Judge Brett Cullum wonders how much sex and grief you can take.
Sin. Suffer. Repeat.
Disturbingly erotic, sexually violent, intensely gory, bleakly sad, tinged with dry sly humor, and full of twisted relationships—Death in Love is pretty much what you would expect from a "sexy Nazi" movie starring Josh Lucas (The Deep End) and '70s wet t-shirt icon Jacqueline Bisset (The Deep). It's basically takes the same template as The Night Porter by exploring the eroticism of a Jewish woman with her Nazi captor, and adds in a son who has unrestrained Oedipal rage to carry on as a result of his guilt gilded mother.
Facts of the Case
The film examines a fractured family headed up by a French Jewish woman (Bisset) who survived Nazi Germany by seducing an evil doctor known to perform horrible experiments. Certainly an interesting set up, yet for some reason it is not her story entirely. We mostly see the feckless son (Lucas) who helps run a modeling agency that swindles average looking girls out of their hard earned cash. He can't keep a relationship other than one with his boss which exists solely of him smacking her around in the bedroom with no traditional sex. His is a self-absorbed existence comprised only of exploiting the pain of himself through others. Along comes a charming young dreamer (Adam Brody, The O.C.) who seems to want the son to open a real agency finally giving him purpose. Also in the picture is an obsessive compulsive brother (Lukas Haas, Witness) who starves himself and can only play piano endlessly, and then there is the barely-there father who is only seen from a blurry distance. Oh, and there is also a mysterious man who likes to push men off balconies or kill them violently in all sorts of ways. Fans of Firefly and V should take note the first scene includes a very naked Morena Baccarin which may make it worth a rental for the curious sci-fi geek.
Written and directed by Boaz Yakin (Uptown Girls), Death in Love is not an easy movie to watch. I imagine it felt deeply personal when it was conceived, but it comes off cold, distant, and obtuse in final execution. It is a treatise on "not feeling," and therefore feels awkward as it flashes along showing horrible moment after horrible moment with little reaction from our leads. We see all sorts of torture from brain surgery with no anesthesia to hitting women without remorse, and all the more troubling is people just blink with a blank expression. According to a Huffington Post interview from July of 2009, Yakin is quoted as saying "This movie came out of a meeting with a studio…What they wanted to do and what I wanted to do were so far apart, I didn't feel I could continue. So I wrote this for a low-budget production. I ended up financing it with my life savings. No one else chipped in a cent. It's not the kind of thing I can afford to do often. But for this one time, I got to express what I wanted to in a way I found interesting. I feel I got to explore and try some things." Explore and try he certainly did, and it is admirable to think his vision was completely uncompromised.
The best reason to watch this rather horrifying film is that Jacqueline Bisset and Josh Lucas give great performances which lift everything far above what it could have been. It's amazing to see Bisset looking so luminous even well in to her sixties without any hint of plastic surgery or botox. She's also a consummate actress who pulls off even the most taxing beats with gusto and grace. Josh Lucas spends a lot of time naked and whining, but he carries it off with the same brave charm as Bisset. It boils down to beautiful people acting out ugly things, and doing it in a brave way.
The DVD presentation is outstanding, including a solid transfer as well as well thought-out extras. The picture looked just fine on my television with a well defined visual palette and well placed audio effects. I don't have any issue with how it looks on the DVD, finding the transfer just short of high definition in quality. Interestingly, both the DVD and Blu-Ray editions contain the same supplements, so either edition will reward viewers equally in that department. Front and center is a commentary featuring director Boaz Yakin and lead actor Josh Lucas which is invaluable to understanding where they were heading with this hard to watch film. There are also a handful of interviews with frank discussions about the material from most all of the major players. There are making-of featurettes and a couple of Q&A sessions from Sundance, which all add up to a nice explanation of the project from many sources.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Some people are really going to find this one off-putting for all the sex and gore mixed with Holocaust imagery. It may feel like a stunt at times, an exploitation of everything that the World War II atrocities conjure up. Can we find a palatable way to have a son be influenced by his mother's horror? This is a cold, vicious little film that very well might offend many people.
I found Death in Love disturbing and fascinating in equal parts. Certainly I applaud the actors who are in fine form throughout the whole journey. I was slightly horrified that I identified with the lead male and his depression even though I am hardly descended from Jewish Holocaust survivors. What I found interesting is it examined what happens when people repeat patterns and behaviors to their own detriment. There are no easy solutions presented, and that makes the whole thing more daunting. It's a deep and personal independent film that captures the exact spirit of what a movie outside the studio system should be. It is brave, different, dark, and disturbing.
Guilty of not being positive or healthy, but fascinating nonetheless. The
film is free to wallow in its own misery.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Screen Media
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