When Florian Habicht sees a mysterious woman carrying a slice of cake at Coney Island train station, he is intrigued and asks complete strangers on the streets of New York what this could mean. With a resounding 'cake means seduction' coming from the people, Habicht locates the woman (Masha Yakovenko) and casts her as his leading lady in a film. They begin to act out a love story movie, with scenes suggested by people interviewed by Florian on the streets and in cafes of New York.
Review by Louise Keller:
Chemical changes in the brain make lust and love responses similar to those under the influence of drugs, says one candid New Yorker in this quirky, unexpectedly tender film in which a romantic eccentric sets out to film a love story. New Zealand filmmaker Florian Habicht brings his unique slant to this unusual film that is a mash-up documentary and romance fantasy in which the advent of his relationship with his fantasy woman is placed in the hands of New York's man in the street.
Habicht puts himself into the frame and is his own leading man and in doing so, allows his eccentricities to be clearly on display. He is both endearing and irritating. While the framework of Habicht's construct is contrived, the input from unscripted strangers brings spontaneity and freshness as the film evolves, develops and springboards into unchartered territory - a little like life itself.
It all starts with an eye-catching, tall woman in New York City holding a slice of cake on a plate. She crosses the street, catches a train and ends up in Coney Island. It's an intriguing start to the film, although the next part in which Habicht tries to track her down and finds her in a bar, is somewhat problematic. So let's move on.
Habicht is a tall, lanky man with a mop of unkempt hair who wears bright pastel coloured trousers and does silly dance moves as he walks past window displays. He reminds me a little of Roberto Benigni - the irrepressible Oscar-winner who climbed over seats at the Academy when claiming his trophy. She (Masha Yakovenko) is a stunning brunette with short hair, great features and a seductive, unselfconscious presence.
So starts the relationship between Habicht and Masha, the striking Russian actress who seems willing to appear in Habicht's quickly evolving film. Additionally, throughout the film, there is ongoing dialogue in German between Habicht and his father (on Skype), usually conducted from the bathtub, when they discuss the possible elements of the film in the making.
Then the people of New York get involved as Habicht asks the hobo in the street, lesbians who believe in foot massage, a transvestite who likes rosepetals, the stockbroker in the cab, two black dudes, the tarot reader and two school kids, to name a few, what should happen next. These candid scenes are some of the film's best.
The fact that Habicht is clearly living his dream is not unnoticed by us. He dashes to the all-night supermarket to buy condoms, he asks for advice about sex and asks what makes a good sex scene. Some scenes are outright bizarre, like the one in which Masha eats breakfast cereal from the hollow in Habicht's sunken chest cavity.
There's a telling moment when they are lying in bed together and Masha says 'You know I'm just acting.' It is with a mix of fascination and curiosity that we watch things unfold. Where will it lead? Can there be a happily ever after ending to Habicht's love story? And where does fiction end and reality kick in?
Although occasionally outstaying its welcome, the film sustains for most of its 94 minutes. The final scene does not disappoint. Encapsulating the essence of optimism and hope that the whole film epitomises, there is a lovely simplicity in how Habicht concludes his fantasy.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The premise has promise: a film scripted by total strangers, outsiders who suggest successive scenes for a New York love story which New Zealand filmmaker Florian Habicht will shoot on his little digital camera - and play the starring role. The reality is less compelling, though, partly because Habicht's clever idea is treated rather carelessly: without the discipline of sticking to his plan, Habicht loses the plot - literally.
Masha Yakovenko, the young woman who carries the cake, also takes the cake when it comes to screen presence, her swept back black hair and fine features making her an interesting character. She has poise, too, which Habicht lacks. His unfocused approach as a filmmaker would serve his purposes well were it not for the fact that he lacks communication skills.
The novelty value of the approach kicks in from time to time, but it soon starts to look like a freak show. The selected strangers are for the most part oddballs, interesting characters maybe, but to the exclusion of less obviously bizarre characters, the film feels contrived. Sometimes the sound quality lessens our experience - good sound, ironically, being at least as important to a film as good images.
Yet there are many elements that work: his incessant internet chats on Skype to his father seeking advice, even (or especially) while sitting in his tiny bathtub, are both amusing and insightful into his lifestyle. The idea of having strangers propose scenes is a workable one - if only he stuck to it. There is inherent tension at the start, when he looks for Masha; then when he finds her and they set off on their adventure. (Although we never see how exactly he reconnects with her, which is a major weakness.) But seduced by the visual opportunities of New York's denizens, Habicht allows his film to meander and lose that early tension.
The openly playful nature of the film - flipping between a filmmaking experiment and a bit of real life, doco style - is edgy and interesting, but underdeveloped. Our interest in the two characters rises and falls, but there is never enough to make us really care how it pans out; not do we invest in the people captured on camera, their cameos amounting to nothing more than a passing charade.
What Habicht does do well is use music; reminiscent of Woody Allen's talent for adding the right tone and to adding scale to his films, Habicht uses gorgeous cues to empower his little film. If only it were enough.
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LOVE STORY (M)
CAST: Florian Habicht, Masha Yakovenko, Frank Habicht
DIRECTOR: Florian Habicht
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Maria Ines Manchego
EDITOR: Peter O'Donoghue
MUSIC: Marc Chesterman, Georges Delerue, Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota, Lalo Schifrin
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sharmill Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 6, 2012