Isolation, Death, Romance, Death, Repeat
Some FF fans will label this pitch-perfect adaptation of Kei Oishi's novel In Love With the Dead as "Nekromantik-lite." But that's hardcore for you: Sometimes people settle for too little while moving too fast and missing far too much.
Director Brendan Muldowney mines this pulsatingly rich, black vein of longing and lost souls and then slips in a radical, doomy danse macabre – to the life-affirming racket of D.C. punk legends Minor Threat – making not only wholly original movies but also working minor miracles on the side.
And there are moribund miracles great and small and dark and dangerous enmeshed within Muldowney's affecting cinematic portrait of Ian (Robert de Hoog), an Irish youth who has never fully connected with the rest of the world's wild vitality. He is, as he says, "Like a beast born into human form. A defective human being." Whether that mistake is depraved, grave, or simply cause for grieving is up in the air (or, if you want to be literal about it, down in the ground).
Having already, as an adolescent, witnessed the death of his father, Ian hides himself away from any and all forms of non-Internet life. In his room, in what appears to be an Irish seaside manse, he stubbornly refuses or is simply incapable of connecting with life on its own terms. When his similarly distant mother expires, he's left, at 26, with a simple guidebook to the certainties of a life in the form of a richly detailed, leather-bound notebook left for him by mom: how to shop for food, how to cook his own meals, and the infinitely wise advisory to "find someone to love" who will love him back.
Good advice, but agonizingly more difficult for Ian than for most. Instead, he makes an ongoing shambles of another round-the-way UK antihero's mantra, Ian Welsh's, that is – and chooses not life, nor the living death of heroin, but death itself, which he encounters yet again, post-materfamilias's demise, dangling from a tree behind his house and later in a poisonous van in the same suicidally tendentious area.
Thus Ian experiments with the possibilities of populating his own solitary life with the exanimate, while actively combing the suicide chat boards for potential friends, alive but presumably soon to be otherwise. As Ian comes out of his hermetic, heretofore silent existence via the grace of death (or its next closest kin), he enters the "real" world like a mollusk exiting its shell for the uncharted, boundless seas. And when he finally encounters a beautiful, despondent woman in the form of Seventies Chrissie Hynde look-alike Naomi (Pollyanna McIntosh, perfectly cast and devastating in a pivotal, vital role), who has recently lost her 6-year-old son, things appear to have taken a turn in favor of six feet above.
Love Eternal skeins with an atmospheric melancholy that may be all too recognizable for some festivalgoers; we are legion and well met until, of course, we have to go back home. Add to that Tom Comerford's surreptitiously uncanny cinematography and Bart Westerlaken's emotionally evocative score and you have one of the best – i.e. most challenging – first-date films ever made.
Love Eternal screens Thursday, Sept. 26, 11:15am.