An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, 2012.
Written and Directed by Terence Nance.
Starring Terence Nance, Namik Minter and Talibah Lateefah Newman.
A man is stood up by a mystery woman, prompting an analysis of platonic and romantic love.
Before there was An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, there was a shorter film entitled How Would You Feel? made in 2006, by director Terence Nance. Occasionally, the gravel voiced, Gil Scott-Heron channeling narrator tells us, this film will be stopped and intersected by the shorter, 2006 one. The piece is in permanent dialogue with itself, the later film commenting on the past, the earlier foreshadowing the present.
Both films are centred on one instigating incident, a woman standing up Terence, the director, writer and star. The thought of seeing her is what got him through a particularly trying day, which the narrator tells us about in great, meditative detail. He’d been transporting the various parts of a bed frame since morning (though he woke up late through “your lack of self-control”), in many crammed subway trips, to construct it ready for her arrival. But she’s only just gotten home from work, and is exhausted. She won’t be coming round tonight.
This prompts Terence to analyse, with astounding neurosis, all of his past relationships – what went wrong; how he can do better; culminating in how he actually feels about Namik Minter, his current lady-friend. This is all done mostly without dialogue, a constant narration filling in the blanks.
The script is often poetic, philosophising on romantic and platonic love. “She kissed you on the lips…subtle…but with intention. Doubt and passion opaque in her pupils.” The words wash over you like being baptised in a river.
The form constantly changes, from animation, to documentary, to reconstruction, to acted scene, each segment having its own, distinct style. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The incessant switching comes across scattergun, but very occasionally a scene succeeds. And when they do, the film is capable of producing genuinely profound moments.
There’s this single shot in Le Quai des Brumes, of Jean Gabin looking at Michele Morgan whilst she sleeps. It’s filmed from Gabin’s point-of-view, his head facing hers, both of them resting on a pillow. It only lasts a few seconds, but the essence is captured – of all those lazy mornings, snoozing them away under covers with a girl. Occasionally, she’ll awake and watch you for a bit. Other times it’ll be the other way around. And then, once or twice, you’ll both wake together, and kiss until you succumb to sleep yet again.
Terence captures a similar essence with his lens. It’s a grainy, out-of-focus shot of him and Namik sleeping face-to-face, occasionally opening their eyes to look at one another, though always just out-of-sync. For this moment alone, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is worth watching.
Though these scenes of ‘reality’ are the more effective, much of the film is comprised of animation. Such scenes fidget with experimentation – with puppets, stop-motion and good ol’ fashioned pencils – and others in the audience expressed how much they enjoyed them. A few certainly were innovative, but I doubt I could watch the film “100 times” again, as claimed the man sitting behind me to my left. He was dressed in a close fitting, thrift-store jumper and thick-framed glasses. You know the sort.
It’s a different strokes kinda thing. I prefer my avant-garde animation sequences in small doses, not as the central components of a 95 minute long film, whilst others, I’m sure, would love to upload stills of such sequences onto Instagram.
And this is the film’s central problem. It feels too much “of that stroke” – the constant, wordy narration; the scenes that don’t quite work; the many that go on far too long. Points are made over and over, and the last half hour wouldn’t be missed.
Thankfully, Terence imbues Her Beauty with a steady, ironic sense of humour, which smuggles the film through its more pretentious stretches. And it certainly is different, both visually and narratively, which is infinitely better than any film on autopilot.
But it remains overly self-absorbed. I asked the director why he mostly avoided using the first person throughout the film, hoping he’d answer that it was to avoid vanity. He explaining that by using the second person so frequently, of you and your, that he intended to involve the audience, to ‘activate the spectator’, if you want to use the academic lingo.
It was a good answer, and the film does somewhat achieve this.But it wasn’t the answer I wanted.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★