"Conversations with Other Women": Two become one, then two, then one ...
Seattle Times movie critic
Described on paper, Hans Canosa's film probably sounds unbearable. "Conversations with Other Women," taking place over the course of one night in Manhattan, is the tale of a brief encounter between an unnamed man (Aaron Eckhart) and woman (Helena Bonham Carter), depicted throughout with a split screen. In this case, however, a picture — or, rather, two pictures — is worth more than any words. Yes, the split screen is a gimmick, but it works like gangbusters.
The two characters — let us call them He and She — meet up at a wedding reception at a hotel: She's a reluctant bridesmaid, He's a guest with a wandering eye. Perhaps they have met before, but Gabrielle Zevin's screenplay dances delicately with this question before answering it later on. They flirt, they chat, they record sound bites for the wedding video and, ultimately, they go up to her room, where they have sex by the light of the flashing message indicator on the phone. And then they chat some more.
In other words, it's a pretty old story. But the dialogue has a bitter, heightened cleverness that feels very real in this kind of situation: two intelligent people made self-conscious by their discomfort with each other. "There are no happy endings in our future," says She, in her husky smoker's rasp; they both know this isn't a romantic comedy. Bonham Carter and Eckhart, who both have faces that reward lingering close-ups, sink deep into their characters, able to let silences tell their backstory as well as any dialogue.
"Conversations" might well have been compelling as a single-camera character study, but the split-screen technique takes it into a new realm.
Canosa uses the vertical split in a dizzying array of ways: to show past and present simultaneously; to show two people apart at the same time; to turn a crowded three-shot (as the two are joined in an elevator by a bitchy fellow bridesmaid) into a claustrophobic six. Sometimes the split is obvious; sometimes it seems to fade away: We see two people sitting side by side, and the seam is so carefully hidden that they appear to be sitting together, when they're actually far apart.
At times, He or She will enter the other's screen, as if boundaries are dissolving, and then become isolated in their own screens again. Or the two screens can explore fantasy and reality: The two are apart in one screen, but kissing (as He wishes they were) in the other.
It can be tricky to watch both screens at once ("Conversations With Other Women" rewards multiple viewings), but it's invigorating to see a filmmaker exploring technique as metaphor. "Time really can't move in two directions," notes one of the characters. No, but this movie can.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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