Naked Cinema began its second annual event February 1 with the debut of the film Love, Approximately, a feature-length Dogme 95 style production that surprised with its depth and acting, even though it was still a little rough around the edges.
For those unfamiliar with the style, Dogme 95 is a movement devised by director Lars Von Trier (Nymphomaniac, Anti-Christ, Melancholia) and company which prescribes a series of rules that a director must abide by in order to make a certified Dogme-film. These rules all work towards the aim of taking the artifice out of cinema and forcing a film to rely on storytelling and character as opposed to Michael Bay-esque antics. A Dogme film is sparse, unassuming and challenging to both the audience and those who make it as the story and acting are all that can sustain it or make it fail.
It is fortunate that Love, Approximately has a good story, one with some nuanced character interaction and a naturally delivered comic vein, which combine into a remarkably realized experience.
The plot is one of interconnected characters whose influences on each other remain mostly unnoticed at first. But as events transpire, they are slowly brought closer together. This style makes for some good drama and humour throughout, although it also carries the inherent problems of that structure. For example, most characters cannot benefit from a particularly complex story arch, which a plot with fewer central figures could have.
Peoples’ motivations are relatively singular, with emotional reactions or plot points being fairly simply traced to their causes, although there are some exceptions. One character, with grand, artistic ambitions, has quite a fascinating development from awkward, somewhat dopey protagonist to ego-driven antagonist. In addition, the prejudiced cafe worker serves as an excellent example of subtext being used to supplement direct plotting and provides a nice open-ended storyline.
On the other side of things, two sisters living together (one going through a divorce, the other just out of rehab) are undoubtedly entertaining, but stray too close to exaggerated caricatures at times to a point where it lessens the importance of what each is going through. In addition, the wisdom-dispensing hippie is sometimes entertaining and useful as a medium for other character's self-discovery. However, much of the insight she provides — which could be profound — is cut down by how goofy she is the rest of the time.
It also seems important to note that the men of this film, both onscreen and off, are painted to be self-interested antagonists in one way or another. Although the female characters are undoubtedly also imperfect, most of them end up being victims of the men in their lives — a dynamic that was a little troubling.
Some may find the Dogme style frustrating and certainly the lack of a soundtrack and the usual cinematographic tropes are jarring at first. The camera operation is also a little unsteady at times. However, after a while this became less noticeable.
Many of the people involved in the production had extensive training in theatre and it really showed in the production, which used long takes and some great monologues to make the characters feel slightly larger than life. It was very easy to imagine this working just as well on a stage in front of a live audience.
Love, Approximately was imperfect, as any Dogme movie is expected to be. Although there are some characters that feel underdeveloped or slightly bombastic, they are second to the ultimately impressive feature that is this film. It was complex, ambitious and profound in places, showing great promise for Naked Cinema III in 2017.