Thursday 21 June 2018

On demand: "Lovesong"

The title of the Korean-born, U.S.-based So Yong Kim's drama Lovesong may be singular, but the loves it describes are many and varied. First, there is the deep bond connecting Sarah (Riley Keough), an all-but-single twentysomething mother, to the young daughter she's been raising within the leafy-green seclusion of the American Midwest. (As first seen in her 2008 international breakthrough Treeless Mountain, Kim has a gift for casting the most adorable children, so this love is very easily communicated and understood.) The distant and fading love shared by Sarah and the father of her child, an aid worker perpetually away solving other people's problems, is evident from a shonky Skype session, hamstrung by a futzing connection, from which neither party gets the consolation they come looking for, basic communication being tough enough. And then there is the love this woman shows for Mindy, an old college friend who comes out this way to visit, and immediately rekindles our heroine's interest simply by asking her whether she's okay, and then holding her when she cries.

The new arrival is played by Jena Malone, which means the character's responses are less archetypal and predictable than they might have been, but Mindy is the kind of flirty, anything-goes free spirit traditionally inserted in movies to shake up a status quo, happy, sorry or otherwise. (It makes complete sense later on when Rosanna Arquette - who played similar catalysing roles through the Eighties and Nineties - shows up in the role of the character's mother.) And so it goes here: after the midnight games of truth or drink, there follows an outpouring of reciprocated feelings, stopped - or, perhaps more accurately, put on ice - by Mindy's tendency to go just as soon as she comes. From that, hopefully, you get a sense of just how steadily and stealthily Kim's film builds, to a point where this last love - the longest of all these loves, and one that continues to burn with the intensity of a first love - begins to complicate all the others.

It's become a (not always helpful) reflex response to cite Brokeback Mountain when faced with cinema that presents as anything greater than Kinsey zero in its outlook, but the longing stitched into Lovesong's first half really did remind me of Ang Lee's film, shifted forward to the present day: what we're watching is two people (two-and-a-half, if we're counting Sarah's daughter) left to their own devices in the middle of nowhere, and becoming more intimate with every serenely passing frame. These scenes suggest either that Kim is a budding master of the close-up, or that she's a whizz at casting performers capable of doing extraordinary things in such tight focus. (Or, even better, both.) Anyone who saw Keough's work on the first season of Amazon's Soderbergh spin-off The Girlfriend Experience will already know this actress's Huppertian ability to convey apparently fathomless depths of emotional activity beneath a placid surface; you watch her, here as there, with the same fascination as you would sharks circling one another behind aquarium glass.

Yet the rupture at the film's midpoint enables a reunion in due course. Lovesong's second half unfolds at Mindy's wedding to some bestubbled dude three years later, where amid free-flowing alcohol and filthy jokes, a symmetry becomes apparent. Now the newly separated Sarah is the outsider moving tentatively in on heterosexual terrain, and it's an appreciably delicate nuance that she should have been invited as a standard-issue guest - an old pal - rather than one of Mindy's inner circle: this way, she has to spend proceedings catching charged glimpses of her beloved, along with all the feelings. A quietist romance thus evolves into a behind-the-scenes-at-the-wedding movie, attuned to those sometimes conflicting impulses scattered like confetti before the walk up the aisle to say I do - the human wobbles, the flickers of doubt, the words that aren't spoken. It's also where a vaguely wispy yet authentically affecting indie owns its own title, by taking on the shape and weight of one of those enduring old-timey ballads where a final verse reflects, from a distance, on what has gone before. In bringing us close to these women, Kim captures more than a few of those what-ifs and maybes that haunt hearts and minds, even as we strive to live in the present tense.

Lovesong is available to stream through Amazon Prime, and on DVD through StudioCanal.

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