Conversations with Other Women
As an aspiring filmmaker, there’s nothing I hate more than a sparkling, young genius—the type of person who exploits film’s natural vocabulary in a way that is not only innovative but intelligent as well. Hans Canosa is just such a genius. And I hate him.
He’s even got a perfect biography. Born into a family of fire and brimstone Christian fundamentalists, Canosa was forbidden from “indulging” in any art, theatre or film growing up. At the age of 10, however, during a tour of missionary duty in Singapore, young Hans stole away to see a performance of traditional Chinese opera. He was hooked. He spent his teen years slinking off to as many plays and films as he could. Though Harvard beckoned, Canosa’s parents deemed the academic powerhouse too secular and “dangerous.” When he went there against their will, the young man was disowned. Such a screwed-up, repressive family situation is almost a prerequisite for genius.
Canosa’s first feature, Conversations with Other Women is one of those films that gets you excited about filmmaking again. The plot itself is simple: it’s Before Sunset minus the cinematic tour of Paris. And this time, the couple in question have enjoyed a lot more than a single night together. In fact, they have shared a tempestuous marriage. Now these two (Thank You for Smoking’s Aaron Eckhart and Mrs. Tim Burton, the supremely talented Helena Bonham Carter) find themselves at a wedding a decade or so later. Initially, they act like strangers, role playing a first encounter, but it soon becomes clear that they’re both walking across each others long-forgotten scars. She is married with children in London, while he’s with a dancer half his age in New York. In each other’s eyes, they see their younger selves, but in new wrinkles and expanded waist lines, they also see what can never be recovered.
Conversations with Other Women is really about loss. To emphasise the point, Canosa presents it entirely in split screen, a technique that, though often laboured in other hands, seems a perfect fit here. The dual frame technique allows us to see a line’s delivery and the reaction it elicits at the same time. Moreover, it allows Canosa to deftly edit in flashbacks (from both perspectives) and convey arrested psychological desires. In scenes the actors called “double-siders” on set, we see what a character wants to do and actually does do at the same time. The effect is an increased sense of psychological intimacy with both characters.
By framing scenes so that they appear as though the two characters are occupying wholly different spaces, Canosa conveys the sense in which true connection is impossible. The composition of the two screens never actually come together. Any and all attempts at connecting to a now-lost time prove futile. Only at the end, when the two characters hop into different cabs and make off in different directions do the two screens sync up. Only in parting are the man and the woman occupying the same space.
Conversations with Older Women is a smart, funny and deeply moving film about passion and loss. With it, Canosa proves himself to be not only an innovator, but a mature artist who understands pacing (he is also the film’s editor) and how to work with actors. With a writing partner this good (Gabrielle Zevin), who knows how far he’ll go? I’m green with envy.
Conversations with Other Women is now playing at Canada Square, 2190 Yonge St., 416-646-0444.
My pick for DVDs this week is Michael Haneke’s Caché, a riveting study of guilt and terror. The film tells the story of a middle-class, intellectual couple (Daniel Auteil and Juliette Binoche) whose smug, idyllic Paris life is interrupted when a mysterious video cassette at their door. The tape shows them entering and exiting their home. The anxiety that springs from being watched soon grows as more tapes arrive, displaying images linked to long-repressed memories from George (Auteil)’s past. More than simply an excellent psychological study with a keen political edge, this film is as taut as they come. Tension builds and builds, ever so subtly, until Haneke delivers one of the most surprising and indelible moments in cinema I’ve seen in years. No spoiler here, but Caché is very much worth a viewing, especially with the DVD’s special features—behind-the-scenes footage and a documentary on Haneke’s career and work.