My Brother Is a Mermaid

By Alfie Dale | Drama
A young boy sees his brother get bullied, then transform in a magical way.

Kuda is a young boy who lives in a desolate coastal town with his older sibling Kai and his single mother. Kuda enjoys a close, loving bond with Kai. They enjoy surfing together and telling each other stories, particularly one about mermaids in the ocean.

But outside their bubble, life is hard for Kai, who is bullied for the feminine aspects of their self-presentation. Kai likes glitter and sequins, and even Kuda sees that Kai's soul is like a mermaid's: otherworldly, poetic, dreamlike and emotive. When the bullying hits a crisis point, Kuda thinks he's lost Kai forever, but the true magic of Kai's soul makes itself seen, despite the ugliness of the world around them.

Writer-director Alfie Dale's deeply affecting dramatic short combines textured, muted social realism with a lovely, evocative fairy tale in poetic, imaginative ways, offering up a story that is about the anchor of unconditional familial love and the full expression of one's self.

The visuals of the film are exceptional, capturing both the gritty desolate beauty of the coast and the lucid, lyrical flights of fancy that characterize Kai's imagination. These gorgeous underwater shots are soulful and evocative; they're beautiful to look at, but they also allow us to experience Kai their own terms, blurring the lines between genders and even between myth and reality, which may be more to the point when it comes to Kai.

The writing and editing, too, have a gentle fluidity, moving between the dramatic events of reality and the deep-dives into imagination. The storytelling is compelling throughout, building character and tension in powerful, gripping scenes that bring us into Kai's worlds, as seen through Kuda's eyes. That framing of innocence and love is important because Kuda seems something fundamental that even his mother cannot: Kai is just different at the deepest level of spirit and soul, which is mermaid-like, sensitive and darkly beautiful.

Young actors Cameron Maydale as Kai and Aidan Broderick as Kuda play the siblings with palpable connection and understated naturalness, forming the film's tender core. And ultimately, this fierce, loyal unconditional love is what pulls Kai out of the darkest depths when life becomes unbearable and threatens to drown them in pain and suffering.

Many films about gender nonconformity focus on the biological and physical, but what makes "My Brother Is a Mermaid" exceptional is how it grounds the audience within Kai's spiritual and emotional experience. Like Kuda, we come to see that Kai's soul is uniquely otherworldly, traversing oceanic realms of fluidity, emotion and imagination with delicacy and glamour, much like the mythical mermaids themselves.

In a world that is drab, ordinary and full of financial and emotional poverty, Kai wants to live on the level of myth and archetype. "My Brother Is a Mermaid" asks us to remember this impulse when we wanted to be fairies, tricksters, superheroes, gods, royalty, demons or angels -- when we wanted to feel and experience something bigger than ourselves, and dare to bring wild imagination into our daily lives.

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