OUTFEST LA 2022: The Consequences of Belonging, and Not Belonging, In ‘Estuaries’

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Estuaries - But Why Tho

Estuaries, directed by and starring Lior Shamriz as Eli with additional writing by Matt Polzin, follows Eli some time after his partner Bdalak, whom he was going to marry, is killed by a car crashing through their performance art space. Eli now wanders about, depressed and dealing with a pretentious art community set on exploiting Bdalak’s work.

Estuaries is about belonging. Artists belonging in their community. The community they create displacing people who already live there. Eli’s belonging in that community. His not belonging in his own community in Israel or even among American Jews because he’s a Mizrahi Jew (his family is from Iraq) in a predominantly Ashkenazi (Jews from Eastern Europe) society. And Israel’s displacing of Palestinians who already lived there. Does Eli belong anywhere? He’s tokenized or discriminated against in L.A. and an outcast in Israel for refusing to join the army. He’s not Ashkenazi in an extremely Ashkenormative world, and people in the U.S. don’t even say his Israeli name correctly.

The layers of this belonging, what it costs to belong, and what it costs not to belong, are exacerbated by folks like Myrna (Chelsea Rector), the aforementioned exploiter of Bdalak’s work. She has no self-awareness whatsoever. Her every line is some kind of racist or otherwise ignorant utterance, like her likening her style to that of Viking raids or her presiding over a performance by brown folks about immigration that flattens their experience and disregards their voices entirely. Her every moment is an occupation of somebody else’s space and time, and the disdain you’re meant to feel is layered on thick.

Estuaries is a very obvious film. It doesn’t make you guess at its deeper meanings or use metaphor to draw connections between the politics of the art community, the politics of the gentrifying neighborhood, and the politics of Israeli occupation. It’s not attempting to equivocate or anything either; it merely draws the conclusion that capitalism and the construction of whiteness ruin all good things. Good art is ruined by the need to make money and fame off of it, and the wealthy white folks can push everyone else around and out. A good neighborhood is ruined by the wealth and whiteness of folks who want to shape it for their own gain. And lives and livelihoods are destroyed by Israel’s refusal to even acknowledge its occupation of Palestine.

For me, one of the most interesting conversations the movie is having is about orientalism in Ashkenazi Jewish imaginations of Israel and the SWANA region in general. Of course, there’s absolutely zero doubt cast on the struggle of Jewish history and the Holocaust’s impact on world Jewry and the establishment of the State of Israel. But Estuaries is very clear in its recognition that a history of oppression does not disqualify a people from being oppressors.

Several moments that are so absurd as to be comedic point out the explicit orientalism within this art community as it extracts non-Western aesthetics from its non-white artists as well as within the Israeli and American Jewish communities with their regard towards Mizrahi Jews. And if this is what they think of Jews from the SWANA region, imagine what they think of Palestinians. The way Estuaries is so direct in this critique is refreshing. It’s not a conversation being had in terribly many spaces, and the film is so direct about it. It reads comedically because of how straightforward and perhaps slightly exaggerated its social commentary is, but it’s also blindingly astute.

Beyond its politics and social commentary, Estuaries is also just a really well-crafted film. Everything moves at the lugubrious pace of somebody going through a depression, getting caught in conversations you’d rather not be in, and going in circles around some people who are entirely self-absorbed. But the time flies by just as well, and before you know it, so much has transpired, and you want to go back and somehow slow it down even more. The movie also uses music that feels befitting to a character who is an experimental musician.

Estuaries is a politically and socially sharp film. It is nearly comedic in how straightforward it is about everything it critiques yet somber in its serious subject matter of the consequences of belonging and not belonging.

Estuaries screened as part of Outfest LA Film Festival 2022.

  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10


Estuaries is a politically and socially sharp film. It is nearly comedic in how straightforward it is about everything it critiques yet somber in its serious subject matter of the consequences of belonging and not belonging.

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