With Thelma was one of those films that puts your heart in a jar. Not in the sense where it gets bottled away never to be seen again, but in a sense that makes it get shaken in a rhythm you haven’t had the opportunity to experience yet. The short, which ran during the Melbourne Queer Film Festival on March 23rd, stood out as the emotional core of the Comedy Shorts screening.
Opportunities to see gay male leads act in a loving parental role are few and far between, so this short film was exceptionally brilliant. Two uncles, Jean and Vincent, are tasked with the responsibility of watching over their niece, Thelma. Her parents are stuck in the United States so Thelma’s time with them is indefinite.
As a native English speaker, watching a French-language film required me to focus on nonverbal cues. Their vocal inflections and facial expressions set the tone so well that I didn’t even want to read the subtitles. It was humbling to watch them desperately try to entertain Thelma with what they assume she would enjoy. In the end, they had to modify their practices to fall in line with what she wanted to do on her own, since toddlers don’t follow orders very well.
Their portrayal of the characters represented a mini-arc of what you hear parenting to be like. At first, they are checking on Thelma every few minutes while she sleeps to make sure she is okay. After a few nights go by however, they begin offering each other bribes for the other to go see why she’s crying.
The uncles represent a facet of the queer community that needs more visibility. At a time where being gay is still illegal in many countries, even being punishable by death in the small country of Brunei, we need to see queer couples parenting to show our community that it is possible.
Furthermore, we need straight audiences to view films such as this one so they can see that having gay parental figures does not negatively impact children. There is the same amount of love and affection. I would love to see what this film could do for people opposed to gay parents adopting children. I think it could showcase the depth of the queer experience and change the minds of those against gay adoption.
The loving relationship between Jean and Vincent provided a feel-good moment for queer cinema. There was no crippling disease or traumatic family experience, there was simply a gay family living their life. Every experience doesn’t have to be dire, and we need to stop polarizing the queer life and experience.
We need more innocently explored queer stories like this.