By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act April 22, 2013 at 11:28AM
Variance Films will open Terence Nance's Gotham award-winning (Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You) work of film art, An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty, this Friday, April 26; here's my review of the film after I saw it at the Sundance Film Festival where it premiered last year.
They say that there's something of every artist in the work they create, whether a conscious decision or not; and the act of creating with the intent to surrender your creation (and in essence a piece of yourself) to a potentially scrutinizing audience, requires some degree of courage on the part of the artist; but I would further say that it takes a certain amount and kind of bravery to intentionally insert oneself (both literally and figuratively) completely naked (physically and emotionally) into one's work, and then publicly present the completed work to not only family, friends and acquaintances, but also perfect strangers.
Although there is also risking the possibility (or danger even) that some may consider it more of an arrogance and pretentiousness than bravery; but some artists may actually embrace that interpretation as well.
Terence Nance's feature film debut straddles that line, both in terms of content and structure; I would further ellaborate on that, but I want to give as little of the narrative away as possible, because I think it's the kind of work that's best experienced blindly. And I will say that, in this writer's opinion, in *lesser* skilled creative hands, An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty (Nance's feature film debut, some 3 years in the making) could have veered more towards the overbearing, instead of the bold, contemplative, inquisitive, complex work of art Nance has created here.
And it's just that - a work of art; something you're maybe more apt to find as an installation (or part of one) in a museum, than at the movie theater - specifically the mainstream, multiplex chains; I could definitely see some of the smaller independent theaters programming it into their schedules.
In watching An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty, numerous artists from different mediums and their works entered my mind at various moments within the film's 91-minute running time; like author and playwright Arthur Schnitzler (known most for his inquisitive and frank explorations of sexuality and the unconscious), Jonathan Caouette's critically acclaimed fiercely personal 2003 documentary Tarnation, the whimsy of Jean- Pierre Jeaunet's 2001 hit Amelie (thanks in part to Nance's use of a piece of a track from Yann Tiersen's score of that film), and even multi-media artist Chris Marker's seminal, poetic post-apocalyptic 1962 short film La Jetee, itself also a work that some would classify as ART, constructed almost entirely from photographs and a running voice-over, than what most recognize as classic cinema.
There were other names and titles that came to mind, but I can't recall all them right now.
However, I saw pieces of each of them in Nance's film - a candid, meditative, at times whimsical, personal, complex exploration of time, memory, obsession, awareness, and change; or maybe more simplistically, why we (human beings) do the things we do, and the difficulties in acknowledging and coming to terms with those perceived to be unflattering personal traits we have; and the vulnerability that accompanies that kind of self-actualization.
To say that it's a loaded work would be an understatement; but that should be expected because I think honest explorations of human emotionality can get rather messy - or as I said in Twitter, after saw the film, labyrinthine.
We are after all complex creatures; masters like Freud spent a considerable amount of effort and time in discovering and elucidating that complicated dance between the unconscious and the conscious mind.
Nance's film is like an intricate network of webs that might at first seem chaotic, but you get the feeling that the person behind the creation is in control of that chaos.
Call it an attack on the senses; layered busy frames, combining live-action and animation; you're bombarded with images, sounds (music), voices (words), text, and often all of them on screen simultaneously, so much that it'll be practically impossible to capture and digest all of it after just a single viewing.
It's one of those works that I'd say requires multiple screenings. You could watch it as it's meant to be presented the first time; then the second time, with the sound off; the third time focusing exclusively on the live action; the 4th time on the animation; etc, etc, etc; all of which further supports the suggestion that it's a work that deserves to be in a museum environment, so that you're allowed the time and space to revisit it over and over and over again, each time realizing some element that was lost on you the previous times you watched it, encouraging further dissection, and thus understanding of it.
In essence, it's a challenging work, although there's a simplicity to it as well, in the fact that its central subject matter is something so basic and universal that I think anyone willing to commit to and give themselves over to the film will appreciate.
I also valued what I'd call a reversal of societal traditions. Without giving much away, there's a social expectation of men and masculinity, and women and femininity, that Nance's film negates. Often we (men) are in positions of control, are mysterious, and more apt to display a kind of emotional apathy (of course, we can further elaborate on why that is exactly, but I won't here), and it's sometimes to maintain a false sense of power; much of cinema is full of this type of depiction of masculinity, as a reflection of what we call reality.
In An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, there's a reversal of expected social roles that happens, a switch with profound consequences that were of influence on the birth of the film itself. And I really believe many (both male and female) will watch this and see themselves in it, and will either smile in recognition, or cringe, though also in recognition of the familiar.
Consider it something of a 91-minute therapy session, not only for the film's 2 main characters, but also potentially for the audience as well.
I foresee challenges in the film's distribution acquisition prospects. It's rare that we see black people on screen (big or small) in this specific kind of framing, a welcomed framing, mind you; and that alone puts the work in the *difficult* position of being dare I say *unusual* in the eyes of prominent distribution companies who haven't shown much interest in the potential of the *unique*, challenging, and even *artsy,* where this thing we call black cinema is concerned.
But I'm hopeful; and I also plan to see the film again...
Thankfully Variance Films eventually picked up the film and will be opening it in limited theatrical release starting this Friday. Details on specific locations will come before the end of the week.