19 January 2007

Conversation(s) with Other Women

Anyone who successfully labored through Mike Figgis' Timecode should find Conversation(s) with Other Women a breeze because, since the screen is only divided into two, it’s only half the work. There’s no denying that an entire film presented in split-screen is essentially gimmicky, but Canosa uses his trick effectively and, most importantly, it’s an entirely appropriate approach to the story. Of course there’re always two sides to every story, particularly a romance, but rarely is that ever demonstrated so literally.

Aaron Eckhardt, as Man, never ceases to impress me as an actor; he can deliver an awkward courting line as trite as, “that’s an interesting theory!” so naturally and genuinely that you think he, and not his character, must’ve really been trying to get into the pants of Helena Bonham Carter, who plays Woman. Man approaches Woman at a wedding reception and offers her a flute of champagne. Wait, hasn’t he done this before? Didn’t they meet last year at Marienbad? Or was it Fredricksburg? As their conversation continues, and they move from the party to a hotel room, it becomes clearer and clearer that they know more about each other than they’ve been letting on. As if aware that we’re watching them, or that Alberto Gonzales may have the room bugged, they speak in a code unknown to us but fully understood by them.

That the whole thing unfolds in bifurcation is going to forever relegate the picture, if it's lucky, to a footnote in film history textbooks – “an interesting formal exercise” – but despite its flagrant artificiality, which the dialogue often acknowledges (“the illusion of effortlessness requires great effort indeed”), it still manages to retain an affecting love story. It's a moving meditation on the unstoppable forward momentum of time and the melancholia it leaves in its wake.

As Canosa points out – several times – on the DVD’s special features, split-screen has traditionally been used to show two spatially disconnected actions occurring concurrently. In this film, however, it’s anything goes. The two frames do, though rarely, employ their traditional function, but they are also used to show the present vs. the past; the real vs. the fantasy; and, more often, just simply Man vs. Woman in the same place at the same time. Man and Woman are deeply disconnected from one another by circumstance and time, and yet simultaneously are deeply connected by the past; it’s only fitting, therefore, that they are almost always on-screen together, yet still separated.

Directed by: Hans Canosa
Written by: Gabrielle Zevin

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