Tallie Medel in "Jules of Light and Dark"

Austin Film Fest ’18 Review: Personal Truths Shine Through in Daniel Laabs’ Moving “Jules of Light and Dark”

Relatively early on in Daniel Laabs’ elegant debut feature “Jules of Light and Dark,” the writer/director catches Maya (Tallie Medel) on a dance floor during a rave somewhere in the middle of Texas. The geography is hazy as the Molly kicks in, but when you lock eyes on Maya, you know exactly where you are, even as she spins around, not really knowing where she’s going, but lost in the music. You see her get thrown for a real loop just moments before, gingerly approaching Jules (Betsy Holt) about moving in together, only to learn she considers their relationship status leaning more towards the friends territory than the romantic end of the spectrum that Maya had thought, and despite how clearly unsure she is of anything in her life, the magnetic attraction that she had for Jules suddenly snapped with Laabs using the molecules still lingering in the air to seduce you into watching her.

There are several such broken moments in “Jules of Light and Dark” where you can feel the energy tangibly shift, and it’s Laabs’ great gift to fluidly capture the transitory, ambitiously – and successfully – telling the story of people on different emotional timelines who can spark each other in one instance and burn the bridges between them in the next. While the flame between Maya and Jules has been brought down to a low boil with Maya unable to completely let go of her feelings easily, she finds a friend in Freddy (Robert Longstreet) who comes to her rescue in more ways than one after finding her on the side of the road after a car accident. An oil rigger, Freddy only has his nights to himself, often looking for company at the local bar, and introduced as a selfless hero, his encounter with Maya, staying with her at the hospital until it’s clear she’s okay, leads him to contact his daughter Andrea (Liz Cardenas) whom he hasn’t talked to in years.

This, like many other expressions of love in “Jules of Light and Dark,” however, goes unrequited, as Laabs gracefully demonstrates time and again how his characters may arrive at a major epiphany about themselves or what they want at a time when the other people in their life simply aren’t at the same place. Which is why it’s nothing short of exhilarating to see Maya and Freddy find themselves in the same emotional space, despite having little else in common, and as the world is passing by, a sensation beautifully captured by cinematographer Noe Medrano whose camerawork is consistently alive and spry, there’s a comfort and relaxation in each other’s company you feel nowhere else. A lovely, versatile score from Brent Sluder, which ranges from lilting strings to simmering electronica, sets the tone for the soulful drama in which as many times people’s personal lives don’t align, it’s magical when they find the right rhythm. “Jules of Light and Dark” is the rare film where you not only witness a meaningful change for the characters, but suspect they’ll continue to evolve long after the cameras stop rolling, if for no other reason than you feel as if you’ve experienced a change yourself from seeing it.

“Jules of Light and Dark” will play at the Austin Film Festival on October 31st at the State Theater at 6 pm and the Cucalorus Film Festival on November 9th and 11th.

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