SLIFF 2010 Review: LEO’S ROOM
Review by Dane Marti
It seems to me that people can become easily trapped – trapped in bad relationships as well as shadowy problems within themselves. They can become isolated metaphorically and literally. In LEO’S ROOM, we are shown something that many of us are already aware of: We are not alone. Still, loneliness and isolation can wickedly warp anyone. Many folks are depressed. Whatever the country, or economic status, modern life can still leave a person feeling totally alone. Even with cell phones and computers in every color, application, doodad and size for every human’s interest, many people just are feeling alone psychologically and physically. In some cases it is a chemical imbalance.
In LEO’S ROOM after his girlfriend breaks up with him due to his lack of emotional or sexual attention, Leo is having a plethora of confusing and conflicting thoughts. He spends too much time On-Line, surfing the web searching for sexual relationships with men – or anyone, while he should be diligently working on his college Thesis. He shares a ratty apartment with a silent, pot-smoking bohemian. Well, he’s more your typical slacker than anything else. The film is filled with skill and clarity: what I really dig is how Leo procrastinates. Never dealing with his Thesis project, but searching for love, for sex, for some type of communication with other peopleÃ¢â‚¬â€some form of precious contact. The film has many scenes that are quiet. Other moments use perfectly sedate and melodic folk music. Basically, like a lot of men and women in their twenties, it is hard to focus on the important, pragmatic problems and goals in life while they are obsessed with disquieting and sad emotions.
In the 21st Century, I believe loneliness is pretty damn common. It probably has always been a part of humanity, just one of the reasons for suicide or alcoholism and other dark disturbances in life. You would think with new medication, as well as a plethora of avenues of communication, we would be living with more contentment, understanding and mutual trust. People would help each other through all the exquisite arteries of technology. Unfortunately, some good folks seem to live in frustration, isolated and longing for something, which they often cannot put into concrete words. So many reasons out there for their isolation: depression, the economy or lack of ambition and unemployment are just three of the usual suspects. There’s probably a chemical, brain abnormality at the root of many terrible, tragic problems.
LEO’S ROOM is an unglamorous look at reality. The Story: The film starts with great underground rock music that highlights the pastoral landscape of Argentina. As the film starts, two couples discuss orgasm in a busy and drunken nightclub. The main actor mentions that he thinks a relationship must have something more, something more important. Everyone at the table is gorgeous, young and drunk out of their skull. Later, our hero cannot sexually perform with his beautiful girlfriend. While she kisses him, he tells her that he wants to go back to his apartment; exasperated, she wants him to consult a psychologist. All of this is extremely well acted. Our hero, who looks suspiciously like John Mayer, is obviously sexually conflicted in a way the viewer cannot completely understand although there are signs that point in certain directions. Then, after even more sexually futile attempts with his girlfriend to have intercourse, she ‘dump’ him. The film is suffused with honesty and yearning, beautifully paced, with good music. It is hard to tell if his problem is his sexuality or simply his desire to find a meaningful relationship.
Then he meets a petite, stone-faced brunette and – although their initial conversations are strained and uncomfortable, they walk to a coffeehouse where he reveals to her that, back in a grade school that they’d both attended, he’d had a crush on her. She listens, but hardly responds in any way. These people, while tortured, are still trying, with their remaining sliver of being, to survive.
Strangely, Leo’s a good-looking young man, making his failures within relationships seem even more poignant, painful and real, even if some people might wonder why a guy who looks like him would have troubles. He begins to furtively experiment with sexual encounters that are distinctly cold, sterile and impersonal. Often, he initiates and then backs away from these encounters. He visits his psychologist whom he can confide it.
It’s refreshing to see a well-photographed, low budget and naturalistic film about young people struggling with life and loneliness. It’s a common situation in life’s great panorama of happiness and tragedy, but the film is understated and real in handling it in a way that doesn’t seem like an abominable soap opera. For instance, the acting between the couple is extremely convincing, almost documentary style and I think it’s beguiling. It seems like our friend isn’t necessarily looking for sex, but a real friendship – something tangible and sincere. His dark-haired female friend reminds me of Jennifer Jason Leigh, but perhaps even more beaten down that that actress has appeared in the past. This girl is still cute, beautiful in a tarnished, melancholy way. The film deals with lies, secrets and deception, but also the deep impulse within tortured people to seek help and confess – often in the strangest places. Before long, Leo has a male lover. Suddenly, he must hide his male lover from his female friend – a woman who is deeply disturbed, suffering from either a mental illness or something tragic that previously occurred in her life.
All of this makes the film sound hopelessly desolate, but within the realistic pain and communication problems in the film, everything rings true. The cinematography is slick and professional, but also real; it is never overstated or overly cute. I could tell that the people in front and behind the camera believed in the film, a heartfelt creation, and an important tale to tell the world.
I was fascinated by the first-time direction by Enrique Buchichio. It is a self-assured debut. Frankly, the film appears to be the work of a more mature and intellectual filmmaker and, if there is a God in heaven, Enrique will have a future in the zany world of cinema production.
LEO’S ROOM will play during the 19th Annual Stella Artois St. Louis International Film Festival on Sunday, November 21st at 8:30 pm at the Tivoli Theatre.