Anne-Sophie Bine had an experience at summer camp when she was 13 that changed her life forever.
12 years later, she wrote and directed a short film telling her story that delves into the gray areas between labels like “victim” and “perpetrator.”
“Cherubs” follows Basia (Juliet Rusche), a 13-year-old child of immigrant parents who attends an American summer camp feeling like an outsider and struggling to make friends with other kids — until she finds an unexpected friendship with her 19-year-old camp counselor, Matthew (Tristan Thompson). After a confusing experience in Matthew’s room after lights out involving an almost-but-not-quite kiss, Basia blurts out a lie to her roommate, Taylor (Olivia Vemulapalli) that threatens to ruin Basia’s entire summer — and Matthew’s, too.
“Cherubs” delves into the gray area between victim and perpetrator.
“Oftentimes, I think stories that are so clear cut kind of leave out the quieter moments of experiences, like my own and like Basia’s in my film. Growing up, most stories I heard or saw on screen about sexual assault just kind of left me feeling like a fraud because I couldn’t say that the same sort of thing had happened to me,” Bine says. “In my own personal experience, as well as in many other women’s, it’s more nuanced and the truth exists much more in this gray area of morality, which makes it all the more complicated.”
Bine’s own memory of the real-life event that inspired “Cherubs” is almost identical to what happens in the short film. Shaken by the near-miss encounter with Matthew, Basia attempts to make sense of the experience by telling Taylor that they’d kissed when they actually hadn’t. Despite being sworn to secrecy, Taylor tells Joanne (Sarah Noble Peck), an older female counselor. Asked to explain, Basia immediately tells the truth: that she and Matthew hadn’t kissed, and that she’d made it up.
But instead of questioning why a 19-year-old male counselor invited a 13-year-old girl into his room and locked the door, all Joanne expressed was disappointment in Basia for telling a fib that was actually very close to the truth.
“Whether or not they kissed doesn’t matter,” Bine says. “It’s the fact that that whole circumstance took place.”
“Cherubs” is, in essence, an ode to the gray area in sexual situations that is so hard to explain and so often missed — but which can also have an extremely deep impact, especially on a young person.
“We’re looking at the blueprints for an entire lifetime,” Bine says. “Obviously, she’s not me, but there are elements of ourselves that we put in our most intimate work. This is definitely a scary piece to make. As I was talking about it for the first time and sharing the script for the first time, I was kind of hiding behind it being fiction. And the more I talk about it, the more I’m like, ‘Wait, this is actually pretty universal.’ There’s really something to be said for standing behind your work and being like, ‘No, this is true.’ I’m getting more comfortable about acknowledging the fact that this happened to me.”
“Cherubs” is screening in March at the BUFF Film Festival in Malmö, Sweden, which focuses on movies for younger audiences. In October, her short film “Dog Lover” screened at the Newport Beach Film Festival. Bine hopes that “Cherubs” encourages people to look at the nuances in stories like hers instead of seeing them in black and white.
“With ‘Cherubs,’ my intention was to create something that people could disagree about, or that would challenge viewers to find a position and be the moral judge of what had happened to her. It’s like almost kind of like a litmus test for the viewer,” she says.
“I have sent out the film to people who have, anonymously or not, landed on the side of, ‘She lied and ruined this guy’s life, and ultimately, nothing happened between them, and she said that something did — and the consequences for him will be potentially devastating.’ And that’s all true. It’s just a matter of perspective,” she adds.
“It’s oftentimes I find in moments where nothing happens that everything changes.”
“Cherubs” is produced by William Rodbell, with cinematography by Olivia Kimmel, production design by Yara Wang, and editing by Marshall Granger.
Main Image: Juliet Rusche as Basia in “Cherubs,” courtesy of Anne-Sophie Bine