Co-directed by film critics and Reverse Shot founders Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert, along with Farihah Zaman, Feast of the Epiphany invokes the spirit of James Joyce’s The Dead in its portrayal of a dinner party that plays out across a snowy evening. In the film’s first half, Abby (Nikki Colange) hosts the affair inside her Brooklyn apartment as a way of helping her longtime friend, Sarah (Jessie Shelton), cope with the recent loss of a loved one. And as in Joyce’s classic (a copy of which is fleetingly glimpsed on one of the shelves inside Abby’s apartment), the party in Feast of the Epiphany is capped with the stirring of one character’s haunting memories. But where an old ballad triggers Gretta Conroy’s longing for a lost love in The Dead, it’s the simple meal prepared by Abby that reawakens Sarah’s nostalgia.
As articulated by Sarah’s immensely moving monologue concerning her loss, Koresky, Reichert, and Zaman show how ostensibly quotidian aspects of life—in this case food—are inextricably tied to personally significant events. But the filmmakers present food not only in the context of the past and the individual, as they also see it as fostering community and friendship in the present moment. As conveyed by the actors’ beautifully lived-in performances, those gathered inside Abby’s apartment sometimes get annoyed at each other over certain behavioral traits they’ve grown to loathe. Though Feast of the Epiphany is quick to suggest that, in part due to the general support Sarah receives in her vulnerable state, the ritual of enjoying each other’s company over a meal is the sustaining force that binds these friends together, trumping whatever personal animosity they may have for each other.
Feast of the Epiphany begins with audition footage of its actors, and after Sarah shares her memories, the filmmakers really make room for formal playfulness. Leaving the dinner party behind, the film abruptly becomes a documentary on the daily operations of an upstate New York organic farm headed by the Rudolf Steiner-loving Jody Bolluyt. As she speaks about her philosophies on farming and workers harvesting and preparing food for sale, Koresky, Reichert, and Zaman force us to reevaluate everything that transpired earlier in the film. By showing us where a meal actually comes from, Feast of the Epiphany again casts food in another light: that of the result of labor and industry, where many hours of work and passionate attention were paid before the final products reached a place like Abby’s apartment.
This sudden formal schism is initially jarring, though it’s ultimately consistent with the ways in which the filmmakers encourage us to look deeper at what’s being presented to us. In the film’s first half, Abby and Sarah’s longtime friend, Ryan (Meng Ai), invites his new boyfriend, Jacob (Sean Donovan), to the party without Abby’s knowledge. Jacob immediately rubs his host the wrong way with his slightly combative manner of speaking and request to have some of the special whiskey that she received as a gift. But, then, Sarah finds herself on the receiving end of an unexpected act of kindness when Jacob, though having just met her, reaches out and tenderly expresses his sorrow over her recent loss. Retroactively, this is the film’s perfect grace note, for the way it draws a line between the filmmakers’ interest in the stories behind the people we risk underestimating and the complicated origins of the things we take for granted.
Koresky, Reichert and Zaman’s cinematic tricks also prove to be entertaining, and part of the joy of watching Feast of the Epiphany (and which may also prompt multiple viewings) is comparing its two halves. On the surface, each half is different in its approach, but the filmmakers’ sensitivity to how something as seemingly ordinary as food can have an immense emotional impact is consistently and unobtrusively profound. As Bolluyt talks passionately and philosophically about her farm, we get the sense that she understands the power her product has at affecting friendships and individual memories, fictional or not.