By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.
About eight and a half minutes into Chai Dingari’s beautifully constructed and absorbing thirteen minute short from 2011, “The Misogynist”, the lead of the tale, Harlan (Pascal Yen-Pfister in an incredible, multi-layered enactment), states, “I want to do something personal. Almost voyueristric. Like a glimpse into someone’s private life. I didn’t want to make it too pretty. I wanted to keep it raw.” This can be the most accurate description of the haunting, gritty veneer and overall impression left by this particular piece of Dingari’s work that there is.
It is as if the auteur of the piece is reaching out from behind the brilliant pages he penned and the exquisite frames of his composition and slyly speaking of his intentions through Harlan. This is just one of many various aspects in which the endeavor is an absolute triumph.
Dingari allows us into Harlan’s existence much like a documentarian. He doesn’t pass judgment on his flawed, but likable protagonist. The same can be said for Harlan’s wife, Allison (Rhea Sandstorm in a portrayal that is as authentic, unflinching and magnificent as Pfister’s). Much of the bulk of the runtime focuses in on this spousal correlation. Because of this the sum is consistently riveting throughout. We are grandly disheartened during the arguments the duo encounter. Furthermore, we are merry ourselves, uplifted when the two put aside their differences and recall their amorous affections for one another. This, in itself, is proof of how effortlessly we relate to Harlan and Allison. It is also an example of how proficient Dingari is at giving us natural character development. This is wholly without the expository force feed most filmmakers put us through. The consequence of this, as is true of the endeavor as a whole, is like watching life itself unfold before our eyes.
Dingari’s narrative finds Harlan with a photographic version of ‘writer’s block’. He is exhausted by the idea of snapping pictures of the same sights time and again. Once the notion arrives to him to tell the tale of his relationship with his wife through the medium of the lens, he finds excitement for his craft. He is reminded of why he once enjoyed engaging in such an activity. This, as all things, is short lived. A violent incident cuts this short in the last three minutes of the affair. Such a tragedy is unexpected and gripping. It brings to mind if such was part of Harlan’s plan all along. Dingari wisely leaves his audience hanging after this progression.
The end result is unsettling. It is a perfect punctuation point that shifts the positive light artistry is portrayed to help give someone a sense of purpose unexpectedly. The consequence is grimly poetic in what it says about personal drive. Just as eerie, and meditative, is what it doesn’t say.
Much of the narrative is about Harlan’s relationships. This is with both Allison and W.D. Frost (Timothy Cox in another show-stopping enactment); a man who is providing personal counsel for Harlan. The sequences with Frost exhibit powerfully that Harlan is a passionate fellow, interested in photography. He is trying to uncover a intrigue that he feels is solely his own. Such is one of the few planes that both Harlan and Frost seem to be on together. When Dingari cuts to a montage of a swarm of people taking pictures of everything before them, we admire the exquisiteness in which the moment is framed. Yet, we also see the deeper meaning. This is that Harlan aims to find his individuality but, everywhere he peers he is robbed of such a chance.
Such is an attribute sewn into all human beings. We want to be known. We want to be remembered for doing something unique. Yet, it is nearly impossible to find such avenues. This spoke to me especially well as someone who has struggled with my writing, and to etch a name for myself through such an avenue, all my life. I am certain it will speak to all those who view it just as potently.
Dingari executes his shots masterfully with deliberate rigor throughout. He keeps the pace consistently contemplative and even. Along with a hammering, uncredited piano score, “The Misogynist” is technically astonishing at every turn. These elements call to mind a film by Stanley Kubrick with splendid ease. The sound by Andrew Koller is excellent. These all greatly enhance the experience. It makes Harlan’s personal world come to life spectacularly as if via cinematic invite.
Such is verified proof that Dingari has accomplished the credible vision Harlan speaks about. There is believability and subtly garnered intrigue building from every frame. Much like life itself, it doesn’t overwhelm with emotion yet, the sentiment is visible beneath every subtle movement of the plot. Such only adds to the maturity and professionalism at hand. Dingari has crafted a masterwork; full of unwavering profundity and art. I greatly look forward to seeing what mirror of existence he holds up for his myriad spectators next.