Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Love Lies Out of Left Field

The other day I saw the teriffic Love Lies Bleeding. It's a refreshing blast of neo-noir that certainly upholds the promise of director Rose Glass' first film, Saint Maud. Set in New Mexico in the late 1980s, the film unfolds with the heightened realism of any topnotch noir, until a key climactic moment toward the end. What happens in that moment I'm not about to give away, though anyone who's seen the film will know exactly what I'm talking about. It's something that in every way, stylistically and otherwise, comes out of nowhere, and it takes the film, for a few essential moments, into another realm entirely. It is also an extremely gutsy choice for the filmmakers to have taken, because it risks provoking the wrong kind of laughter. Don't get me wrong: what you see is utterly surprising and very funny, but I'm sure there are some who will laugh not in pleasurable shock and wonder, but because it may seem silly to them. Or a wrong tonal move. On the contrary, it's a perfect move, and an inspired one at that, and as I watched with a smile on my face, I silently applauded the filmmakers' nerve.

But what makes this scene work? What Rose Glass and her collaborators do here is a textbook case of how to do something abrupt and off-kilter and not seem like they're just trying to be "weird". The scene in Love Lies Bleeding works because the out-of-left-field move is symbolically right for the story. It's consistent, on a thematic level (if I can put it in English 101 kind of way) with everything that has gone before in the film and crystallizes what the film is about. That it does this while still being funny, and just a joy of a surprise, only makes it more effective. But it should serve too as a reminder (or a lesson?) to those who play around with off-the-wall moments like this one. If a story is set in one register for nearly its entire length and then switches, however briefly, to something that seems to have arrived, let's say, by way of the author taking mushrooms, that hallucinogen-fueled scene damn well better connect to the rest of the story on levels that make the weirdness feel organic. There's no sense of effort in the Love Lies Bleeding scene, no sense of the filmmakers trying to be cool or cheeky or strange. They do something that gives a wonderful jolt but which, at bottom, serves to emphasize what the story has been about all along. Great job.

The last time I saw such an effective out-of-the-blue scene like the one in Love Lies Bleeding was in the British crime series Giri/Haji. This was a series set in Tokyo and London, and while it only lasted one season on Netflix (enough for a complete unto itself story arc to unfold), it was superb. Violent and bloody, set in a realistic register throughout, with a lot of characters acting at cross purposes and a number of people stalking other people, it took a completely unexpected turn for its most climactic scene in the final episode. As one online commentator and lover of the series says, accurately, "At the emotional apex of the final episode, with our most important characters gathered, when blood is ready to be spilled, we get...a dance scene." It's a three minute scene that coalesces everything in the series up to this point: the plot developments, the character entanglements and the emotional stakes. There's music on the soundtrack, no words spoken by anyone (or on the soundtrack), and it's in black and white. And in the complicated dance itself, in how people move with each other and eye each other, we get a summation of what has happened in the seven and a half episodes thus far and of what may happen before the series ends. It's a remarkable scene, and like the one in Love Lies Bleeding, it's a creative leap into the dark, a choice that trusts its connection to the whole will not alienate, or spur the ridicule of, the viewer. It's a high point of a really good series, and though Giri/Haji was indeed a one-off, that's probably a good thing, because I don't know where its creators would have been able to take its very particular characters and how they would have topped that startling dance scene.

No comments: