Credit: Lily Lady/Slamdance
by Conor Truax Featured Film

Sam’s World — Lily Lady [Slamdance ’24 Review]

January 27, 2024

In his books Cinema 1 and Cinema 2, Gilles Deleuze draws a distinction between the movement-image and the time-image. The movement-image is concerned with linear cause-and-effect; the events on screen are driven by outward action, a kinetic energy that skips the action atop the psyches of the characters producing it. A time-image, on the other hand, uses a character’s moods, thoughts, and feelings to dictate the measure of time; it is driven by the potential energy of re-ordering the past to find meaning in the present or future. Both modes are concerned with rhythm. Their differentiation is dictated by the location of the metronome. 

In Lily Lady’s debut featurette, Sam’s World, that metronome is planted firmly inside them. The film follows roughly 24 hours in the life of Sam (Lady), a mid-20s non-binary sex worker navigating the fraught dynamics of their social milieu: creatives and writerly types beyond the periphery of heteronormative culture. Sam lives with their partner Rex (Annie Connolly), a photographer and editor who shows a desperate support for Sam that is equal parts loving and enabling. The film is rife with tension: Sam is secretly pregnant, and Rex’s more traditionally corporate ambition sees them diverging from one another on the topic of Sam’s sex work. 

Of course, the concern for public judgment is a rationalization of a deeper emotional insecurity; when Sam and Rex run into one of the former’s much-older clients at the park, Rex becomes visibly tense, saying, “I don’t want to have to think of you being intimate with someone else.” In fact, from their first interaction, Rex mentions Sam applying to a café across the street to get a “real job.” But Rex is much less an aggressor than an active participant in a relationship Sam seems largely indifferent to. Worse than rejected, Rex’s excessive concessions and depleted efforts to support Sam — to reach out and touch her — are treated with an apathy that invalidates the partnership of the pair. Sam’s most expressive moments around Rex come when Sam is either diminishing the feelings of Rex, or when Rex is coming to the comfort of an inconsolable Sam. 

Sam’s World’s overall approach to broaching the broader implications of sex work is refreshing in a film environment that readily fetishizes or prods the trade voyeuristically, and from afar. In the park, Sam’s client isn’t portrayed as exploitative, and neither is Sam; the two share a courtesy, as two colleagues would, both cognizant of the mutual benefit — and exchange — of one using the other to remedy the respective scarcities in either of their lives.

As they have stated in interviews, Sam’s World is Lady’s first attempt at filmmaking, a fact that is evident throughout: the color-grading is at times inconsistent, and extended dialogue seems to dilute the already short film, a fact that isn’t helped by awkward timing from actors who seem to share in Lady’s inexperience working with moving image. Yet despite Lady’s inexperience, there are lyrical moments that approach the transcendental when Sam is by themself. These abstract scenes cohere what one could call the film’s prosaic “Brooklyn New Wave” aesthetic with a lush emotional energy that makes its viewing worthwhile. The use of textural sound in Sam’s World (particularly in one scene, where she lays contemplative in the bath, nails scratching her stomach), displays a sensitivity to an oft-underemphasized component of filmmaking that is perhaps benefited by Lady’s lack of formal training or experience. 

In Deleuzian parlance, Lady is at their best when operating in the time-image, and the scenes that function as the film’s interstitia end up functioning as its muscle — its heart. The other scenes more preoccupied with the dynamics of Sam’s social sphere, on the other hand, create friction with the film’s emotional momentum and already begin to feel repetitive by the end of the featurette’s one-hour runtime. After viewing Lady’s debut, it should be of surprise to no one that they come to filmmaking with a background in poetry, and one would hope that their future work will lean into that tradition of concision. Behind the camera, Lady’s aptitude for lyrical beauty is clearly there.

Published as part of Slamdance Film Festival 2024 — Dispatch 1.