HotDocs 2012: LOVE STORY Review

Contributing Writer; Toronto, Canada (@triflic)
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HotDocs 2012:  LOVE STORY Review
An exceptionally tall girl in an orange dress with a piece of red-velvet cake on a plate and a lanky New Zealander with a video camera meet on the subway headed for Coney Island.  They chat.  They separate.  They meet again.  Could it be fate?  Could it be the romance of both their lives?  So begins the premise of Love Story, which is part Rom-Com, part art-experiment, part documentary.  The woman is Masha, a Russian beauty who Kiwi filmmaker Florian Habicht hired to be his girlfriend for the making of the film.  Their meeting is staged, as is Florian's quest to find her afterwards.  He solicits on-the-street advice from a charming rouges gallery of New Yorkers on how to proceed with his relationship-slash-film with the girl, including at one point climbing right into a taxicab occupied by a lady stock-broker to ask for seduction advice for a possible sex-scene (more on that in a moment.)  In one of many fourth wall breaks, you not only get the seduction advice ("play the shy card") but you also see the stock broker sign the documentary release form from a stack that Habicht carries around.  If nothing else, it shows the power of a man and a movie camera and a built in conversation in a city of extroverts - and that even the most guerrilla of filmmaking projects still has a lot of paper work.  

Not content to solicit advice completely from strangers, the director/subject also consults his father for advice on how to proceed with the film (within the film) via Skype on a laptop on a wooden board over his bath-tub that happens to be in his kitchen.  When approaching something that contains enough quirk, the director himself sporting pink pants and a Bert & Ernie T-shirt is a 6 and a half foot talk doppelgänger of Roberto Benigni, you walk the dangerous line of drowning in quirk.  Not the case here.  Habicht has an easy interaction with the folks on the street who he allows into the process of writing his story and you get the sense that his entire goal is to raise the happiness quotient of the universe.  I'd be lying if I said that a repurposing of the charming and goofy "Sean, Sean, Sean" Ennio Morricone score from Leone's Duck, You Sucker! didn't win me over.

He finds a black female auto-mechanic in Harlem that offers the best advice to human kindness, "Just say, 'How was your day?'"   We know that Masha is more of a fantasy image to the director, just as in a romantic comedy the couple and their manufactured troubles are a fantasia for the audience.  Another on-the-street conversation starts with "Are you a good artist."  The directors response, "A con-artist!"  And Love Story has the surface and all the tropes of a classic New York Story, but it is also self-aware enough to gently mock all the tropes while indulging in them all the same.  The guiltiest (and funniest) being a particular body quirk of lanky Habicht that is exploited once to call out its own signature rom-com scene, and the echoed later on to remind us that we are watching a fabrication.  Later the film packs Masha into a suitcase and is done with her.  Not so much a human being, but a stunningly gorgeous prop for the film, she looks exotic and sexy with her short page-cut, and frequently sporting sheer stockings (and nothing else.)  I imagine it took a fair bit of trust on the part of NYU student and photographer Masha Yakovenko to participate in this two person, three month shoot as it could have just been a highly unconventional way for one New Zealand filmmaker to meet girls.  Indeed, feminists could have a field day with the exuberant penchant for making the object of director-writer-star's affection into somewhat of a Kim Novak type surrogate (even as she sometimes resists this notion.) Yet, it is hard not to fall in love with the energy and humour on display in the filmmaking and the mythology of New York in summer, even as it is deconstructed right in front of you.  

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