"It seems strange how we used to wait for letters to arrive, but what’s strangest still, is how something so small can keep you alive" sings lead vocalist Win Butler in Arcade Fires's nostalgic tune "We Used To Wait", a song that resonates with truth about the lack of a deep connection in modern human interactions. These days, letter writing is essentially non-existent, and the concept of showing mutual appreciation has been reduced to “liking” an online manifestation of someone via pictures or statements. What has been created is a terrifying detachment between people, in which technology has become a cold intermediary. Now, relationships exist in a non-tangible storage platform eager to capture information without the emotional capabilities to discern it. How can anyone find meaning in a world that values instant demonstrations of affection that rarely translate to the real world?
Sharply executed and taking advantage of this surrealist virtual era, James E. Duff’s tiny delight Hank and Asha finds warmth in such ephemeral connections through screens. His protagonists, and only characters, live thousands of miles apart between New York and Prague. Both are filmmakers of sorts, Hank (Andrew Pastides), made a documentary that showed at a festival in the Czech capital, where Asha (Mahira Kakkar), originally from India, saw it. Their first exchange is initiated by her love for his film, she tracks downs his contact information and sends him a joyful video message congratulating him.
Initially Asha’s genuine interest in him, and what he does, takes Hank by surprise. A seed of curiosity has been planted in him, he is now more than intrigued by such and unexpected and joyful message. The way the entire film works is simple, one of them sends a video message and the other replies with an answer to a question, or with new facts about themselves to share. Hank warms up to Asha very quickly. Her unbreakable sense of wonder is something Hank seems to have lost working as s a PA for a reality show. Luckily for him, there is enough wonder in her world for her to share, and to rekindle that love for life he had replaced with contemptuous apathy.
Coming from a traditional Indian family Asha has her own troubles. Her year in Prague studying film is not only important for her career, but it helps delay the arranged marriage that awaits her back home. Hank represents choice, represents a different life apart from her predestined future. But it might be to idealistic for them to feed the idea of being together. He takes her out on a "date" not caring how silly he looks dining with a camera in front of him, or how bizarrely humorous his interpretation of Bollywood musicals is. Thus, when he invites Asha to meet him in Paris, their story takes on a more serious tone.
Their unusual correspondence is never deterred by the role the camera plays between them, is as if in their minds, the recording instrument has become a palpable surrogate for each other. Afraid of losing the enchanting mechanics of their friendship, they refuse to chat live because it would obliterate the pleasure of waiting, that feeling of expectation in which everything is possible. As days go by they become dependent on one another for their daily dose of hope, laughter and, of course, love. The intimacy transferred in those short clips hits them deeply, it can appear irrational to fall in love with the snippets of a person far away, but for them it is natural, it is real.
Economical in its concept, Duff’s film is a work of its time that exploits the incredibly raw performances of his actors. With his characters he recreates the beauty of long distant loving for the new millennium. Even if occasionally the format might be perceived as tiresome or repetitive, the running time is just right for a compact story like this. Each heartfelt, and sometimes heartbreaking, cyber postcard unveils a different layer of each of their personalities; they are getting to know each other not instantly but over time. Whether messages are written on paper or shot on HD, knowing someone waits on the other side is something small that should keep us alive. And although Arcade Fire argues otherwise, we still do wait.
Hank and Asha played at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles last week and it's now playing in select theaters.