Michael Puccini’s short film, Lavender, is a beautiful snapshot into the life of a a young man who is romantically involved with a slightly older couple. It’s a beautifully restrained look at a kind of relationship that you may have heard of, but it comes from Puccini’s personal experience. What I didn’t expect was how lonely the central character, played by Michael Hsu Rosen, would be. Puccini’s film offers no easy answers to loneliness.
The film is only a little over ten minutes long, but it’s very effective. Puccini utilizes a lot of silence and allows his camera to linger on his actors’ face to convey their story. The couple (played by Michael Urie and Ken Barnett) have a warm home, so no one feels like they are being exploited and there is an overall loving feeling permeating throughout.
When we are young, we are exploring what kinds of relationships work best for us. Since we are so open to experiences, we aren’t always aware of how vulnerable our hearts are, and Puccini’s film captures that yearning.
Awards Daily: I saw in an interview that you based the script on actual experiences. How vulnerable did that make you when you were writing and then when you were filming it?
Matthew Puccini: It was definitely vulnerable. It wasn’t an experience that I had share with many people before getting to write it. Getting to do the film was a way for me to explain my own personal experience, and I think it’s a situation that people have pretty distinct opinions about. And they are often kind of narrow-minded. The film became a way to show how much more loving, intimate, and complicated it can be.
AD: I kept seeing Lavender being simply described as ‘a throuple drama’ or ‘a throuple shot.’ It reminded me of when people would refer to that Off-Broadway show Afterglow and they would only talk about the naked actors in it.
AD: Do you think that casual description is reductive at all?
MP: You know, I’m happy people are talking about it.
AD: Of course! (laughs)
MP: It’s great that you point that out, because it’s not a word that I have used to describe the relationship of the film while making it. Now that audiences have been starting to see it, I find myself using that word. I think the hope is to show a relationship can exist in this sort of grayer area where the world throuple existed within this narrow definition.
AD: You said gray area. Did the ambiguity lend itself to the color palette and look of the overall short? I know the color lavender has a gray hue to it. Was that intentional?
MP: That’s interesting. We did talk about color palette but not gray specifically. What we tried to do was really make the interior of the couple’s home feel as warm and cozy and inviting—almost seductive—as possible. We wanted to see why the younger character was so taken by it and show how cold it was when he was on his own or at his apartment at the end. We wanted to show the star difference of that. We didn’t do anything too extreme, because we wanted it to be as realistic as possible.
AD: Something I also love about Lavender is that there are moments where there’s not a lot of dialogue. I feel like it focuses a lot on being young since he’s younger than the couple. What did you want to talk about in terms of being young or the loneliness of being young?
MP: I talked a lot about yearning for intimacy. We, as queer people, come out of the closet and find whatever romantic options are possible, and we start figuring that out by seeing what other people have. In this case, he finds this loving relationship that he desires himself. The loneliness of it all comes from being so close to something you want. And while Andy is part of this loving, intimate relationship, he can feel like he’s not really a part of it. He’s slightly outside of it.
AD: The second time that I watched it, I could tell you weren’t making a blanket statement about what every open relationship or polyamorous relationship.
MP: Well, that was the goal (laugh).
AD: One of the moments where my heart went out to Andy was during the birthday party scene.
AD: It made my heart go out to him because he is sort standing at the back of the room—the person in front of him almost has their shoulder obscuring part of his face—and it made me wonder how much their friends circle knew about their relationship.
MP: That’s an interesting question. I don’t think that he’s a secret. He finds himself at the back of that room almost by accident. That’s a surprise even to him. It’s one of those moments where he accidentally finds himself on the outside. I’d like to think that this relationship has gone on long enough that he has met some of their good friends—maybe not everyone at the party but people are aware of who he is to this couple. He’s not hiding. Even though there is that openness, he can still feel excluded or left out at some important times.
AD: What do you like about short film film making?
MP: I always say it’s like telling a short story versus a novel. The economy of short films is something that I find really challenging. How can you develop what you are going to say and drop an audience into it as effectively as possible. With young filmmakers, it forces them to tell a story within the means and tell the story impactfully or find out what their style is. For me, it’s more about trying to convey character and space within such a small amount of time.
AD: This may sound like a random comment, but as I was watching Lavender, I kept thinking of gay characters that were around when I came out. So, the American version of Queer as Folk was big when I was a young teenager.
MP: I’ve never caught up to that.
AD: It’s very much of it’s time. I kept thinking about how there have been gay characters on television and film who make the distinction of the “gay lifestyle” and being “normal” like straight people. Is that something you want to talk about in your films? I’m sorry that was a very loaded, long winded question. (laughs)
MP: No, it’s all right! I think I respond to most is LGBT characters that are portrayed in a truly honest way. I want to make sure there is proper effort in making characters as three dimensional as I possibly can. So, I don’t think it’s about conforming to a certain lifestyle, but it’s important to keep in mind that there are so many different ways to make art. There’s no right or wrong answer to tell these stories, and we should show that range.
Lavender is available online.