Wednesday, June 19, 2013

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

I'm kind of surprised I was able to write as much on this movie as quickly as I did - even with documentaries, I tend to be a story-and-information guy, and there's precious little of that here. And, I admit, I might have passed this one by if not for a couple of things: First, there's a fair amount of animation in it, and when images from it started showing up on the Brattle's screen before other movies, they looked quite nice. Second, writer/director/editor Terence Nance was announced as being present for a couple of screenings, and when you've got a sort of art-house-y movie, it's nice to have the opportunity to ask questions.

Terence Nance

That's Nance; Sandy Alexandre from the MIT Literature Department is out of frame to the left. I see that one of her specialties is African-American literature, and while there is a title card that one of the financiers/supporters is dedicated to the cinema of the African Diaspora, that's not a topic that was touched upon during the movie or discussion very much. Well, other than how, in one scene, someone on the bus asks Terence and his platonic lady friend Namik (who, at the time, had the same sort of 'do as Nance) whether they were going to be having big-haired babies, or how one segment about his comfortably middle-class upbringing referenced The Cosby Show. I would be curious to hear if there are bits of it that resonate specifically to African American viewers, because it seemed pretty universal to me.

There were a few interesting subjects touched upon worth noting. He mentioned that he lived in South Africa for a year or two between the events of the movie (2006) and the present, which explained why a couple of the other relationships mentioned were "halfway around the world". Interesting context, at least, as I figured they were pre-Namik, maybe foreign students he knew during college (and maybe they were; not a lot of information).

One other thing that kind of fascinated me was how he talked about how the animation, as it is wont to do, particularly when you don't have a lot of money, took a long time. This meant that as he waited for it to be completed, he was working on the movie in other ways, and as a result he was growing and maturing while the animators were working based on the way he was thinking at an earlier point in his life - a big deal, for a movie as thoroughly drawn from his own life as this one was.

There was a fair amount of other conversation, too, although a fair amount of it sounded like liberal-arts-major overthinking of things to my engineer's brain. I am glad I saw the movie with the Q&A (and at all), though; it was a nifty little work that might not otherwise have been on my radar.

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 June 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Special Engagement, digital)

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty began life as a short film, "How Would You Feel?", and goes about building that work up to a feature in an unusual way, not so much expanding it but responding to it. It's an interesting idea, although dangerous - the original piece was sort of self-centered as it was - but filmmaker Terence Nance (along with a team of animators) has put together something striking and entertaining enough that many will enjoy it, even if it does just annoy others.

"How Would You Feel?", at least as presented in this movie, was a riff on a reasonably simple idea: Terence gets home from a long day at his job and the workshop (where he is attempting to fabricate a bed for himself based upon a novice's understanding of Japanese wood joinery), having looked forward to spending the evening with a girl he's known for a few months who certainly seems like may be as attracted to him as he is to her. Instead, she calls and says she won't be coming over, and if that happened to you... Well, how would you feel?

It's an amusing premise for a short, and while it's got a fair amount of potential to be kind of presumptuous and whiny, there's a certain amount of self-deprecation to it - the deep-voiced narrator could come straight from one of those "How to..." Goofy cartoon, and while the structure is often a loop of running through the same series of events with a little more detail added to (supposedly) make Terence's situation sound more sympathetic, the tone often becomes a little more mocking, though not flagrantly so. It's a fine balance between earnestly depicting a young man in love and suffering a tiny heartbreak that feels like it may be the missed opportunity and having a little fun with the structure of the thing.

Full review on EFC

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