In a strange case of film-exhibition serendipity (or the start of a funky new indie-film trend), director/co-writer Arie Posin's The Face Of Love, an inadvertent companion piece to Denis Villeneuve's identity-crisis parable Enemy, opens this week.
Whereas Enemy deals with the numerous disruptions that happen when two versions of the same person meet each other, The Face of Love has a different sort of meeting in mind. Its opening scene shows Nikki (Annette Bening) sitting by her pool at night, daydreaming about a Mexican holiday with her husband Gareth (Ed Harris). In flashback, these two seem secure, happy, and healthy. Harris' blacksmith-with-heart social graces make him an ideal middle-aged romantic, and after years of watching Bening play so many pinched, uptight women whose sense of propriety is the only thing preventing them from complete personality collapse, it's nice to see her show off some of the glamour and sex appeal that helped her bag Warren Beatty.
Unfortunately, their vacation is cut short when Gareth drowns after an ill-advised dip in the ocean. After this opening sequence, the film skips ahead: Five years later, Nikki is getting along well enough, but she's also starting to feel restless. On an impulse, she visits the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which she used to frequent with her husband. While relaxing in an outdoor garden, she sees Tom (also played by Ed Harris), a gruff, rugged type who looks identical to the man who died. This potent injection of late-Buñuel surrealism sets the rest of the film's see-sawing action in motion.
When Nikki finally tracks Tom down and gets him to give her some private painting lessons, they discover that they, too, have an easy rapport. Posin frames Nikki and Tom in tight close-ups during their early encounters to emphasize the shared solipsism of their new romance. But something is amiss. Although Tom is quickly smitten, Nikki treats him like an imaginary friend she's afraid to share with anyone else. For her, the whole scenario seems too far-fetched to countenance; showing Tom to her daughter (Jess Weixler) or her neighbor (Robin Williams) might break the spell — and force her to confront some uncomfortable truths about herself. She keeps up a good front. Yet everywhere she goes, windows and mirrors catch her reflection, reminding her of unspoken ulterior motives.
As a result of Nikki's evasions and hesitancies, the movie plays out as both a golden-years romance and a low-key psychological thriller. There's plenty of tension and pretension to carry the film forward; at one point, posters for Tarkovsky's Nostalghia and Hitchcock's Vertigo are carted through a house Nikki is staging for resale. Those Vertigo resonances grow louder as the movie goes on — there's a beachside rendezvous/makeout scene and a familiar, creepy bit of retail therapy that uses designer formal wear to resurrect the dearly departed.
It's well and good enough until the very end, when it falls apart in a ghastly final shot. This shot — a slo-motion Depends commercial that validates bourgeois wish-fulfillment — trims the film's ragged edges in a glib, botched attempt at cleanup and resolution.
The Face of Love
Opens Friday, April 4th
Ridgeway Cinema Grill