Gimmick Distraction: Conversation(s)
With Other Women
Copyright © by
Dylan Garcia-Wahl, 1/15/07
One of the principle requirements of a good/great film is the ability to make the audience forget they are watching a movie. In his feature debut, Conversation(s) With Other Women, director Hans Canosa has the script and actors needed to accomplish this suspension of belief but decided to make it blatantly obvious to the viewer that they are, in fact, watching a movie.
The storyline is very simple Ė a man opens a conversation with a woman (the characters are not named) at his sisterís wedding. They talk, they flirt, and eventually end up in the womanís hotel room just prior to her leaving to the airport to catch a flight home. That really is the story. We learn about them during this process but the learning is slow and calculated. The man and the woman did not meet at the wedding as strangers but were once married. When the marriage ended she ran away to London to start all over. He continued his law practice and pined over his loss of her. Now married to a British cardiologist she returns to the states to be a bridesmaid in the wedding. This is their first encounter of each other since she left.
Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter give strong and believable performances. There is little extraordinary in the dialogue but their delivery of it makes it come across as more than it actually is. Their movements, reactions, and delivery of dialogue give a real depth to the man and the woman. They make you believe in these characters and pull you in to their situation. That is exactly what you need to make this very simple story come to life. Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart do their job well enough to make anything else added to the mix unnecessary.
Unfortunately, Hans Canosa wanted another element. He chose to shoot the entire movie in split screen. Now split screen technology is not groundbreaking. It has existed since the early days of film. It was most notably effective in Abel Ganceís Napoleon. Here it is nothing more than distraction. One camera focuses on the man while the other focuses on the woman. In an interview, Eckhart says that the split screen may confuse or distract people early on in the film but eventually they will adjust to it and the split screen will make them pay more attention. The audience shouldnít need to be confused or distracted. If your audience is confused or distracted early on in the movie then you have lost them. The rest of the film is a struggle to recapture them. As far as using split screen to make them pay more attention, thatís your job Mr. Eckhart and you do it well. You donít need the gimmick. Hans Canosa says it allows the audience to focus on one character or the other by their own choice. There are only two people in the room; the audience needs to focus on both. Instead of split screen, just keep both actors in frame. Use the split screen only when they are apart such as when sheís in the bathroom alone. When they are together the split screen is pointless. The only reason to have it at that point is to say that the entire film is split screen therein making it nothing more than a gimmick.
There are, however, brief moments in which the split screen works. As they reminisce about their past, those early days take up one side of the split screen. To see them in their late thirties fumbling with memories while we simultaneously watch those memories play out, make the melancholia of the past all the more poignant. Itís a juxtaposition of time that works well in its relatively sparse usage. The other employment of the split screen that works well is in instances which in one character attempts to put on a brave face in responding to something said by the other, while in the second screen we see the same response acted out in what the character is feeling inside; sheís stoic in reality but we see her tearful in the other screen. This use of the split screen is not overdone and, because of that, works well.
Hans Canosa had a proper script and good actors by which to propel it but being a first time feature director he felt he needed something else to make people take notice of both his film and himself. This gimmick was not the answer. The biggest problem I have with Stephen Spielberg is that he spends all his time on special effects and no time whatsoever on character development. So many directors and screenwriters either donít take the time on good character development or they donít have the ability to show or write good character development. Canosa had this fundamental element given to him on a silver platter by Carter, Eckhart, and screenwriter Gabrielle Zevin and did everything he could to damage it. Thankfully the actors are strong enough to override the gimmick for a good amount of the film. But the most damage is done at the end of the movie. In the last shot the characters look cut and pasted into their individual screens and the result is such a pull from the believability that they had given their characters that suddenly one is left not caring as much as one should. The movie ends and an odd confusion is the aftertaste. Canosa fails in something he could have easily succeeded in without much effort. He needed to be reminded that a little goes a long way. Ultimately, the gimmick backfires in the sense that it has guaranteed that this film will not be remembered instead of it being remembered as being original. The fact that it will not be remembered is disappointing. Throughout the movie I was hoping that there was a split screen of me thoroughly enjoying watching it.
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