Durban 2014 Review: LOVE THE ONE YOU LOVE Is A Luminous, Perplexing, Engrossing Debut
And then there's Eugene, the computer troubleshooter devastated by the departure of his girlfriend months - possibly even years - before. So trapped in his past that Eugene has left her side of the bed unmade from the day she left to preserve the illusion that she's not gone but has just gotten up and stepped out for a moment. Surely it cannot actually be over, not something so perfect?
Could there be something more sinister to this whole love thing? A wide ranging conspiracy or experiment, perhaps, designed to hold couples together who should really be apart? Or to keep couples apart who should really be together? All of Sandile, Terri and Eugene slowly become convinced that there just may be and - bizarrely - there is just enough evidence to suggest that they may be correct. It's certainly no stranger a scenario than any dozen of others that play out between couples in romantic relationships on a daily basis.
Jenna Cato Bass delivers a sparkling debut feature with Love The One You Love, an entirely improvised film built around a concept and twenty page treatment document to provide the spine of a story and structure - a spine that reportedly shifted considerably as they made their way through production - driven by simply outstanding, emotionally bare and truthful performances from the entire cast a wonderfully fluid edit and Bass' intimate cinematography.
In the early going Love The One You Love plays less as a conventional narrative than it does as a series of snapshots, sequential moment in time in the lives of its major characters and while it certainly does cinch up considerably as the film proceeds that sense that we're sharing in intimate, authentic moments rather than a constructed tale never departs which at times makes things almost uncomfortably personal as you partake in the private emotional meltdowns of people you've come to care about.
This sort of film is absolutely nothing without a strong cast and Bass' core players here are truly remarkable. Andile Nebulane plays Sandile as a sort of gregarious teddy bear, masking the growing disquiet beneath the surface with the sort of outgoing personality that pours itself out to make sure everyone around him is happy and taken care of until he himself is simply spent and exhausted. Chi Mhende does remarkable work as Terri, a complex woman who recognizes the good thing she has in Sandile and yet can't get around her own fear of intimacy. Equally strong is Louw Venter as Eugene, his more graphic expressions of loss pushing him in a direction that could have easily slipped into mawkish sentimentality in lesser hands but here presents a striking portrait of a deeply fractured man.
The conspiracy element provides a welcome element of ambiguity and uncertainty to affairs. Bass utterly resists the urge to explain what may or may not actually be happening behind the scenes instead choosing to present just enough information on this front for the mysterious behind the scenes manipulations to resonate as any one of a number of possible metaphors, allowing every individual audience member to bring something of themselves to the film.
In the post screening Q&A Bass explained that she undertook her debut fast and cheap, embracing this improvisational format because she felt driven to make a movie to prove she could make a movie. Having experienced the long development time involved in going down more traditional routes only to see it come to nothing she chose a different path hoping to get herself over that first time hump. She's done considerably more than that, proving herself not only capable but also the possessor of a unique and compelling voice and an uncommon gift with actors. Expect good things from Bass in the future.
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