to meet with her ex from college, Kris (Pooya Mohseni). Naomi hasn’t seen Kris since she left her with no explanation, only to learn of Kris’s transition from a third party. Taking place over the course of one night — in which the two re-visit locations from a past life and delve into the wounds that come along with it — Walker’s film is able to discuss several ideas with levity and honesty. 

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The chemistry between Chen and Mohseni is instant from the start, managing to indicate their complicated past from the very first minutes of the film. Starting first as surface-level small talk, their conversation soon turns to more complex topics that bring forth the tension between these two women. That tension rides like a wave throughout the film as the two discuss Kris’s transition, Naomi’s disappointing life, and the unresolved pain that exists between them. While circling these topics, discussions of femininity, misogyny, and social norms arise. Walker, who penned the script with Kristen Uno, suggests complicated ideas for these characters to examine, offering different perspectives on the topics.

While at first the two’s deliberations on how women aren’t treated fairly in the workplace are entertaining to watch, it takes a more uncomfortable turn as Naomi asks Kris personal questions about her transition. Despite some cringe-worthy questions, Kris takes it lightly and answers honestly. This light mood carried over the underlying tension of the film makes an already short runtime breeze by. However, eventually that tension catches up with the characters, and they have to face the pains of the past.

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Although much of the dialogue’s subject matter is interesting and engaging, some parts of it feel too emotionally stunted and staged. Naomi and Kris switch from topic to topic, but some of their comments or acknowledgments seem too easy to accept. It can all feel too tightly wrapped to be realistic at times. However, seeing the two characters work out their issues in real-time is a rewarding watch, even if the audience might not agree with how they are resolved, or even the characters’ own opinions.

Given the short runtime of the film, Walker is still able to juggle many themes at once. The two characters bounce ideas and comments off of each other as they navigate their complicated feelings. What is so refreshing about See You Then is that it allows its two leads the time to just talk. Although some of the topics seem conveniently thrown in for debate, Walker’s movie gives each of the women a voice with which to share their opinions on matters in depth. Some of it is funny, while other parts hit you in the chest. Human connection is what makes cinema so special — See You Then has that at its center for the entire runtime. 

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