Sofia Banzhaf’s short, I Am in the World As Free and Slender as a Deer on a Plain is a short film that packs a punch. Focusing on the female sexual experience away from the male gaze, Banzhaf takes what one may initially perceive as taboo and flip it on its head. The short follows a young woman on her journey towards sexual autonomy through a series of awkward encounters.
Opening up with a rather unsettling image, Banzhaf makes us aware that she isn’t afraid of taking a risk. With such a limited timeframe to get your point across with short films, devoting around a whole minute to imagery of slaughtered pigs in the intro was definitely as risk that paid off. The raw and honest imagery of the pigs fresh from the slaughterhouse sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Immediately, the way in which Banzhaf directs the short, makes the viewer to feel almost voyeuristic. Forcing us to look into the moments that feel as if they should be intimate, however, the encounters all have this clinical veil placed over them. I Am in the World As Free and Slender as a Deer on a Plain desexualizes the female experience and challenges notions of gender through looking at millennial romance and hookup culture. The main character, played by Micaela Robertson, engaging in a series of sexual scenarios that may be viewed as “taboo” or different while being framed as being detached from the situation, whether that is in the form of a solo act or with partners.
I Am in the World As Free and Slender as a Deer on a Plain deals not only with the physical aspects of millennial hookup culture, but explores the emotional side of these scenarios as well. This film as a whole is a critique of how women are treated and viewed and through scenes that showcase cases of emotional manipulation, body shaming, and problematic age dynamics, Banzhaf shows us real life situations that could easily have happened (or perhaps it already has) to ourselves.
Coming back in a cyclical kind of way, near the end of the film, there is a scene where the young woman sits in a room by herself and slowly fits her fist in her own mouth. This scene, just like the opening one, is raw. It’s messy, unfiltered and vulnerable. It’s real. If there is one scene where I would praise Micaela Robertson for her performance, it would be this one. It takes talent and dedication to your craft to execute a scene such as this with the ease that she did.
I Am in the World As Free and Slender as a Deer on a Plain is a film about power. And not just any type of power, but female power. It’s about self-love and self-hate and how the two can coincide together almost amicably. It’s about how the definition of romance has shifted and hookup culture has dominated society. It’s about taking all of this, and embracing it. If there is one thing that I Am in the World As Free and Slender as a Deer on a Plain does is it creates a space that can allow the female experience to be just that. The female experience, separate from the male gaze that has overshadowed out entire lives. It isn’t performative or edited; its raw and real and uncomfortable sometimes, and that’s okay.
Rating – 8/10
*Editor’s Note: This is a late review from the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival