Koch Vision // 2002 // 82 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // February 11th, 2005
How do you keep it together when everything is falling apart?
The cover art for the 2002 film Love Rome advertises "A Film by Carter Smith," but that's a problem; I don't know who Carter Smith is, and on the basis of Love Rome, I'm not sure I need to. The film is part verité, part drama, combining actual footage shot in New York City following the events of September 11th with fictional sequences involving couples squabbling amid the ruins (with the exception of one scene taking place in a hotel room, with news reports playing on TV in the background). What the film intends to say about that day in history, however, remains as unclear to me as its title. Even as a search for meaning, the movie comes up short.
Early on in my days at DVD Verdict, I reviewed the Angelina Jolie tragedy-romance (the romance belonging to Angelina, the tragedy belonging to multiple third-world nations) Beyond Borders, commenting that I didn't believe many films would set a love story against the backdrop of September 11th. While Love Rome isn't necessarily a love story, it is a lot shallower than one would expect -- for a film set against one of the most devastatingly significant days in American history, the movie doesn't have a single insightful thing to say.
Most of the couples are unable to talk about anything but their own personal or romantic problems. Take, for example, the first couple we meet: As a young African American couple walks around New York City in the wake of 9/11, the woman confesses to the man that she is pregnant and does not wish to keep the baby. Now, regardless of one's pro- or anti-choice beliefs, the plot development does open the door for a potentially interesting moral debate about whether or not a child should be brought into the world amid so much horror and death -- if only that were the case. Instead, we learn that she doesn't want to have a baby because she'd rather devote all of her time to making documentary films (read: walking around NYC with a home video camera -- sound familiar?), giving new meaning to the words "self-absorbed" on about three different levels.
The documentary footage is effective (despite being nothing more than one person's home movies), capturing the fear and panic in the city streets in the aftermath of 9/11, though Smith doesn't seem to have a filmmaker's grasp on these passages either. He fails to edit or shape the footage in a way that allows it to tell its own story -- it's purely observational, lacking a filmmaker's perspective (or any kind of perspective, really). The cast is made up of mostly recognizable (some less so than others) faces -- not stars, but working actors in the independent film world: Drea De Matteo (Prey for Rock and Roll), Will Keenan (Terror Firmer), Angela Bettis (May), Belinda Becker (The Sticky Fingers of Time), and Dean Winters (Oz) are among the actors assembled for Smith's film. That's an impressive ensemble; why, then, do their scenes play like improv exercises in college drama classes? It's apparent that, despite Carter Smith's "written by" credit, the dialogue is being made up as the actors go along; actors seem to have been given a premise for a scene, then spend the length of that scene putting their point across with zero subtlety -- it's all tell and no show.
DVD has provided a kind of revolution for independent films; now, a film like Love Rome -- which might otherwise never see the light of day (at least theatrically) -- can be distributed to a wider audience. As far as I'm concerned, that's always a positive thing -- though the films might not be very good (Love Rome, for example), the fact that they are made available helps assure the survival of true independent cinema. That doesn't mean, though, that the DVDs -- like the films they are representing -- are of the highest quality. Because Love Rome has been shot on what appears to be a consumer-model video camera, there's not much that Koch Vision's DVD can do to improve the audio or video presentations; only the occasional music cue on the soundtrack exhibits any signs of professionalism. The rest looks and sounds like a home movie.
It may seem insensitive to give such a negative review to a film dealing with the events of September 11th, but to accept it solely on those terms would be doing readers, viewers, and even Carter Smith himself a disservice. The director has put too much stock in the real-life basis of the movie, as though the subject matter alone lends it some weight. What Smith doesn't seem to realize is that he must construct his own meaning -- to use his narrative sequences to say something about his subject; otherwise, he'd have been better off letting his images speak for themselves. I applaud the effort of Love Rome, but lament the execution. In other words, Smith's heart is in the right place, but his head's all wrong.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated