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Film: Beauty in loneliness

By Johanna Salinas

Chamoru filmmaker Steven LeFever’s new feature, “Give Me Beauty,” is a thriller following Darren, a grieving American alone in Tokyo. After being drugged and left on the street, Darren misses his best friend’s funeral. He finds friendship in a mysterious woman, Tomo, who shows him beauty in the lonely city.

Growing up with Guam’s hospitality, LeFever understands how cities can make a person feel small and disconnected from their identity.

“The ironic thing about cities is the bigger they are, the colder they can be,” said LeFever. “People in Tokyo, in particular, have a way to shut themselves out and lose connection with the person next to you. I think they want to cling onto their privacy since it’s harder to claim your space when it’s much more scarce.”

These are the times when LeFever misses the warmth of Guam the most.

“But I would say you just have to adjust your mood and look on the brighter side of things, and your energy will attract more brighter beings. Be the one to connect with another person through eye contact and a genuine smile, and you’ll find how amazing it is to live, wherever you may be in the world,” he said.

Despite the dark theme of “Give Me Beauty,” LeFever managed to balance the story with lighter moments. The vibrant imagery of walking in a park and bright vending machines creates an atmosphere of sanguinity for the lonely protagonist.

“I enjoy movies that put you through a rollercoaster of emotions,” said the director.

As a cinephile, LeFever understands the importance of letting the camera be the storyteller. “Give Me Beauty’s” image-heavy storytelling has the audience feel Darren’s quietness in a culture he can’t speak. Despite his grief and loneliness, the audience relates to Darren’s feeling of life surrounded by beauty.

“I can appreciate a dialogue-heavy movie, but it’s a much more interesting choice to let the camera do the talking,” said LeFever. “Once a filmmaker starts to do that, then you are beginning to step into the art of cinematography. Let your camera’s motions or stillness be your paintbrush, as well as the lighting, the color grade, the way the film is edited, the sound design and music, the things the actors don’t say, their nonverbal communication, and much more.”

As an artist, LeFever is critical of his own work and wishes he could’ve expanded upon more of the characters and their motivations.

“Unfortunately, with ‘Give Me Beauty’s’ little to no budget, there may be a lot to be desired, yet I’m still happy with what we made in that this was simply a slice of life that the audience may have to fill in the holes,” said the director. “It reminds me of Ryan Gosling’s character in ‘Drive.’ We don’t get much of his backstory, yet we are still intrigued by him.”


But if the team had a chance to show more, LeFever said, it would probably be about Tomo, marvelously portrayed by actor Tomoko Hayakawa, and why she is the way she is. “I find her a very compelling character that leads a dark life, and it would have been a treat to explore the Tokyo underworld through her eyes,” he said.

Just the same, LeFever is grateful for how his film has turned out and for the people who supported his creativity.

“There would be no ‘Give Me Beauty’ without my two friends I met while living in California during college, Taylor Harris and Ian Randolph,” said the filmmaker. “ Taylor, whom I met when we were on the rowing team in Orange Coast College, is now a cinematographer in Los Angeles. For years we wanted to collaborate together. We went through a dozen drafts to get to this story, and he taught me a lot about filmmaking. Ian, whom I met when in acting class after transferring to Cal State Long Beach, is an actor in LA that joined the project in more serendipitous fashion.”

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