directed by Kala Mandrake & Laor Rosenfeld
Around two thirds in to Love is...’s runtime a voice-over exclaims “she felt unsafe, lost in the middle of nowhere”. This sentiment resonated with me for a number of reasons, but most presently was being lost in this over-complex, aesthetically intriguing work by filmmakers Kala Mandrake and Laor Rosenfeld, who star... as themselves? Yet these feelings of confusion, displacement and partial information should not be immediately mistaken as negatives—but instead the style intentionally mirroring, and evoking, the plot’s emotionally disconnected lovers.
Although the twists and turns retain a certain mystery, the fundamentals of the narrative are quite simple. A man and woman have become disconnected in love, yet something keeps them tethered. The woman, a somewhat successful writer, is attempting to complete her new novel, and the boundaries between fiction, memory and present begin to overlap while the book explores the very romantic disconnect she is feeling. The film is at its best when ambiguities are rife. When the man exclaimed “the city is on lockdown” and the woman swiftly walk out into bustling downtown New York I became extremely uneasy. A feeling which was only heightened by the deadpan performances, bizarre delivery, unemotive plot and disjointed script. Of course, unease is not an emotion we typically associate with cinema, yet here it perfectly drew me into the situation. I became unsure what was present or fiction, unsure of how I wanted it to unfold and, ultimately, unsure if I wanted to feel such conflict, emotions which penetrate to the heart of romantic complications.
This is complemented greatly by the film’s stylistic choices. Immediately as the first images fill the screen the film’s hand-held black and white, complete with emulated film grain, straddles an uncanny divide between intrigue and aestheticisation, celluloid and video, amateurism and intentionality. And this continues throughout. The camera shakes through claustrophobic canted close- up faces, street scenes and obscured on-screen text alike, freely speeding, slowing and reversing playback. Edited together with countless crossfades, flashes, dissolves and hard cuts. While the audio sits eerily far from the image, composed of imperfect ADR and Foley recordings placed atop extended silences thus revealing their cuts and imperfections. Most viewers would beg for these wounds to be sutured, as to push the filmmaking process, and it’s apparatus, into the background. Yet perhaps that is exactly the point. Perhaps this cracked surface is retained to evoke this very unease and rejection.
Of course, this begs comparison with the French New Wave, Dogme, and experimental cinema, moments of filmmakers boldly covering new ground and introducing radical aesthetics. Certainly, a filmmaker must be bold and decisive to go so heavily against cinematic convention, and many filmmakers struggle for years to establish their own style. Yet, as much as this brings the film strength it also bares trappings of cheap amateurism. Undoubtedly the film contains the
voice of innovation, even if this film is not a moment of wholly successful innovation.
Throughout the film’s complexity and alienation its intent remained illusive. That is until one disconnects the confusion and unease from the style itself, and attributes it to the film being incredibly personal. And, sure enough, the narrative is directly referencing the filmmaker’s experiences when “they were first deciding whether to be a couple at all”.1 The ambiguity of this sentence resonates with the equivocal nature of the film. Perhaps, counter to my previous suggestions, we are confused because the film’s narrative and themes is not fully encapsulated within its runtime but instead is inextricably linked to the creators’ real lives—something only they can fully attune with.
The film draws to a close with an extremely bizarre moment. Our writer talks on the phone to the man, only to hang up and answer to the same voice, but a different man. The line between the narrative’s fiction and present breaks down, just as the film has endlessly broken down the audience’s distance between the narrative, its relationship to the filmmakers’ real lives and the its filmic incarnation. As she walks of we remain somewhat intrigued by it all but, ultimately, we are lead to a dead end. We haven’t had enough time, or enough clear direction by Rosenfeld or Mandrake. We remain stuck behind the glass, trapped in that moment of complete confusion which, although may be narratively motivated and effective, left me feeling and considering little. I am not asking for a clear conclusion, a coherent plot or a traditional style. Instead an extreme refinement of the formula may produce to a more satisfying, profound or emotive product.
In the end, this is not a film many people will understand, or, to be frank, like, but it is a piece of cinema wrapped in unique cinematic flair. Perhaps the filmmaker’s next project will utilize their innovative panache to better ends and not leave us, like our writer, “lost in the middle of nowhere”.
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