What Is This Film Called Love? I’m still none the wiser…

Feb 26, 2013 Comments Off on What Is This Film Called Love? I’m still none the wiser… by

by Rachel Eadie 

In his follow up to the epic ‘The Story of Film’, the director, film historian and all-round cinema geek Mark Cousins goes back to basics. After 2011’s exhaustive 15-hour magnum opus that was six years in production ‘What Is This Film Called Love?’ has no crew, no script, and is shot on entirely on a Flipcam which cost ten pounds.

It is the product of a rare three days off from the never-ending carousel of press, production and promotion to which filmmakers are often saddled. The film begins as a piece about Sergei Eisenstein, Soviet director par excellence of cinematic classics such as Battleship Potemkin, and someone clearly very important to Cousins. In the 1930s, Eisenstein spent a few years working in Mexico, and when Cousins realises this, he decides to use the only Spanish word he knows enmicar (to laminate) and takes a photograph of his hero as his companion for the three-day ride.  However, as he walks around Mexico City with the portrait, it becomes apparent that this is instead a neat device which allows Cousins to explore themes deeper than mere fan-boy admiration.

The film then develops into a personal documentary, as Cousins walks mile after mile across Mexico City while meditating to Eisenstein on life, one’s surroundings and the wonder of the human body.

The colours are beautiful. Cutting from the seething sprawl of Mexico City to the sooty Edinburgh skyline via Utah’s vast Monument Valley, Cousins reinforces the theme of physicality, here geographical rather than the corporeality of the film’s opening scenes. The cinematography is certainly the film’s strong suit, and montage pioneer Eisenstein’s influence is obvious in the beautiful sequences that link the various locations.

In one scene, Cousins encounters a group of street children. This proves to be perhaps the film’s most engaging moment. The smiling children play with the camera, shy but inquisitive, their voices among the very few that feature in the film. But the effect of this moment only emphasises how little the rest of the film engages the viewer. Cousins, though humorous and likeable, quickly becomes tedious, and the presence of Eisenstein feels too far removed for the viewer to connect with him. Even the director’s chats with the photograph feel forced and overly chummy, with Cousins addressing him as ‘amigo’ throughout.

This lack of empathy is, for me, the film’s downfall. A very personal documentary around a man’s exploration of life and his environment could have been intimate, revealing and touching. The absence of a discernible plot could have been its strength; and I am sure was the intention of the director. Instead, it felt inchoate and disjointed; the execution of the idea ultimately falling short of its premise. I left the cinema still wondering, what really IS this film called Love?















VL English

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