By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****
Thirty-something Marta (in a commanding, beautifully formed depiction from Katie Alexander-Thom), the heroine of “The Girls Were Doing Nothing” (2017), has a sharp retort concerning the debut title of writer-director Dekel David Berenson’s short film (the twenty-one minute work in progress “press preview” cut of which I base this review upon). It comes while Marta regales her similarly aged husband, Jake (in a quietly stalwart turn from Malcolm Jeffries), with a yarn from her youth. In this tale, the boys in her school would go out to play football. She goes out of her way to affirm that they would engage in such an activity in even the harshest snows of winter. While watching them busily go about their sports, Marta’s teacher would pose a question to the young ladies of the learning institution. This was why they “weren’t doing nothing.” Here the thesis statement of this slyly enigmatic, deeply meditative and highly symbolic production arrives. This is when Marta, with agitation visibly growing in both her voice and eyes, declares: “We weren’t doing nothing. We were watching”.
Such directly explains the hypnotic, subtle and clandestine tone of this erotically charged tour de force. Previously titled “The Vacation”, this presentation calls to mind Stanley Kubrick’s underrated masterpiece Eyes Wide Shut (1999) and Lars von Trier’s same held Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 and 2 (2013). This parallel is visible in the sheer craftsmanship on display. It can also be spotted in its mature handling of carnal subject matter. In retrospect, Berenson is providing the audience the opportunity to tread in the footsteps personified by the young ladies in Marta’s chronicle. Yet, this accrues in an undoubtedly adult world. We view the measures of Marta’s daily life, whether she is going through photographs or trying to quietly provoke her husband’s sensual passions, without the component of clarifying precisely what is transpiring at every narrative twist. Given that this element is far too prevalent in cinema nowadays, the decision to excise what most would deem pivotal makes the proceedings even more riveting. It also comes across as refreshing and natural. Keeping true to this structure, the credible and gorgeously penned dialogue (which was partially inspired by psychologist Carol Gilligan) is kept to a minimum. Such makes the results increasingly voyeuristic and addictively appealing. The concluding sequence, which wordlessly proposes what is too come, is especially brilliant and captivating.
Despite this brave stylistic approach, another telltale sign of Berenson’s incredible risk-taking capabilities, the engaging plot thread is never lost. Even when we find ourselves unsure of why some sights are unfolding, Berenson forces our imagination to fill in the blanks. Moreover, our interest, our glimpse into Marta’s world of luxurious restaurants, private gyms and high-paying professional positions adds to the fascinating rhythm of the demonstration. All of this is punctuated further by the Marta’s inner-struggles to overcome the commonplace motions of her marriage. It makes the piece as much an exhibition of routine as it is a meditation on how to break out of such a monotonous extension of events. Marta and Jake find it in their charismatic neighbor, Andrea (a well-rounded, extraordinary enactment from Jolie Sanford). This occurs when she asks the couple to do a favor for her while she is on vacation. Such an invite becomes an unexpected chance to add both variety, spontaneity and intimacy to their lives. Yet, they soon learn the paradox of this meticulously paced fiction. This comes in the form of a quote from psychotherapist Esther Perel, which is exposed in the opening moments of the invention. This is that “Love longs for closeness, desire thrives in distance. And therein lies the rub”.
Adding to the sheer excellence at hand is the highly representative imagery. For instance, there is a shot near the commencement which also closes the effort. This is of a sugar cube absorbing. It is ultimately spied as a perfect mark of Marta’s bland, imprisoned outlook on life slowly wilting away. Additionally, it declares her willingness to find the exhilaration in being by seizing new prospects when they arise. There are several sequences involving Marta’s blood which are powerfully indicative of feminism. Aside from this, the undertaking is further graced by sensational editing from both Fabrizio Gammardella and Berenson. Phillip Quinton’s sound issuance is spectacular. The camera crew, consisting of Pete Blakemore, Melanie Jansen and Tom Blount, provides a spellbinding contribution. Elizabeth Hedley’s make-up design is stellar. Lem Lawrence’s visual effects significantly enhance the authenticity radiating from every frame. Kamil Lemie’s scant appearance in a role dubbed “1920’s Guy” and Samantha Whaley’s bit as a retail assistant are both deft and intriguing. The costumes by Britt Seel are superb. Such an ingredient fits the contemporary impression of the sum grandly. Music consultant Heather Hadar Gallar incorporates an operatic soundtrack. This only strengthens the overall imprint. It also impeccably reinforces the attitude of the exertion beautifully. Likewise, Berenson’s screenplay and guidance of the project is proficient and carefully constructed. The cinematography by Ruaraid Achilleos-Sarll is sumptuous and sweeping. These greatly piqued qualities aid mightily in making Berenson’s latest an absolute knockout. This is guaranteed to be a surefire hit with spectators once it begins its run at cinema festivals.
“The Girls Were Doing Nothing” is the first of three similarly brief, unified compositions. All of them deal with intense notions of fondness, lovemaking and personal bonds in one manner or another. These are collectively known as The Eros Trilogy. The next two labors, continuations of the account set forth with this initial undertaking, are “Borderlines” (2017) and “The Surface of All Things.” No due date has been given for the final segment.
This is more than a reason for excitement. The characters in this initiating episode are genuinely etched. Berenson is unafraid to paint real people on his celluloid canvas. Everyone we encounter, Marta and Jake especially, have flaws and likable traits woven in equal ration. Yet, the air of mystery in this 168 Wardour Filmworks, Bekke Films and Radiator IP Sales release is palpable throughout. It suggests many different directions that Berenson can pilot the opus in upcoming episodes. This is so much so that one cannot help but anticipate seeing where he takes the fabrication. What elevates this anticipation is that Berenson’s latest affair is among the most memorable and outstanding concoctions of its type I’ve witnessed all year. Berenson has an undeniable knack for storytelling. Such is boosted by his gifted team and their respective donations. These essentials fill the screen with ongoing resonance and awe. Rich in mentality, emotion and subtext, Berenson has evoked a winner on all fronts.