Juli Del Prete and her short film “Caroline” was awarded the Critics’ Choice award for the 2023 Cinema Femme Short Film Festival. With their award recognition a review was written by Cinema Femme contributor and film critic Peyton Robinson, who also was a programmer for this year’s film festival.

The #MeToo movement was an impetus for discussions on consent and harassment in all aspects of life from the personal to the professional. Progress has been made and indictments are on the books, but toxic patriarchy constantly slips through the cracks. Juli Del Prete’s short film “Caroline” was featured at this year’s Cinema Femme Short Film Festival, and covers the covert ways that predatory sexuality persists. 

Caroline is auditioning for a role, excited for the opportunity and armed with intimacy training in her arsenal of skills and talent. There is antsy enthusiasm and marked preparedness – lively eyes and upright posture that screams “I’m ready.” Yet when an all-male casting team takes advantage of their power dynamic, Caroline is faced with manipulation and thinly veiled predation. Innocuous beginnings like flippant calls of “Carolyn,” frequent interruption, and egotistical sarcasm soon spin into darker territory and the all-too-familiar stories begin to ring a bell.  

The film takes the broad scope of discussion surrounding harassment and misconduct and the sinister ways it bobs and weaves benchmarks of progress, and presents it personally, emotionally, and with poignant grace and respect. The subject matter of “Caroline” is touchy at best and triggering at worst, but writer/director Juli Del Prete threads its elements together with a deft and empathetic hand.

In the fore is an incredibly empathetic performance by Isabelle Muthiah, who flows from emphatic energy to awkwardness and painful apprehension with magnificent agility. Muthiah is supported by Del Prete’s versatile script – which taps into the funny familiarity of iconic mermaid-drama H20 and then devolves into dreadful territory sharply but seamlessly. However, the in-between moments of nervousness, hesitation, panic, and more are felt deeply in every glance, tick, and wordless disposition. Muthiah’s nuanced displays of expression are A+ supplements to the film’s writing, which feels grounded rather than exaggerated and builds tensions realistically, adding to the familiar fear of it all. 

Del Prete’s hand in this film is subtle and quietly powerful. In what appears as a one-take, we are made to sit with Caroline’s experience in real time as we tense our bodies and sink from the weight of the story in our stomachs. The impact of “Caroline” is not in its pain or plight, but in its empathy and care for the character, and culture of the oppressed, that it portrays. It’s a film born of love, dignity, integrity, and the spirit of support for marginalized genders, who trek uphill trails to opportunities they deserve whilst fighting powers who so often think only of themselves.

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