“Sexy energy” is how Nikki (Price)
describes the dynamic between her brother Joe (Ilku) and his girlfriend Maya (Sillas) in Deidre Fishel's debut film Risk. Their energy is palpable and their romance is quick and passionate. Not for a long time have I felt or even seen such tangible chemistry onscreen between two characters. Sillas' Modigliani-like features gleam; her face is a landscape in and of itself. Her unconventional beauty contrasts with Ilku's almost pretty good looks. Risk has some tastefully shot love scenes, but these aren't the sexiest parts. The energy comes more from the looks and the words Maya and Joe pass between each other. Maya is a starving and struggling New York artist who encounters Joe on a city bus. He follows her home, and she lets him into her apartment, and then into her bathtub. While this scene occurs in the first 20 minutes of the film, we know enough about Maya to understand her strength and cynicism. How, then, can she let this complete stranger into her life? Perhaps it's her current state of desperation that allows her to take the risk the film is named for. Allowing Joe -- a sensitive, self-destructive man with a criminal record -- into her life is just one of the risks Maya takes as she and Joe leave the city and travel together on a journey to nowhere in particular. Director/writer Fishel herself takes risks with her first film and, for the most part, they work. Nothing much happens in Risk: we watch Maya and Joe define their relationship and interact with the people around them. However, in the film's tragic final scenes we feel as if we've traveled the same distance, emotionally and geographically, that Maya has traveled. In portraying Maya, Sillas creates a complex character, something the actress only hinted at in Hal Hartley's Simple Men. While there are some narrative leaps that are demanded of us as viewers, the nuanced, realistic dialogue and gritty performances make Risk work. As both a director and writer Fishel demonstrates talent. Her ability to create a strong, sexy, and appealing female lead bodes well for future work.