Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fantasia 2011 Feedback: Love

Love (2011,William Eubank)

In our everyday lives we take much for granted. Yes, there are things we think about on and off, such as the lovely food we have the option of eating, the loves of our lives, our family, but it is all too frequent that our true appreciation of such elements that make us human comes only when, for long or short periods of time, we may no longer touch and feel them. Imagine yourself now in a room, hovering above the Earth, unable to return for an unknown amount of time. How long before you realize that you genuinely miss the really important things in life? More importantly, at what point are you separated from them for so long that they merely become ideas and memories rather than things you can actually practice?

If there is a single thing one can never succeed at faulting debutant director William Eubank for with his sci-fi film, Love, it is a lack of ambition. Right from the opening images and sounds of the film, the audience is given a clear indication that what the director is going for is larger than what one might have expected walking in. Love’s poster sports an astronaut sitting on a park as the vastness of outer space dances behind him, yet the movie starts during the American Civil War of all settings.  A general, who comes to the realization that his platoon is essentially cooked, sends one of his soldiers out to the mountains in order to bear witness to an unexplainable artefact. Before we, the viewers, get a chance to discover this marvellous object with the soldier, director Eubank cuts to several years in the future, where astronaut Lee Miller (Gunner Wright) is hovering above his home planet on a mission that is not terribly well explained, but that is not very important. After a few short scenes, Miller mysteriously loses contact with Earth, thus but left to float in space for many years. Hope of ever returning begins to fade, as does his sanity to a degree. What he discovers up there in space, or re-discovers, is only the most essential thing that makes us what we are: humans.

Love is a deceptively difficult movie to write about, primarily because William Eubank, through his elliptical narrative filled beautiful if puzzling images, is insistent on keeping things as unclear as humanly possible. One may evaluate the story on its face value, but that would be missing the point entirely because in such a case the ‘story’ literally consists of what a 7 year or child would come up with on the spur of the moment if he or she were narrating what a lost spaceman would do. He does A, then B, then C...and finally Z, the end. Nay, a fuller appreciation of Love resides in one of two things, or possibly both. The first is the sights and sounds, the second is attempting to fill the gaps, mostly emotional and thematic, with the various pieces to the puzzle scattered about. On that first level, William Eubank, especially given that this is his first feature length debut, should be commended. Even with the sometimes ‘iffy’ picture and sound quality of the room I saw the movie in, Love blossomed before our very eyes with some picturesque, memorable and even bold images that are still stuck in the author’s mind. It is true that more often than not visuals alone do not carry a film entirely, but in case of Love, they almost succeed.  There is a technical proficiency on display that even big-budget studio films would have difficulty matching up against. Just the first few minutes which, again, have nothing to do with outer space but rather the American Civil War, are stunning, jaw-droppingly impressive in their raw brutality and beauty. It is easy to imagine that later on, when the more science-fiction heavy possibilities take over, the visual and audio experience shoots through the ceiling. 

Unfortunately, the second element of what holds most films together, narrative, drags the picture down. The premise is fascinating, make no mistake about it. Computer difficulties make and astronaut’s shuttle unresponsive towards commands, forcing the solitary person to ponder on what he might never see again on Earth. Perpetual solitude ensures. The thing is, director Eubank is tremendously keen on expanding that idea into something far, far larger than it really needs to be and the film slowly loses its footing because of that. There is a moment when Lee Miller discovers an old, dusty journal in one of the ships multiple compartments. Turns out it is the journal written by the Civil War veteran seen at the beginning of the movie. Thus begins one of the film’s first tries at tying in huge, expansive ideas and visions together. Miller slowly grows impatient up there in space, alone in his shuttle. Dreams of his wife, of various human emotions, of the Civil War begin to fill his head, therefore propelling him onto a far deeper psychological journey than the mere physical one he is currently a slave to.

Try as he might, William Eubank is unsuccessful at two things: bridging the various ideas together in a fully satisfying manner and, possibly more importantly, being original. The first error is almost forgivable just because seeing new filmmakers express themselves at festivals is always an exciting experience. Eubank clearly wanted to be meditative and big simultaneously, certainly not an uncomplicated feat if there ever was one in movies. ‘A for effort’ is an expression that immediately springs to mind when evaluating this young, ambitious director’s debut. That does not suffice, sadly. At the end of the day, one does want something that at least has some threads a viewer can grab onto, and the more Love went into its harder sci-fi elements, the fewer threads existed it seemed. By the time the film closes (spoiling the ending would be helpful to get my ideas across more properly, but this is such a tiny movie that would not feel just),  the movie is obviously making a point, but this audience member was very, very unclear as to how we got from point, say, M to Z. A to M was alright, but if anyone can help me out with what happens after that, please be my guest. The second failure, originality, is far less forgivable. If there existed where a science-fiction movie geek tried to make his or her own version of 2001: A Space Odyssey without a care or thought about the possibilities of looking like a good old copycat, this would have to be it. Once more, a refusal to divulge in detail what transpires in the film shall prevent me from going any further, but the last half hour or so of Love left myself and more than a few audience members a little bit dumbfounded as to what we were witnessing. Really? This William Eubank chap actually decided to pull a trick already done once in arguably the most highly regarded, revered science-fiction films of all time, at times even shot for shot? Okay...

Love is not an easy recommendation. Fans who enjoy their films when they deliver straightforward plots will most likely loath William Eubank’s debut. It is a film for which an open mind is definitely a pre-requisite. That being said, there is a fear that even the most open of minds might not find much to enjoy about the film. In some respects that is due to the murkiness that shadows the presentation of many of the film’s ideas, while in other ways it is the sheer lack of originality. If you have seen A Space Odyssey and then see this, you will know precisely what is being referred to. It may have been a labour of love for the director, but that was exactly what I was left wanting by the time the film ended. A little bit of love.

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