Terence Nance's An Oversimplification of Her Beauty teeters precariously on the border between unbearably pretentious and brazenly original.
With a film as potentially divisive as this one, I often fall on the side of condemnation, branding pretentious films as full of shit and guilty of self-indulgent fart smelling. However, thankfully, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty never tips into that nebulous wasteland of the 'too artsy for it's own good.' The film's saving grace is very simple: it all hits home. Behind the circular timeline, repetitive voice-over, and avant garde narrative devices, there is truth, which goes a long way.
The film begins with several minutes of footage from Nance's short subject How Would You Feel?, which traces his relationship with a romantic interest. The short starts at the end, and explores all of the little things that go into creating his insecurities, as well as the genesis and evolution of the relationship, such as it is. Nance does an incredible job of mapping his own insecurities and exploring insights into his own fucked up expectations.
Then it stops.
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is a mix/re-edit of How Would You Feel? with new material exploring Nance's experience with the film and with his own life in the several years in between. Nance pulls a High Fidelity, going back through several failed relationships/missed connections to discover what went wrong with each of them. Some are worth exploring, some not so much, but the manner in which he recounts these stories is never less than visually engaging as he shows remarkable openness to sharing his own pain and shortcomings.
If the film were simply this, what sounds like a navel-gazing, "why me?" fest, it would be rotten and I would hate it. The film's visual and aural style, as well as exciting and intuitive editing, turns even the less engaging narrative moments into wild flights of imagination, punctuated by brilliant visualizations of the mind's devolution into self-pity. The film tackles its subject not so much with logic, but with heart and emotion, bringing the audience along on Nance's journey toward understanding, or at least acceptance, of his predicament.
This is a film that is unlikely to get any kind of theatrical distribution. The lack of a straight narrative combined with the occasionally abrasive editing style and frequent sojourns into the realm of the outre render it poor sustenance for all but the heartiest of cinematic souls. This is definitely experimental cinema, and if that's your bag, there's a lot to love here, if not, you might want to steer clear. An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is the rare film that is able to connect on a visceral, emotional level without the benefit of a traditional story. It is a beautiful film, and one that will stay with you long after its ending.
Review originally published during the Dallas International Film Festival in April 2012. An Oversimplification of Her Beauty opens in limited release in the U.S. on Friday, April 26. Visit the official site for more information.