Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Moviegoers walk into the cool, dimly lit confines of the theater venue hoping to find catharsis. The tacit assumption of the filmgoer is that the protagonist(s) of the film they’re watching will be “likeable”; and maybe even, like them, the viewer. It’s an arbitrary, and certainly unnecessary expectation; more of an idle wish-fulfillment on the audience’s part than an actual requirement for compelling filmmaking, if you ask me. And while we all enjoy the presence of an effective onscreen “Heavy” (What’s Star Wars without Darth Vader?), nonetheless it’s the rare film that would risk raising the viewer’s ire by portraying the antics of leads so flawed, arrogant and misguided as to be called the villains of the piece. The three characters who comprise the romantic triangle of Dark Arc may not be “villains” per se -- but you’d think twice before inviting them into your home; or even going to see a movie about them.
It might take some explaining on my part to convince you that Dark Arc is a comedy; but all the right elements are there: our leads -- Viscount Laris (writer/director Dan Zukovic) and Juxta (Sarah Strange) “meet cute” when he answers her ad for a “non-sexual escort”. He orchestrates a plan to get her fired from her go-nowhere day-job (by terrorizing her customers); and they engage in an almost non-stop stream of verbal banter characterized by such a highfalutin level of veiled aggression that how could they not get together? I mean, who else could put up with them? Viscount and Juxta are... -- to put it plain, they’re kinda’ douchey, and when they’re not at odds with the rest of the world, they’re compelled to be at odds with one another. Which of course leads to various measures of romantic complication, both pre-meditated and unexpected, in the form of Laris’s rival, Ed. A graphic designer by trade, Ed possesses a similar set of visual obsessions as Laris -- in another film, this conflict might just lead to “zany hijinks” for the remainder of the movie; but romantic comedies don’t usually feature this level of... uhh -- pathology. Which keeps things interesting, if not harmlessly comic. The actors play it deadly serious; it’s up to the viewer to see how ridiculous it all is, and find the humor therein.
If all this seems to smack of pretension, rest assured, it does, it does! What alleviates it -- and ultimately makes the film worthwhile -- are the brief moments of humanity that peek through. As characters, Viscount and Juxta are too labyrinthian-ly guarded to ever have a genuine exchange between them; it’s in the moments that we see them alone that their human qualities and foibles reveal themselves. Even the visual style of the film reflects this; in the “set-pieces” that feature multiple players there’s a high level of artifice: match cuts, color dissolves, keyhole wipes and other cinematic devices whose very presence calls attention to their use. It’s only when we’re alone with the characters one-on-one does the film “settle down” and begin to draw you in. Even under close examination, Viscount and Juxta are irksome characters; too wrapped up in exploring and exploiting their own flaws to ever directly address putting them right. What keeps the viewer watching is how much you find you have in common with them, all the same.
Dark Arc is released on DVD today, August, 24th, and is available for rent on Netflix and for purchase through Amazon. Also released on DVD late last month was Zukovic’s freshman effort, The Last Big Thing, a film notable for two things: 1.) it might be Mark Ruffalo’s first big part in a movie (he’s just okay here), and 2.) when I finally go stark, raving, mad I will do so in just the same manner as Simon Geist (Dan Zukovic) does in this picture. CAW! CAW!!!