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Jesse Klein’s ‘We’re Still Together’ Explores, Anger, Rebellion, Family at Karlovy Vary

Canadian drama unspools in competition at Czech fest

KARLOVY VARY  Canadian director Jesse Klein’s sophomore feature, “We’re Still Together,” world premieres Thursday in competition at Karlovy Vary. The film, about a bullied teen who befriends a tough and rebellious young single father, explores themes of loneliness, relationship, love and male failure.

Klein’s first film was the 2010 family drama “Shadowboxing.” The Montreal native most recently served as an assistant professor of film and new media at Middle Georgia State University. His next projects include “Break the Fall,” a film about a woman who returns to her husband and young daughter after a three-year absence due to postpartum depression, and “Picture Me,” a TV show about a college graduate making a documentary about her little brother, who is exploring his gender identity. “We’re Still Together” is produced by Evren Boisjoli and Marley Sniatowsky. Variety talked to Klein at Karlovy Vary.

How would you describe this particular story and what moved you to tell it?

“We’re Still Together” is about what it’s like to be alone, what it means for strangers to connect, how showing love can teach you how to live. With this film I’m trying to show that whether it is with those we love, or those whom we’ve just met, that a radical openness, a true acceptance of others is the way we come to most know ourselves.

You’ve described the film is as “a family affair.” How so?

I wrote the role of Bobby for my brother Joey, I shot the film in my parents home, and collaborated with my closest friends and family. The film is in every sense about family, not in any strict sense but more so that family is a malleable term that is only defined by how we share our love and ourselves with others. … My projects are buoyed and sustained wholly on the love and generosity of my cast and crew and I think that’s reflected in the work.

Did you seek to present a stark contrast by showing the very different ways the two protagonists, Chris and Bobby, deal with the people around them?

I’m not sure I consciously sought to make Chris and Bobby opposites but it’s very true that they deal with their problems in opposing ways. Chris retreats while Bobby lashes out. I think they’re two very different manifestations of male failure, Chris showing it as a timid shame and Bobby as an outward aggression he soon regrets. And it’s in their relationship with others that their differences show most, Chris does not assert himself while Bobby overcompensates, taking up all the air in the room.

How was it working with your brother on the film and do you plan to continue the collaboration on future projects?

Collaborating with my brother Joey on his role in the film was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I was able to mine our relationship, and my knowledge of him as a person to craft something that feels lived in, and lived through. There are challenges, sure, when working with someone you love and are close with, but I think our dynamic only added to the film and given the opportunity, I would be proud and excited to collaborate with him again.

What films or filmmakers have influenced you as a filmmaker?

There are so many wonderful films and filmmakers but here are a few I thought about a lot when making “We’re Still Together.” Elaine May’s “Mikey and Nicky” and Jerry Schatzberg’s “Scarecrow” were both pretty direct influences in how they dealt with the nuance and complexity of adult male relationships. Pacino’s role of Lion in “Scarecrow” was especially influential in how I began to think about the Bobby character. One other film I return to time and again is Charles Burnett’s “Killer of Sheep” to look at how he blends a character study with a broader look at a community but even more so how the small moments that exist between two people can be writ large, how they can say everything.

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