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Lina El Arabi,
An unemployed ex-office worker (Anna Thomson) searching for work floats a fragile line of sanity as she struggles to find friendship and companionship. Her tenuous grasp on reality further fluctuates when a man (Matthew Powers) whom she met in a restaurant and started an affair is called to go to India for an assignment. The final straw occurs when she is evicted and moves into a sleazy hotel. She then starts seeking casual sex in unorthodox locations just to have human contact.Written by
John Sacksteder <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A minimalist treatise on despair and urban alienation
Sue is in her mid-thirties, unemployed yet seeking work, and having trouble paying the rent on her New York apartment. She lives alone and appears to have neither friends nor family other than a mother with Alzheimer's in a home far away in Oregon. She spends her days seeking solace in cafes or on park benches, chain smoking and ineffectually attempting to engage in conversation with complete strangers. These early scenes effectively and succinctly introduce Sue's character, capturing the alienation and desperation that some people face in a late 20th century urban environment. Subsidiary characters are either too busy or self-absorbed to offer her the time of the day, and all transactions are limited strictly to the materialistic: Endless refills of coffee are poured out by cold, unsmiling faces in the diners and restaurants that Sue frequents. Elsewhere Sue submits to the request of an old black man to shows her breasts to she meets in the park after he buys her a drink costing 75 cents and talks to her for a while. As the film progresses, she increasingly takes to casual sex with strangers in order to forge some sort of emotional connection, no matter how transitory. Sue just desperately wants to be loved.
Sue's character is wonderfully played by character actress Anna Levine Thompson (who's had bit-parts in numerous films, from 'Warlock' to the 'The Unforgiven'), capturing a range of emotions from nervous despair to whining self-pity. At first we are clearly forced to identify with her, as all ancillary characters are kept clearly on the periphery. This is mirrored in the films visual style, with its narrow depth of focus and its muted grey colour palette. Later on, as we get to see her and how she interacts with other characters, you are more filled with the urge to shake her: With her indulged defeatism she comes across as more self-centred than any of the other characters.
Using low-grade film stock, director Kollek captures New York in all of it's earthiness, stripped of the glitzy veneer of the standard Hollywood portrayal and eschewing the exaggerated grittiness of the likes of Martin Scorsese or Abel Ferrara. My main complaint is that the film is a little too narrow in focus. The basics of the character are so well handled in the first half hour that there is little gained in travelling much further along the same path, and in its own right, the basic premise barely warrants the length of a full feature. Subsequent scenes are merely an accumulation of detail, and there is not much in the way of character development past this. Even after she embarks on her relationship with Ben (Matthew Powers), she shows no real of changing, and the film continues along the same vein before coming to an abrupt halt as the credits role. At other times, Kollek's script resorts to a melodrama at odds with the verisimilitudinous tone of the rest of the film, such as when her friend Lola holds up a bar with a gun (before they even finish their drinks!), or Sue has an erotic encounter in a cinema. Important details are sketched over (why does she lose her job, for example?), and at times plot climaxes seem imposed artificially.
Despite these reservations, it's a well made and strong film, suggesting that we make our own luck, and that some people are born to be victims, and wouldn't have it any other way. Kollek and Levine have recently completely another film ('Fiona'), which I would certainly forward to seeing. UK distributors, where are you?
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