Tuesday, October 8, 2013

FI: An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty
US, 2012
Written and directed by Terence Nance

Have you ever had a moment, perhaps an interaction or a potential plan that you'd kept to yourself so as not to jinx it, that didn't go according to your plan? Did you then obsess about that moment, about everything that led to it and spun off of it, and wonder how and why it went down the way it did? Then you might appreciate An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, an interesting and original film that deals with a missed rendezvous between an artist and his potential new muse. Writer/director Terence Nance blends the indie lo-fi sensibility of his original short How Would You Feel? and pads it with animation, documentary realism, and wryly ironic narration—by, among others, The Wire's Reg E. Cathey, one of the best voices in the business—to create a feature-length exploration of a singular real-life moment. Like David Hemmings in Antonioni's Blow-Up, Nance inflates that moment beyond recognition in an attempt to find meaning and give himself closure, but here the film itself IS the blow-up, and the meaning it attempts to find is largely a personal, inward-facing one.

Nance plays himself, an artist and filmmaker living in New York who has struck up a semi-platonic friendship—as in, a friendship that he very much hopes, in spite of all evidence, will cease to be platonic—with a fellow artsy type (Namik Minter, the actual woman who inspired the film). After a particularly long and harrowing day, when Nance returns home comforted solely by the thought that he will see Minter that night, he gets a voicemail indicating that Minter will not be coming over. The film then spirals out and around this moment, replaying it with additional context via a variety of styles and media, each time exploring the emotional and philosophical impact it has on Nance. Throughout, Nance plays with the tools of cinema, transitioning from conjecture to reality, from the original short to new material, through intertitles, old VHS-style pause screens, and other tricks. All of this serves to keep the audience off-balance, introspective, and unsure what to believe.

As that description should make obvious, this is probably not a movie for everyone, though it's hard to fault Nance's artistic ambitions or technical skill for that. It could play as a bit too artsy or a bit too "New York" for some people, which is fair enough. And I have to admit I was in the wrong frame of mind, after a long day of my own, to settle in for this movie, but I enjoyed it up to a point and admired its intentions. Approached with an open mind and a thoughtful mien, Nance's unique expression of his thoughts and musings leaves much to be gleaned. Above and beyond any of that, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty conveys a perspective of a community we rarely ever see—young African American artists and intellectuals, who are so often excluded or erased in favor of their white hipster compatriots (Girls season one, I'm looking at you) or some phony sense of "urban realism"—and shows how vibrant and dynamic that community really is. That alone is worthy of praise and of your attention, even if the film itself (smart and well-made though it is) may not be to your taste.

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