Connecting. It’s difficult for some people. I of course wouldn’t know anything about such struggles (he said with a clenched jaw and watering eyes), but I have heard stories. Human contact is often a necessity, however. Though I sometimes consider taking off and becoming a solitary hermit (like Into the Wild, but way less annoying), I think it would be very depressing in practice. So we go do things with other people. Things like sit in a dark room for hours without talking because you’re watching footage of other people interacting rather than doing it yourself. This, ladies and gentlemen, is day seven of the LA Film Fest.
Now I am being a little facetious – going to the movies can lead to that essential interaction if you are willing to talk about what you’ve just seen with others. But sometimes you are seeing a film all by yourself (it’s not as sad as you might think, guys) and there’s no one with whom to discuss your burning, itching thoughts (what’s up Cloud Atlas? Why have none of my friends seen you?). The good thing about the internet age is that it allows you to connect with like-minded people who will be willing and able to talk about Cloud Atlas (seriously, what’s up with the birthmark?).
But technology can keep us apart, as well. I for one can attest to the fact that I often use music and podcasts to block out people I don’t know when I’m uncomfortable in a crowd. Who knows what interesting pathways I’m similarly blocking out when I do this?
Denis Côté’s new film, Joy of Man’s Desiring, looks at human interaction in the workplace and how technological innovation has changed it. The movie is a trippy mixture of documentary and narrative wherein we see the interaction between man and machine in various factories around French Canada. Eventually the human characters begin to interact with each other, but in a stilted, inhuman sort of way. There is very little actual conversation or exchange of words occurring. Instead we get monologues or clipped, matter-of-fact back and forth.
One of our factory workers (Emilie Sigouin, I think. There’s barely a cast list to work off of) opens the film with a speech to an unseen co-worker about how their relationship will proceed moving forward. At one point she describes herself as a machine. This is the key to picture. Côté shoots the factory machinery in a way that gives it life and personality, and does the opposite with his human characters. One male worker (Guillaume Tremblay, I’m pretty sure) constantly repeats the phrase “Working never hurt anyone. Why take the risk?” as if it were in his programming. Another male employee (Ted Pluviose, but who really knows if that is accurate?) is the only one to express distress with what the system has turned him into, but he finds very little sympathy from his compatriots. Hopefully it is not too late for him.
That all sounds well and good, and it actually makes sense to me now that I’ve written it down, but when I was watching Joy of Man’s Desiring I was pretty lost. I don’t like the sensation of not “getting” a movie, so this was pretty distressing for me. I had a hard time connecting to the characters, as well as the film. Maybe that was Côté’s intention.
That essential breakdown in connectivity is also a presence in The One I Love. The feature directorial debut from Charlie McDowell and feature writing debut from Justin Lader (both of whom do exceedingly good work here), The One I Love stars Mark Duplass (The League, every mumblecore movie) and Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) as Ethan and Sophie, a married couple who have begun to experience much difficulty in retaining the spark that brought them together in the first place. Their therapist (Ted Danson) recommends a weekend getaway at a beautiful property in the country. Once they get there, Ethan and Sophie get down to the hard work of facing their problems head-on.
At first The One I Love looks to be the standard mumblecore-ish fare one would expect from a film starring Duplass (has any other actor had such a giant disparity between his or her film and television work?), but the movie takes a turn early on that will grab hold of even the staunchest anti-mumblecore militants. I won’t say anything more – in fact forget that I even said that. Just see the movie and then we can talk about it.
The One I Love is quite good, and the performances by Moss and Duplass (hard to believe they haven’t worked together before, since their last names rhyme) are layered and well-done. Danson really only appears in the first few minutes – this is the central couple’s show from start to finish. Regardless of plot specifics or the state of the characters’ union, Duplass and Moss clearly formed a connection as actors that allowed them to create a nuanced relationship on-screen.
As the LA Film Fest begins to wind down, my own connections with other human beings dwindle as well. I’m beginning to burn out, which they say is better than fading away, but I just don’t think that’s true. I had a ticket to see another film tonight, but I couldn’t make it that late tonight. Stevie needs some sleep. My movie-going ambitions remain high, but my tenacity is dropping. I may only make it to a couple more films before the whole thing wraps up on Thursday, but it’s all for the best. It’s hard enough for me to connect with the people I see every day – extreme movie-induced exhaustion wouldn’t help matters.
Catch Stevie’s exploration of “the weird” in Day Six‘s analysis of Shorts Program 1 and Jossy’s. And catch up with all of his coverage from Days Five, Four, Three, Two, and One (ignore Day One. Really. Ignore it).