James Franco, this year’s Oscar co-presenter, was gushing (rather ungallantly, him being the presenter of the ceremony and nominated at the same time) in an interview about his own movie, 127 Hours, how it is the “cutting edge of moviemaking”. He thinks it because the film is about one single character in a single place and he considers it better than the more traditionally made The Social Network, also nominated for various awards.
It made me think of a truly daring experiment, the movie Conversation(s) with other Women (2005), filmed entirely in split screen. Similar to a two-person play, it stars Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter (nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscar this year), who give perfect performances.
In the film, two wedding guests, identified only as Man (Eckhart) and a bridesmaid called Woman (Bonham Carter) start a conversation that lasts all night. Their dialogue does not make it clear if they knew each other already, if one forgot the other, or if they are pretending to have forgotten. This aspect of the film recalls Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, where two characters discover at one point in the play that they are actually husband and wife.
The split-screen technique is used to show the same scene from slightly different angles. It is also used to present the differences between formulating a phrase in your head and what actually comes out. Or maybe what a phrase meant to one person and how the other person heard it. The way the technique is used, also suggested the possibility of alternate realities, dependant on different things being said or done (like the German film Run Lola Run). Although the technique seems complicated, the viewing experience is effortless. But, as the Woman says in the film: “The illusion of effortlessness requires a great effort indeed”.
Conversation(s) with other Women has thought-provoking observations about the fluidity of time, memory, love, the unavoidable changes through which a person goes while getting older (hence, the Women in the plural of the title, because after all, are you the same person you were 10 years ago?), the expectations of youth and the disillusionments of adulthood.
The film is written by Gabrielle Zevin and directed by Hans Canosa. In a tour de force, the actors shot 80 pages of dialogue in only 12 days of filming. Its small budget meant that the actors wore their own clothes, with Eckhart wearing his own Armani suit and Helena Bonham Carter her Prada shoes. Also, the visual effects were done by the visual effects supervisor himself, using Adobe After Effects, as the VFX houses were requesting double the film’s budget.
The fact that Conversation(s) with other Women had such a small budget, and that it flew under the radar of the big-shot awards suggests that filmmakers are still passionate and taking risks to make great films. It also suggests that two established stars like Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter really love acting, and are willing to do it at times not for money nor fame, but because they believe that they are creating something valuable.