Cati Gonzalez’s “Ekaj” presents an interesting conundrum for me, because while they compare their film to “Midnight Cowboy” they also compare it to “Kids.” I for one loathe “Kids” while loving “Midnight Cowboy.” The latter is the tale of the American dream and our grasping for it that is often unattainable. Thankfully while “Ekaj” can sometimes have the guerilla filmmaking of “Kids,” it’s thankfully much more steeped in “Midnight Cowboy,” in the end, which is why I probably enjoyed it.
“Ekaj” is centered on a gender fluid individual who spends his days and nights looking for places to stay and trying to find ways to hustle for food. Ekaj doesn’t have too much of what it takes to survive in New York, which is why it’s a godsend when he meets Mecca. Mecca is a tattooed young man who knows how to get money when they need it, spending his time walking around the Bronx stealing bikes, lifting purses, and relying on mild acquaintances for a place to sleep for the night. The pair of characters present an interesting dynamic as Ekaj does what he can to learn from Mecca, but eventually relies on him for survival. Ekaj is a young individual who can barely decide what gender he is, let alone where he will wake up the next day.
This is used as an aspect of their personality to reflect on how incapable they are of making the ultimate decisions on the street. While preparing for a night out Ekaj asks for cologne, and his friend replies “You want to look like a girl, but smell like a guy; you’re confused.” While the meaning and definite ideas about the aimlessness of life and survival and the tale of two lost souls is compelling in its way, “Ekaj” sadly isn’t a perfect film. Some of the editing is rough around the edges, and a lot of the narrative for the film feels like filler, especially when director Cati Gonzalez relies a bit too much on the montage to transition from scene to scene. There is also the occasional stiff performance, especially in one scene where one of the performers is clearly reading from cue cards off screen.
That said, “Ekaj” garners great direction by Gonzalez who really captures the grit and flavor of New York that “Midnight Cowboy” did decades ago. “Ekaj” is a very good character study and story of two drifting individuals looking for a meaning, and a purpose while surviving on the unforgiving environment of New York.