Review: Coalesce

Written and directed by Jessé Miceli, in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, there are three young men. Songsa came to help sell clothes, Thy wants a motorcycle but doesn’t have the money and Phearum drives a taxi, but there is no way to pay off his debt. What is the fate that lies before those who have to pursue money and dreams in a difficult reality?. Starring: Eang Phearum, Sek Songsa, Rom Rithy, Nicól Bear and Vann Lek.

The tone of Coalesce is incredibly humble, it entirely revolves around the daily grind for its trio of men, following the ups and downs of their experiences but never escaping a firm grasp of the everyday. Visually it works well, it’s solid work for a directorial debut from Jessé Miceli, it establishes an edge of grit but never falls into it too deeply, which has its advantages and disadvantages. There are a few themes of this story which call out for a bigger punch or a darker touch. It can also get slightly messy at times, choosing a few angles which aren’t the most effective or smooth, as well as occasionally going heavy on the editing.

Having intersecting stories is a classic device, in this case three struggling men working towards a better future, mere miles from each other. Unfortunately, until very late in the day, it doesn’t feel like these stories connect well, despite their similarities. They simply aren’t weaved together enough to create a whole, rather than three separate pieces. One of the reasons for that is the timing and progression of the story, it can take too long to move from one to the other, creating a slowly shifting focus rather than one larger story. The pacing also doesn’t quite match the youthful energy of its characters, there isn’t a great deal happening so that gradual movement takes away from the sympathetic or relatable atmosphere that it’s trying to build. It feels as though, with the time it had, it could have expanded its characters further and given a bigger way for its viewers to connect with them.

Eang Phearum, Sek Songsa and Rom Rithy all provide great performances and it’s easy to find both the commonalities and differences between their characters. They capture a sincere struggle to keep working and hustling to improve their lives, as well as the daily knocks they face to their hope and optimism. Unfortunately, there isn’t a huge amount of space to build up a depth of emotion. There are a few strands left unexplored, particularly with Sek Songsa’s character, there are some darker themes that are only just dipped into without reaching a more satisfying exploration. These characters all present jobs or lifestyles with certain dangers and while acknowledged, they’re mostly left alone.

Coalesce is a solid debut film from Jessé Miceli but it feels as though this story was only just beginning when the credits roll. It takes the majority of its runtime before these individual stories finally feel like one cohesive piece and unfortunately its too late. The slow pacing and lack of movement from one perspective to the other means that there isn’t enough room to sufficiently build up their experiences and emotions. There’s a good cast at work and they each do justice to the characters they’re given but there’s inklings of further potential here, which don’t get the time to be explored.

Verdict: ✯✯✯ | 6/10

Celebrating its UK premiere at Queer East Film Festival on 19 May at the Barbican

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