Monday, September 16, 2013

'Prevertere' (2013) directed by Brian McGuire

Within us we have a multitude.  As we meet different people in our lives we adjust our behaviour accordingly, shuffling various traits of our personalities like we might a deck of cards. Prevertere is about someone who's mastered this technique, a man whose personality is so variable that if you dig deep enough you might find that there's nothing there at all. This is Templeton (Terry Wayne), a man whose life, at least as far as we see it, is devoted entirely to procuring sex.  But this isn't some testosterone soaked "whoo lads!" tribute to the pleasures of boning; Prevertere is about what happens when you construct such a convincing fake personality that who you really are begins to crumble.

The film is episodic, showcasing three women in Templeton's life.  The first we're introduced to is Joanna (Rose Rossi).  She's sparklingly pretty and fun-loving - perfect girlfriend material. Joanna and Templeton, tired of queuing for a nightclub in L.A. have impulsively driven to Las Vegas.  After a night of dancing, drugs and drinking they end up at a neverending houseparty populated by the friendly, if kinda sleazy, trash of the Vegas strip. Time in this party stretches into long k-hole delirium, sunlight swimming across the sky at will.  The place feels increasingly purgatorial and the two become sucked into a faintly threatening sexual world.

Next we meet Shelly (Antonella Ponziani).  Templeton treats her as a booty call, not much more than a convenient slot to stick his dick in.  There's an air of the exotic to her, she's Italian, slightly older and has a gallery of eccentricities.  As the evening goes on her enticing seductiveness gradually transforms into quiet desperation.  She's obviously horny, but this segues into a greater need; a woman for whom 'just' sex isn't good enough any more, she wants a real human connection from her lover, something Templeton can never provide. The very fact that she'd even consider him as a long-term prospect fills him with disgust for her.

The last of this trinity is Irene (Polly McIntosh).  She's the perfect match for Templeton, someone who understands his urges and psychology on almost every level.  But in a cruel irony, she mirrors him so perfectly that they can never be together.  They play sex games like chess grandmasters, a confidence behind every kinky move they make, probing each others boundaries with humour, tenderness and wild abandon.  The only fly in their sexy ointment is that to move the relationship forwards a millimetre would kill it stone dead.

By the time the credits roll Prevertere has captured lightning in a bottle: a convincing dissection of internalised loathing, sexual desire, repressed guilt and the real effects of hedonism. The emotions and behaviour here is painfully accurate in a way I don't think I've ever seen in cinema.  Sex in cinema is a tricky subject to deal with, go abstract and you look like a prude, show full on fucking and you end up a pornographer. Writer/director McGuire avoids these pitfalls by depicting the tensions and conversations that take place around sex with an documentarian exactitude, turning the focus off the sex act itself and onto his character's reactions to it, both before and after.

My favourite example is the self-loathing that comes over Templeton just after he's come with Shelly.  I saw him as equivalent to a horror movie werewolf transforming back into a man, the animalistic craving for flesh reverting to disgust and remorse at his actions. Templeton stumbles about, clumsily pulling his clothes on, making excuses as quickly as he can. Meanwhile Shelly sits naked on the bed, her heart quietly breaking as she tries to convince herself that Templeton isn't lying to her.  The ultimate kick in the teeth is when Templeton, after two years of occasional sex with her, can't even remember her name! These terse post-coital interactions are something you just don't see in cinema, let alone as well-observed as this is.

McGuire also accurately depicts the progression of a hazy MDMA and coke fuelled party, the joyous nihilism, fleeting arguments, mental dislocation and fluffy wooziness.  Again, Templeton's state of mind here is something you just don't usually see in cinema, his personality gradually tinged with mild paranoia and fatigue as he shrugs, says "fuck it" and does another line. Prevertere will be familiar to anyone who has found their Friday nights unexpectedly dragging on until Sunday evening, Saturday entirely fizzling away into a half-forgotten soup of minimal techno and dried sweat.  These are sequences for those of you that've woken up alone on an unfamiliar sofa shivering, stumbling home as you battle against a self-inflicted narcotic lobotomy.

Accurate though Prevertere can be, it's by no means perfect.  Bizarrely, the film increases in quality throughout; so the initial scenes look like the work of an absolute novice, and the closing ones rather accomplished and stylish.  It's such a striking contrast that if I didn't know better, I'd say the first twenty minutes were the work of a different director altogether.  There's some really shoddy production design; what's intended to be a fabulous mansion looks like an average suburban home, except with a surreal lack of furniture. During the establishing shots you wish that someone had invested in a tripod to keep the camera from jigging about.  Even the typography in the opening titles is weirdly squashed, as if it'd been assembled in Microsoft Paint.  Finally there's a scene where I swear I heard the cameraman's shoes squeaking on the bathroom tiles as he shuffles closer to a painting (I  have to confess I found this last one kind of endearing).

Fortunately, the film soon finds its feet, and as if we're watching someone learn the ropes of directing, we see more and more intelligent framing and even some clever rack focusing.  By the time we've got to the 'Irene' scenes we're seeing tight, skilful editing and consistently well-composed shots.  It's as if the performances get better too (though the improvement is not as drastic); the four leads all consistently professional, the standouts being McIntosh and Ponziani, who give performances of such clarity and bravery that they improve the film by degrees every second they're on screen.

Prevertere is uneven, often cheap looking and riddled with technical issues.  But it's also honest, sensitively written and constructed with a scarily perceptive eye for how people really behave. In cases like this I'm more than prepared to forgive the odd flaw.

Prevertere is being screened at the Raindance Film Festival on Friday 27 September at 20:45 and Monday 30 September at 16:00.  Details and tickets here.

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