Monday, March 22, 2004

Past Perfect

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 March 2004 at the Brattle Theater (Sunday Eye-Opener)

One thing about movies that intrigues me, especially when seen in the theater, is that you're allowed to have an off-putting first act. If a TV show, or a CD, or a book, or even a stage play, opened like Past Perfect, well, the odds are that I'd change the channel, put it aside, or walk out at intermission. But a movie's different; you're in a dark room, and can't quit without disturbing your neighbors. You're there until the bitter end.

Past Perfect is a small, intimate film. Writer/director/star Daniel MacIvor is primarily known as a playwright, and it shows at many points. He and co-star Rebecca Jenkins spend much of their time in specific spaces, talking. Stories of their youth are recounted verbally as opposed to flashed-back-to. And like two actors on a bare stage, there aren't many distractions; the film zeroes in on them dealing with each other. Unlike a play, though, the film is made up of two seperate threads, about two years apart, each told chronologically but with plenty of cutting back and forth between them. And MacIvor is able to use silence just as much as speech to get us inside the couple's heads.

At first, they are not terribly pleasant people. Cecil, MacIvor's character, is rude and snappish; Charlotte (Jenkins) is bitter and distant. When they first meet, they managed to get on my nerves as much as each other's. It isn't until deep into the film that the audience starts to get a sense of some chemistry, some actual possible affection between them. By that point it's almost, but not quite, too late.

And the end works. It's over an hour of clock-watching pain to get to that last act, but the last twenty minutes or so do manage to build on the tedium of the rest of the movie, managing to make their relationship's start believable and its potential end tragic. The time invested in getting there does pay off.

I don't know if I'd have made it to that payoff if I'd seen the film on DVD, though. The place I spend most of my online talking-movie time is the Home Theater Forum, and two common topics of discussion there are how (1) people only see the big, blockbuster type movies in the theater because smaller dramas are just as good at home, and (2) how it is good to be in control of one's home presentation. But with a film like Past Perfect, which seems calculated to make the audience earn the payoff just as much as the characters, it would be so easy to hit "eject" about fifteen minutes in and move on to something more immediately rewarding.

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