A shadowy figure reviews Break Up Club
[ While attending the Toronto International Film Festival, I admit it was mere whimsy that kept me checking my server for another hacked file, perhaps referencing one of the films I'd seen. But I never found one, and I had come to feel quite the grandiose fool for suspecting myself the target of some film-reviewing internet conspiracy, based on a single freak occurrence. That is, until last night, when I found this. —PLQ. ]
A shadowy figure says, “Again, a three-jewelled grid. Though… they’re not jewels, exactly. Their apparent three-jewelledness is an illusion of the grid itself. They project dimension, but it’s a trick of the light. They’re no more real than the circles inscribed around those triangles, down below.”
A hollow voice says, “So? What’s your point?”
The figure says, “I don’t have one. Is that a problem?”
The voice says, “Long as you don’t stop seeing the illusion…”
The figure says, “I see a man with a camera. He’s just come from stalking his ex-girlfriend with this camera: a camera he was given just moments before by a director for the purpose of documenting his break-up. Rather remarkably, none of this felt creepy at all. Perhaps because the guy’s quite charming. Or because I was distracted with wondering if the girl he’d just broken up with was the same one from the preceding scene — the opening scene, in which he records a surprise birthday ambush on the woman he loves. Who may or may not be the same woman.”
The voice says, “You don’t know?”
The figure says, “I didn’t know, until he showed up unwelcome at her place with the director’s camera. Not only is it the same girl, but we’re told the man has split with her and reconciled repeatedly, so no sooner is her identity resolved than I am wondering about the how and when of the next make-up — a nice bit of narrative elegance. Especially, considering the website.”
The voice says, “You haven’t mentioned any website.”
The figure says, “Apparently it’s something you look at in a cafe.”
The voice says, “I know what a website is.”
The figure says, “This one’s called Break Up Club Dot Asia, but that’s only half the story. It actually promises to reunite you with your lover, in exchange for the names of another couple to be broken up, by, I guess… some process indistinguishable from magic. Joe — as the man’s called — told the director he almost used it to get Flora back. It’s even implied that this is why he was chosen for the documentary.”
The voice says, “Okay. You get it. Sorry I doubted you.”
The figure says, “Wanna talk doubt? I can’t even see you.”
The hollow voice laughs.
The figure lights a spike of dwarven foxglove with a book of matches.
The figure says, “So now he’s talking to his best friend, who is also — conveniently — an aspiring filmmaker working retail in a camera shop.”
The figure watches more of Break Up Club.
The figure takes a drag off the burning spike of dwarven foxglove.
The figure grunts. “Interesting.”
The voice says, “Which part?”
The figure says, “Every part. It’s a series of love affairs with the camera.”
The voice says, “Meaning what, exactly?”
The figure inhales a final pull from the burning spike of dwarven foxglove and disposes of the butt.
The figure says, “All the scenes, most involving make-ups or break-ups among Joe’s circle of friends, appear to be shot entirely with Joe’s ‘documentary’ camera, or with cameras set up by his enthusiastic pal, who reminds us of this fact constantly with his buffoonish back-seat directing. Shots are also pulled from odd sources like security cams, sparking us to wonder briefly how, and by whom. But rather than rely heavily on this self-reflexive tension, as I have seen some do, this story steps surefootedly on its own without any need for a guide rail. Each break-up is immediately followed upon with some specific reason to anticipate the next make-up, and vice versa.”
The voice says, “But if the story stands independently of the camera, how is that a love affair with it?”
The figure says, “That’s just it. It would stand independently, were it not for the fact that every relationship transformation is actually caused by the camera. Whether by getting played back, broken, hidden and then discovered, or just returned to its owner, the camera itself is driving these events. So the relationships all become primarily with the camera.”
The voice titches. “It all sounds a bit unreal, the way you tell it.”
The figure says, “It is a bit unreal. But this fellow, playing ‘Joe’…”
The voice says, “Jaycee Chan.”
The figure says, “He gives his character such a sense of curiosity, that when he turns on a camera it’s never an act of vanity so much as un-self-conscious play. His exuberance also does wonders for the relationship chemistry, which simply runs too hot to be cooled by a lens. At times, he single-handedly prevents this story from vanishing into its bellybutton.”
The voice says, “Well, that’s not fair. It ranges quite far from navel-gazing, I’d say. Keep watching.”
The figure says, “Well, that’s an odd turn.”
The voice says, “How so?”
The figure says, “Although the rough-hewn documentary shooting style remains, the director has exited the picture by this point. And the make-up/break-up cycle has sunk into a lull. There are some leftover questions about the film’s viewpoint, but they’re quite subtle, and the central love story has abandoned all tension. There’s just so little left to think about, I’m pretty much reduced to pondering the slow crawl of that little progress indicator along the bottom.”
The voice says, “See the illusion.”
The figure says, “Alright, alright.”
The figure keeps watching.
The figure says, “Oh! I see what you mean.”
The voice says, “Not everything was as worked-out as it seemed, was it?”
The figure says, “Well, yeah, that. But it’s more than that. This relationship has suddenly outgrown the camera. It’s about real grudges now, and it’s pretty perceptive about the slow chill that can set into a relationship. Almost as if they overheard your criticism, things have just taken a turn for the real. It’s like, the movie got wise to its own illusion partway through, and decided to just step outside of it.”
The voice says, “Neat, hadn’t thought of it that way. Makes perfect sense then that the documentary aspect disappears.”
The figure says, “Oh, totally.”
The voice coughs.
The figure watches.
The figure says, “Wow, some spot-on depictions here of the cruel sideswipes people can take through each other’s lives when they’re at odds. No cartoon break-up this time: it’s just slow and messy, and I could hardly feel more involved in all the missed connections and frosty silences.”
The voice says, “Knew you’d like it.”
The figure says, “Actually there was a point at which the picture faded to black, as if to say: that was the pop-up version. Now, here’s the way it really happens. That’s when the grudges started.”
The voice says, “True.”
The figure says, “So, having let it all go slack for maybe ten minutes, they slowly rein it back in, trading each situation portending a break-up for another with their former aplomb, only never arriving at the actual break-up. It’s withheld. Instead of the earlier comedic reversals, they’ve now opted for a turning of screw.”
The voice says, “Yes, yes. One question, though.”
The figure says, “Shoot.”
The voice says, “Who are ‘they’?”
The figure says, “They? They. Whoever paints this grid with light.”
The voice says, “I see.”
The figure steps back. “Who are they?”
The voice pauses for what could be a shrug.
The voice says, “I was just wondering if you knew.”
The figure says, “All I know is what I’ve seen.”
The figure watches the conclusion of Break Up Club.
Something moves in the dark.
The figure says, “Well! That was unexpected!”
The voice says, “Quite a twist, eh?”
The figure says, “The turn at the end? Well, it wasn’t hard to see that one coming, but I was pretty curious how it would play out, so, it did work for me. And it did make me think about the earlier scenes differently, which is always cool. But it’s the final resolution of the love story that actually surprised me — and not in a good way.”
The voice says, “What?? Dude! That was like, the best stuff.”
The figure says, “Oh there’s great stuff in there, I agree. Joe and Flora’s last scene together is so raw, yet it achieves such clarity about how real love navigates, that it’s the jewel of the film. Yeah, they nailed that one: it really should’ve been the story’s final word on the relationship.”
The voice says, “But then we’d miss out on Sunny’s star turn!”
The figure says, “Sunny? Yeah, his best-friend supergeek schtick was hilarious. Giving him a pivotal role in the denouement was ‘amazing’, to borrow one of his best lines.”
The voice laughs. “To borrow like, half his lines.”
The figure says, “And the way they worked the website and the documentary crew back into things was also perfect. What I don’t understand is why, after all was said and done, they felt the need to return to the love story and change its trajectory one last time. It wasn’t necessary. It’s a turn too far.”
The voice says, “Hmm. It did sort of go a bit cartoony again right before the end credits.”
The figure says, “Precisely. Why would they turn back to a masterfully conquered page just to write in the margins? Cut literally 30 seconds off the end of this story, and its echo could have been so much stronger.”
The voice says, “So, what, it’s a bad movie now because of the last 30 seconds?”
The figure says, “The wrong 30 seconds can easily ruin things. But no, no, this is actually one of the most engaging experiences I’ve ever had in this pit. I’d love to see the nTwine…”
A multi-coloured series of wisps rises from the pit, tracing a long, interlacing, left-to-right pattern of glowing words and lines in mid-air…
The last of the wisps disappears, leaving only the colour pattern itself, which pulses for a while, then slowly fades away.
The figure says, “Um. What just happened?”
The voice says, “You did. You said the magic word.”
The figure says, “What word? nTwi—”
The voice says, “Ssshush! Unless you want to see it again…”
The figure says, “No, I’m good.”
The voice says, “How do you even know that word?”
The figure says, “I… don’t remember.”
The voice says, “But you were able to decode it?”
The figure says, “Sure. It’s the narrative structure. Looked accurate enough.”
The voice says, “This bodes well.”
The figure says, “Does it?”
The voice pauses for what could be a smile.
The voice says, “Until the next, my friend…”
The figure waves.
[ Submitted by The Laroquod Experiment. ]