When Judge Michael Nazarewycz retires, his farewell tour will include commemorative satin jackets.
Sometimes what makes you feel most alive is killing you.
I've been on a bit of a hot streak lately when it comes to good films coming along for review that have some kind of connection—even a tangential one—to something else good that I've reviewed before. This time is no different. Recently, I had the chance to screen Bettie Page Reveals All!, a documentary about the life, career, and mysterious decades-long disappearance of the notorious pinup and fetish model. Now from Indiewood comes a Kickstarter-funded drama about a modern-day fetish model who, after a decade of success, is ready to walk away from her career. However, there is no mysterious disappearance planned for her. In fact, her departure involves quite the opposite approach.
Facts of the Case
Dolce, aka Jane (Lynn Mancinelli, Friends with Benefits), has had enough. She's been a successful nude and fetish model for over a decade, but the side effects of that life—the drugs, the alcohol, the random sex with strangers—are taking their toll. She is ready to retire and return to her estranged family.
Before she reaches home, though, she decides to pay one last visit to a series of favorite and wish-list photographers for one last round of photo shoots. It's a farewell tour the likes of which have never been seen, and it showcases her in everything from bondage gear and pigtails to high-concept high fashion and body paint worthy of an art museum. Along the way, she works hard to get herself clean and sober and ready to start a new life back home, with the hope of starting a new career behind the camera.
When a film's first 10 minutes includes a female masturbation scene, it usually spells trouble. It has been my experience that a filmmaker who relies heavily on titillation, especially when that titillation has absolutely no context, is a filmmaker who is unable to gain attention through storytelling or direction. Not so here.
While the erotic scene is gratuitous and unnecessary (even in the context of the subject matter), what follows is a fascinating journey that is part drama, part dramatized documentary. It's also hard to believe that a film that is little more than one woman traveling from photographer to photographer (11 photo shoots in all) to pose in an assortment of naughty outfits and accessories can avoid being monotonous and maintain interest for more than two hours. And yet Broken Side of Time works, and works well, thanks to its star and its maker.
Lynn Mancinelli has an incredible burden to shoulder. She is not only the lead, she is in every scene (and practically every frame). There are other actors who appear but they are few (and brief), and while that gives her the most dialogue, there isn't much dialogue to begin with. This requires her to tell us everything we need to know through facial expressions and body gestures and nuance. Mancinelli delivers. In fact, her best scenes are those where she is alone and pensive. Scenes she shares with others—even those scenes that involve chatting with someone on the phone—feel stiff. (And the actors she shares actual screen time with struggle to be believable.) I wouldn't call it a tour-de-force performance, but rather a performance so natural that it doesn't even want to be considered acting.
Gorman Bechard (You Are Alone) wears five behind-the-scenes hats—director, writer, producer, cinematographer, and editor—has some serious game. His direction is calm and non-intrusive—observant, really—but it's his cinematography that shines, demanding you keep your eyes on the screen at all times. Early in the film, after some already gorgeous nighttime exteriors with Dolce behind the wheel of a car, there is a scene where she sits in a dark room and repeatedly lights and extinguishes a Zippo lighter. Dark. Glow. Dark. Glow. It is beautiful. I knew then that I was in for a treat, and treated I was.
And of course there are those photo shoots. These are not staged. Mancinelli might be playing the part of a model, but the photographers, their direction, and the photos they take are very real. And great.
Even as compelling as Broken Side of Time is, 126 minutes is a long time. I understand if Bechard wants to show to his Kickstarter investors as much of their contributions as possible, but not at the expense of a tighter film. As for the sexual content, yes, the nudity displayed by Mancinelli feels natural, whether as part of a photo shoot or in her bathtub and deep in thought. But all other sexually-charged scenes—that masturbation scene, a lesbian tryst, a men's room hook-up—are clunky and out of place. There's this sense that Bechard lacked a little confidence from time to time and relied on bad habits.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic imagery of the DVD transfer is stunning. This is as much a testament to Bechard's cinematography as it is to the transfer, which looks spectacular. Every color Bechard films—and he is partial to yellow hues—lights up the screen. His skills know no preference—day or night, indoors or out, he has the eye this film needs.
The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track has two things to deliver. The first is the dialogue. Again, there isn't much of that, so it handles it easily. It also handles easily its second deliverable: the film's score, which is sublime. Dean Falcone (Color Me Obsessed: A Film About The Replacements) uses minimalist strings to evoke memories of the great Ry Cooder. I would love to have this score on my iPod.
In addition to the film's NSFW trailer (it would be Red Band if it sought MPAA approval), there are four extras on this DVD.
* Deleted / Extended Scenes: This is a 6:49 collection of two deleted scenes and one extended (unedited) scene. The scenes, while perfectly fine, offer nothing additional to the film.
* Extended Photo Shoots: Comprised of six different photo shoots and running a hearty 32:34, this extra puts you in the room with the photographer and subject. It's as close to being a part of the real thing as you can get.
* There are two outtakes running a combined total of 55 seconds. I'm not sure why they bothered (unless they had a small amount of space left on the disc), because it's routine outtake footage combined with a blink-and-you-miss-it run time.
* Behind the Scenes: This 26:01 featurette is more like a commentary track on select scenes. This is not a bad thing. Bechard offers a lot of fascinating information on his lighting techniques, which is exactly what I wanted to hear after I saw what I saw. He also talks about shooting a picture for ONLY $15,000 and what the 11 photo shoots were like while in the rooms.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you are looking for a plot, keep looking. Broken Side of Time revels in form and has little interest in function. There is a clear starting point for Dolce, a defined goal, and events that happen in between, but that's it. This isn't a bad thing, but it's something that might not work for some viewers because the familiar three-act structure (setup/conflict/resolution) is completely absent.
That said, the absence of conflict, by way of absence of function, leaves Dolce's desire to nix her bad habits mostly empty. The artistic direction of the film leaves the vices in her life as nothing more than bad character traits. She even gets over them quickly and with little fanfare, suggesting Bechard might have felt an instinctive need to offer some kind of (perceived) conflict. It's unnecessary. The same holds true for Dolce's familial estrangement, which is little more than a MacGuffin.
Broken Side of Time is a great example of independent filmmaking at its finest. For only $15,000 (in Kickstarter contributions), a small creative team put together a fascinating 2-hour film (with 90 minutes of extras), which is more than some Hollywood studios can say about a lot of their output. If you are a fan of independent film or looking to get into it, pick up this DVD.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: MVD Visual
• Deleted/Extended Scenes
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