Editor’s Notes: The following review is apart of our coverage of the Transilvania International Film Festival. For more information visit http://tiff.ro/en and follow TIFF Romania on Twitter at @tiffromania.
“I think you should primarily think why you are doing this,” cautions the prestigious actor Vis-à-Vis’ debut director protagonist hopes to win over with his highly personal script, and it’s advice the movie could stand to take to heart for itself. Meta-filmic only in the most cursory of manners, this sophomore outing for Czech helmer Nevio Marasovic limps along on the limited appeal of its extended comedy set-pieces as the in-film director and his lead actor to-be workshop said script on the little island of Vis—the pun is better than the movie—only to fold under the flimsiness of its hapless dramatic aspirations. As it comes to a close on a trite conclusion it mistakes for clever, you see it clearly that Marasovic never stopped to think why.
A sole prior feature to their combined names—Marasovic’s last, no less—DPs Damir Kudin and Dinko Rupcic offer an aesthetic definable often only by its flaws.
Given the confrontational opening shot, of the soap star and would-be chief player checking his phone before staring straight into the camera and being punched in the face, it’s perhaps surprising just how little Marasovic asks of his audience—patience notwithstanding. His script, co-authored with leads Rakan Rushaidat and Janko Volaric Popovic, is easy-going at its best, scarce able to engage beyond the mild chuckles the pair’s awkwardly antagonistic exchanges offer. There’s a novel naturalism to said arguments, at least; it’s difficult not to wince as a script note gives way to an impassioned personal attack, and the actors lose themselves in the heat of it all. It’s to these oft-intoxicated interludes that the movie’s best suited, free to bask in the gentle immateriality of it all.
Once matters move toward weightier thematic material and the screenplay steps back from the comedy that’s coddled it, Marasovic and his co-scribes quickly deplete what scarce store of intrigue they’ve thus far amassed. How we’re to believe each man is actually surprised by the revelation the other makes at a key juncture is a mystery more engaging than the movie itself, given patrons paying only polite attention will have figured it out an hour in advance. Likewise the parting “twist”, less a deserved dramatic coda than a facile filmmaking ploy to lend proceedings more meaning than they carry in truth. Only ever in the movies are parallels so neatly convenient for the characters, so messily inconvenient for anyone hoping to enjoy them.
“It might look like a student film,” the director ventures at the end, and his real-life counterpart is like to have said the same. A sole prior feature to their combined names—Marasovic’s last, no less—DPs Damir Kudin and Dinko Rupcic offer an aesthetic definable often only by its flaws. Vis’ scenic surroundings are all but wasted here, haphazard handheld shots and poor focus pulling robbing the isle of its panoramic pleasures and plopping the actors upon it with all the grace of a sticker slapped on an oil painting. The aural at least matches the visual, suspect sound mixing aplenty a serious issue in light of the regular role ringtones have to play. A stray handful of handsome montages is all Marasovic has to offer by way of redemption; it’s not enough, but the pleasing tones of Andrew Bird’s score offer at least the momentary reprieve all else asks for.
Vis’ scenic surroundings are all but wasted here, haphazard handheld shots and poor focus pulling robbing the isle of its panoramic pleasures and plopping the actors upon it with all the grace of a sticker slapped on an oil painting.
“It’s funny,” the director muses as he meets the major actor in the second of the dinner scenes that act as bookends of a sort, “the isolation brought us together, like in the script!” That line, presumably, for anyone who missed the creaking cacophony of mirrors being rolled out at every opportunity. Vis-à-Vis is a film first laboured then belaboured, mild comedy buried and lost to the ages beneath a mound of meek drama. It is rare for a writer to pen a line that so succinctly argues the case against his own movie. As the camera cranes up over the untenable closing shot, you wish Marasovic had thought why he was doing this. There’ll be nobody in the audience to tell you.
Vis-à-Vis is a film first laboured then belaboured, mild comedy buried and lost to the ages beneath a mound of meek drama.