Try to watch director Hans Canosa
's Conversations with Other Women twice and in quick succession. The memories that haunt the film's reunited lovers subtly inform every look, line, and gesture between them. For that reason, the film not only stands up to, it demands subsequent viewings if one wants to fully appreciate its layers of double meanings and shaded subtext.
What immediately sets Conversations apart is how, over its 85 minutes, it makes such fun and inventive use of the split-screen technique. The technique's most obvious function is to convey how the story's man and woman (Aaron Eckhart
and Helena Bonham Carter
), no matter their passion for each other, inhabit disparate and irreconcilable worlds. But it goes brilliantly beyond that, using split-screen also for flashbacks, triggered by memory, in which younger versions of the characters (Erik Eidem
and Nora Zehetner
), back in the halcyon days of their long-ago romance. What's more, the details of these flashbacks warp and alter, depending on who's doing the remembering. In an intriguing twist, the split-screen projects not only alternate versions of the past, but of the present too -- showing variations on small but important moments either as a character perceives they happened or he/she wishes they had. It's a sensationally expressive use of a tired cinematic device, now revitalized and itself revitalizing a tired genre. Article continues below
Conversations opens as a wedding reception at a posh New York City hotel winds down. A man and woman -- each alone, bored, slightly drunk -- strike up a conversation. Their manner is flirtatious, but the back-and-forth is barbed with sarcastic half-truths, and, at least from the woman's side, with the thorns of years-old grievances. The woman, we learn, was one of the bridesmaids. She's traveled here from London where she has a well-to-do cardiologist husband and three children waiting for her. The man has a 22-year-old girlfriend back at home, but he isn't sweating it; we get the sense he's had many a 22-year-old girlfriend waiting on him at one time or another. Rather, he's more taken with the woman, who's clearly more than a passing fancy.
The two don't have much time; the woman's flight leaves at dawn. They repair to her hotel room where their bittersweet, often humorous verbal dance continues with a break for the inevitable catch-up sex. On the page, this all sounds corny. But, as remembrances layer one upon the other, this relationship takes on the darkness and depth of an epic love. Screenwriter Gabrielle Zavin freshens up stale love story conventions, and does so the right way: By creating distinct, well rounded characters. We piece together, bit by bit, the circumstances of the woman fleeing their troubled affair for safe harbor in London, and what perhaps followed in the years following their breakup. At times, Zavin's scenes can feel stagy and amateurish, forcing her characters from one beat to another as each seeks to fill the decade-plus gap since they were last together.
Luckily, she's got Canosa's playful direction and two exceedingly likeable performers in Eckhart and Bonham Carter to help smooth out the crimps in her script. Eckhart works away his characters' mischievous charm till, tentatively, the man's emotional wounds begin to bare and bleed. To my mind, this is also the worthiest part Bonham Carter's had since 1997's The Wings of the Dove, and here she reminds us what an engaging dramatic presence she can be, and that she holds her own with today's best screen actors.
Like Richard Linklater
's Before Sunset and André Téchiné's Changing Times, Conversations is actually interested in the joys and pains of human relationships. Each of these films is about sensitive, intelligent adults negotiating with that least selfish of human ideals: Eternal Love. In every significant way, these films are rare gems in an age of impersonal, cookie-cutter filmmaking, a soothing salve for blockbuster-bruised cinemagoers starved, like Conversations' own lovers, for something real and substantial.