Full Disclosure: I received a screener for this film personally by the director, but this does not influence my view on the film.
Ekaj (2015) is the directorial debut of Cati Gonzalez, who also produced, edited, wrote and filmed the movie. Starring a cast of non-actors, including Jake Mestre and Badd Idea, this fly-on-the-wall fictional film focuses on two main characters, Ekaj and Mecca. They are both struggling with their own issues, but provide comfort and commentary to each other’s lives as they are woven in the madness of New York.
What captivated me about this film is that it feels exactly like a fly-on-the-wall documentary. It felt genuine, and Gonzalez managed to capture this in a way that feels authentic. If someone didn’t know that it was a piece of fiction, they would be perhaps shocked that it was actually all scripted. I loved this direction for a film like this, as it made me feel more connected to the characters as we see every moment that they go through in their daily lives.
What helps drive this narrative is that the performances feel authentic, and that comes from a cast of non-actors. Gonzalez did this purposefully to get a more authentic feel to the film, and it totally works. Jake Mestre is captivating in the role of Ekaj, and your eyes draw to him whenever he is on screen. Badd Idea also gives a great performance as Mecca, and both personalities are big but they draw each other out, so it never feels overwhelming.
When going into this film, I expected some dark storylines just based on the brief synopsis and look of the film. However, this film tells such important stories and deal with subject matters that will be important for decades. Between a story of an abusive family relationship, sexuality and dealing with an illness such as AIDs, this story is touching and extremely powerful.
Overall, this is an excellent debut from Cati Gonzalez. There are some bold choices made, and I appreciate the risks taken. I was not expecting this story to be so emotional, but it really works well. Whilst I would have liked a slightly longer film to fully flesh out some of the other storylines and characters, I felt connected to the story and I can’t wait to see more from Gonzalez.
Ekaj is free to watch on Amazon Prime worldwide, as well as Tubi in the US. Please make sure to go and check this one out as soon as you can.