Love is Not Love

16 Feb

Looking for Love in all the wrong places, or a walk on metaphysical side

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Stephen Keep Mills, a character actor for decades, now in his spry early 70s, makes his feature directorial debut with this tres meta contemplation about love, desire and the actualization of. Shot in stark black and white, Mills’s satire “Love is Not Love” rambles through the streets of New York as we drop in on dicey shards of dialogue ranging from the weird, “He wants to lick my arm pit,” to the provocative, “I could love more than one man at the same time. Even the same day, no problem!” and as one might expect, the sophomoric, “Dude, jacking off is not cardio.”

Yes, Mills is looking to give us a kick in shins and he does so effectively until we settle in with Frank (Mills) our protagonist, a silver maned lion with sad eyes, well past his prime and no longer king of a pride. We follow him along somberly as he lags behind two Irish construction workers debating the merits of women and Thomas Mallory’s seminal work, “Tristan and Isolde.” Frank seems invisible to the two like Bruno Gantz’s rueful angel in “Wings of Desire.” Interestingly too, “Love is Not Love” is rendered in a similar lush, matted black and white texture, a mood accentuating signature of Wim Wenders’s international masterpiece. Wenders shot as much of his 1987 film on location as the East Germans would allow him (Germany was not united at the time and shooting scenes at the Berlin Wall was denied and required sets). Mills on the other hand, shot his New York story on a sound stage in Los Angeles using old rear-screen projection for the backdrop imagery that for all its antiquated gimmickry provides tremendous field of depth and virtuosity. The lo-fi effect’s not only impressive, it’s aesthetically mesmerizing.

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We’re a good fifteen to twenty minutes into the ninety minute film is, when we begin to wonder who is Frank and why should we care? We known nothing but burning questions abound. Does he have a job? Kids? What’s his life all about? Based on the preamble we assume whatever’s going on has to do with the quest for love—will Frank find it? Did he have it, lose it and is searching again? The answers don’t come easy. Frank falls into a SRO line (“Those in line are not in life,” one of those construction workers observes) to see a play and engages in flirty banter with an attractive woman embossed by a forward manner. Both we learn have two tickets to the show and their spouses are their dates, but for various problematic reasons hinted at, are not there. The scene ends on something of a record scratch and next thing Frank is at the door of a younger woman’s apartment with a bottle of wine where again, the dialogue, while staid and guarded, is dank and heavy with innuendo. After a glass of champagne, a hot shower and more, Frank and Reyna (Alejandra Gollas) agree to meet again. You’re thinking wait, what about that mention of a wife and is the afternoon tryst something managed by a hook up app like Tinder? Is it a play to pay arrangement?

There’s a lot of moving pieces despite the lack of physical movement. Mills clearly has a lot on his mind, and it feels like it’s been bottled up inside his head for a longtime—the cinematic realization of which, explodes onto the screen like a just-popped bottle of champagne, bubbly, aromatic and zesty, that also sadly. begins to go flat the longer it’s exposed. Our narrator for the whole affair (not a joke, I promise) is an enigmatic woman with a commanding huskiness in her voice and a lithe angular structure as evidenced by her Greek chorus insights dispensed while doing rigorously contortive yoga or playing pool and tossing out such piquant platitudes as,”If you have sex there’s hope. If you have no sex you have no hope.” Mills turns the dial up full bore when Frank comes home to the roost. The way he and his wife Paula (Louise Martin) bicker over trivial matters (crumbs, the way food is sealed in the fridge and so on) is mostly cringe worthy and banal. It screams for coupes’s counseling, then things get Fellini-esque surreal as a kangaroo court sets up operation in the kitchen—their marriage ostensibly on trial. Later, during a more tranquil moment between the two, Frank likens his life to a western calling down references to “El Topo,” Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah. It’s a random artlessly seasoning tossed into the existential olio. It’s hard not to appreciate what Mills is trying to do, it has the simmering anxiousness of something a young John Cassavetes might undertake, but we never get a satisfying inkling as to what Frank wants or what he’s about. He’s amiable, yet exasperatingly aloof and hard to corner, so much so, you think Mills himself might still be trying to figure it all out.

 

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