Simple Women (2019)

CHIARA MALTA

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

Italy/Romania, 2019Rai Cinema, Vivo Film, microFILM.  Screenplay by Sébastien Laudenbach, Chiara Malta, Marco Pettenello.  Cinematography by Tudor Vladimir Panduru.  Produced by Marta Donzelli, Gregorio Paonessa, Ada Solomon.  Music by Olivier Mellano.  Production Design by Massimiliano Nocente.  Film Editing by Giogiò Franchini, Ion Ioachim StroeToronto International Film Festival 2019.

Jasmine Trinca is excellent as a documentary filmmaker whose childhood was marked by her suffering epileptic seizures, and whose adolescence found comfort for this in a cinematic hero: watching Hal Hartley’s Simple Men in her youth, she became fixated on the character played by Elina Löwensohn, who also suffers a similar illness on screen. As an adult, Trinca randomly meets Löwensohn (playing herself) on the streets of Rome and tells her she is a big fan, even asking her to consider being the subject of a film she wants to make about her. The actress politely declines the offer, but after finding herself performing yet another soulless minor character on an HBO show and being overlooked for a film role she was after, she seeks Trinca out and accepts her offer in the spirit of rebelling against the industry that is forcing her aging self into obscurity. The two women and a film crew soon find themselves in Lowensohn’s birthplace of Bucharest, making a movie that flows easily between fiction and fact, telling the subject’s own story in curious and inventive ways that include her portraying her own father and delivering narrative monologues on empty theatre stages. As the filming progresses, Trinca becomes insecure about her lead actress’s devotion to the project and is turned off by what she interprets as diva-like behavior, becoming anxious about the the distance between her hero worship and her star’s ambivalence about either rejecting that admiration or using it to her advantage.  Chiara Malta’s debut feature film sets up an incredibly bewitching tale for movie lovers (not to mention an indulgence for Hartley’s fans), one that plays on various levels of reality in increasingly playful and incisive ways. Löwensohn is game for the whole operation, up for Malta’s rendering of her as much as she is up for challenging Trinca’s, as hilarious in the scenes that require her to play the self-involved vedette as she is riveting when performing her autobiography in the film within the film. All this incredible content, then, makes it that much more disappointing when Malta paints herself into a corner and gives a great debut film a painfully weak ending that undoes all its good work. These women become more isolated and stubborn as the story progresses, so following a cleverly filmed dream sequence (?) that goes on far too long with a “twist” ending that suggests that their realities were bleeding into each other’s and getting confused, while refusing to resolve Trinca’s own emotional concerns, is illogical and feels like a lazy cheat, suggesting more that the production ran out of money than that the (real) director is upending narrative conventions.

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