Despite the formal daring of the bifurcated structure of “Feast of the Epiphany,” a genuinely innovative blend of narrative and nonfiction, it’s a testament to filmmakers Michael Koresky, Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman that it’s engrossing enough to lose sight of much of the architecture that tells you it’s a film. Still, the trio allow themselves one stylistic flourish that’s worth noting as they catch Abby (Nikki Calonge) at the end of preparing for a dinner party in her kitchen, with the refraction of the light creating a mirror image just slightly removed as if she’s left her body. She’s spent all day putting her best foot forward for the festivities, from picking up yams and apples at the farmers’ market to putting on makeup for a gathering from her friends from college, and by the time you’re seeing double it seems like there’s two versions of Abby – the one she’ll greet her friends with and the one she’ll quietly keep in the kitchen until the dinner’s over and her guests have gone home.
In a clever twist, you likely have a greater connection to Abby, as well as her friends individually, by the time dinner is served than they do to each other, since the filmmakers introduce the central quartet of characters in interviews their offscreen counterparts participated in before the proper shoot. Rather than blur the line between what’s real or not, these interviews with the actors come to deepen the experience as a drama when it transforms the notion of the dinner party into as much of a production for those in front of the camera as those behind it after the friends attending the party have seen their relationships wane over time. While Abby is still relatively close to Maggie (Jill Frutkin), they haven’t kept up as much with Ryan (Meng Ai), who has had his hands full with his first serious boyfriend Jacob (Sean Donovan), or Sarah (Jessie Shelton), whom Abby intends to honor with the dinner since losing a loved one. Besides Jacob, who doesn’t have the history that the others do or a bashful bone in his body, you hear the friends tiptoe around in conversations, occasionally sharing knowing glances or brief sparks of what once was, but more often than not trying to find the balance between being protective and authentic to themselves.
While this proves powerful enough when the characters become indecipherable from the candles which Abby placed around her flat in Brooklyn, individually smoldering as the darkness looms ever larger by the minute, there is a greater wallop in store when the sun finally breaks through, though it involves leaving the apartment behind completely to place the themes of “Feast of the Epiphany” into a larger context. Jarring at first, the effect is akin to striking fire with two sharp rocks, as the mind races with the dialogue that’s formed between the film’s two halves that couldn’t be any more different from each other yet create a deeply moving whole that reflects on everything from macro issues such as the socioeconomic implications of produce supply chains to the micro — demonstrating the consistent care that must go into nurturing long-lasting relationships. Allowing the juxtaposition to do the heavy lifting, Koresky, Reichert and Zaman never have to put too fine a point on things, even if hints are placed throughout to draw certain contrasts, and after staring out in just a humble audition room, it’s a film that takes on more square footage each time it shifts gears as much mentally as it does physically, delivering on its promise of epiphanies and then some.
“Feast of the Epiphany” will screen in Los Angeles at the Lumiere Cinema (formerly the Music Hall) on January 15th, 16th and 17th at 4 pm and 7:30 pm, with Q & As following the 7:30 pm show with filmmakers Michael Koresky, Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman.