Joe Swanberg is a leading force in the Mumblecore movement and the brains behind such offbeat, character-driven dramas as LOL and Nights & Weekends. The innovative writer/director/actor’s latest, low-budget offering is Art History, a daring film within a film which pushes the genre’s envelope even further.
This atmospheric mindbender features a cast of just five, provided you count Swanberg, his real-life wife (Kris Swanberg) and sound engineer, Adam Wingard, playing a director, his wife and sound engineer, respectively. The action unfolds in the cramped quarters of a dingy, dark bedroom where they’re shooting a steamy love scene between Juliette (Josephine Decker) and Eric (Kent Osborne), the attractive stars of a low-budget movie.
The tension builds as the naked pair proceed to wrap themselves around each other as if actually about to copulate. However, right when they’re in the midst of a hot and heavy clinch, Sam (Swanberg) yells “Cut!” and they immediately separate. After all, they are supposedly merely acting.
And while the director and sound man retire to the next room to assess the quality of what they’ve just recorded on a monitor, Juliette and Eric modestly cover-up and engage in conversation indicating that they don’t know each other very well. Nonetheless, over the course of the protracted production, the cozy co-stars eventually opt to go all the way, ostensibly because of becoming stimulated by repeatedly simulating sex for the camera.
However, crossing that line ultimately has the diametrically opposite effect on each, with Juliette hinting that she might want a relationship, as opposed to Eric’s seeing their lustful liaison as just a set romance. Needless to say, this development has a negative effect on their subsequent screen performance which in turn frustrates Sam when he can no longer coax the same chemistry out of his leading man and woman.
As the passion disappears into thin air, the viewer can’t help but seriously contemplate what it must be like for an actor and actress to have to turn their feelings on and off to perform an intimate love scene. Another intriguing examination of the human condition courtesy of iconoclastic Mr. Swanberg!
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 74 minutes
Distributor: Factory 25