One of the things that keeps venture capitalists and entrepreneurs from sleeping well is the constant fear of someone else stealing their inventive thunder. As was readily admitted at Canada 3.0 last week (cross reference below) during a panel of financiers, it is not so much new ideas that are sought but innovative ways of solving real problems and having a plan to get those solutions to market before someone else does.
Executive producers and filmmakers face the same dilemma.
How curious, then, to view two new films in less than 24 hours that take on the universal subject of death. In Mike Stutz’s documentary, Don’t Change the Subject (cross-reference below), suicide is the primary fodder. His points are made using the traditional method of interviews but a large helping of high-quality artistic interventions speak much louder than the talking heads. Too-soon passings and attempted suicide also inform David Spaltro’s second feature, Things I Don’t Understand. Having not sliced deep enough into her alluring forearms when life seemed overwhelming, Violet Kubelick (Molly Ryan) is subjected to tough-love therapy by her daddy-paid-for shrink (stoically dispensed by Lisa Eichhorn—her name: Dr. Anne Blankenship giving much of the “answer” away) and a couple of loft-mates whose artistic ambitions fuel much of the narrative’s diversions from Violet’s quest to find out just what we can expect after breathing our last.
Director/writer Spaltro has given himself an enormous assignment and except for one devastatingly real scene, has cast a narrative net so wide that the overall focus and eventually the pace slips from marvellously full of possibility into the less enjoyable revelation-by-trumped-up-situation technique (and a few self-indulgent jokes: “cunt as The Hurt Locker” being just one of the misplaced cheap-laugh examples).
In order to acquaint her patient with the reality of those who are on the short path to an early end, Dr. Blankenship sends Violet off to a hospice and immediately into the acquaintance of attendant (and 110% believer in God), Joe (Nabil Vinas) and bone cancer patient, Sara (Grace Folsom leads the troupe in the acting department whether dead or alive …). Not a lot older than the doomed former dancer (one of far too many “coincidences” that add further saccharine pathos to an already horrific plight), the two women soon bond, discovering they have much more in common than either imagined: broken homes, warring parents, inability to find true love …). Following a communal Thanksgiving dinner at the loft (where Sara literally steals away from her drab institution to partake in the revelry and bitchiness of her last supper—so at one with Oxygen, cross-reference below), Folsom pulls out all of her considerable emotional stops as she admits to Violet that “I don’t want to go … I don’t know why [this has happened to me].” Anyone who has been a part of that conversation in real life will attest to the veracity of the tone of despair and feeling of utter hopelessness.
Patrick (played by the predominantly moody Aaron Mathias) is Violet’s favourite barkeep and the next target to feed her insatiable appetite for—until now, she hopes—loveless sex. But he has demons of his own, still sporting a wedding ring and chronically ignoring his passé ringtones. Spaltro tries to weave this relationship into a love story but can’t find the magic elixir of fully formed character development to ignite the smouldering passion.
Rounding out the principals are the roommates. Gabby (and she does talk a far bit, which is no worries for Meissa Hampton who gives the film a touch of zest) is preparing for her theatrical opening night whose receipts should go a long way to solving the trio’s dwelling problems (through some curious real estate manoeuvres, if $20,000 isn’t found in six weeks, the scrappy homemakers will be looking for another zip code—adding to the pervading sense of loss that Spaltro’s thesis demands). The house musician is generally gay (see joke warning above) Remy (an acceptably campy Hugo Dillon) whose career, soon like his love life, is going anywhere but up.
Nearly two hours in length, this production frequently feels longer, especially after what appears to be a major climactic point only sets the stage for another round of delving into the same overarching question. Still, Vita Tanga’s score and soprano Kathleen Jasinskas’ liquid-gold lines are a wonderful addition even unto themselves. Here’s hoping Spaltro’s next offering will become a model of the old adage, “less is always more.” JWR