`Love in the Time of Money' is an adaptation of `Reigen," Arthur Schnitzler's scandalous 1897 play that follows a daisy-chain of sexual encounters, where one person moves to the next, until it comes full circle to the first in the chain. This debut film from Peter Mattei, also a playwright and theater director, shows a promising filmmaker, but watch out for the cautionary yellow flags.
The classic plot line has been seen by many films and stage productions, each with its own comment on how sex plays a role in the human spirit. In Mattei's version, sex is used solely as a coping mechanism when all else fails. In each vignette, an emotionally depressed person emotionally capitulates to another who appears to be emotionally stable. As the needy weans off the strength of the stronger, who is in turn strengthened by being needed, both try to fill their emotional reservoir. This ultimately leads to sex, but its short-term effects prove inadequate. When the realities of the stronger person come crashing down, this never-ending chain of events perpetuates from one person to the next.
The best part of the film is how very intense, complex human character is painted so concisely using the most minimal of brush strokes. Make no mistake, the characters are very abstract, and do not necessarily represent how we might envision realistic dialog, but that's not the point. Instead, their features are very intentional, accented in deliberate ways to punctuate and exaggerate primal motivations, frailties, and lusts in order to illustrate how we cope with life.
Much can be said about the script, though not all good -- it is inconsistent at times -- but it is, in many ways, artful and skillful in its depiction of deeper complex character profiles. While it isn't the audience's responsibility to recognize the difficulty in accomplishing this task with only a few short lines of dialog, Mattei does it well for a debut filmmaker. That said, won't appeal to most audiences, nor would he enjoy such leniency from critics in future films.
The worst parts of the film are too noteworthy not to chop several point off the top. First, the title itself (and the production notes) suggests that the reason for people's emotional and spiritual deterioration is somehow attributable to a financially rich society, where waste mirrors our loss of our values, purpose and meaning of life. Yet, that premise is never presented as a backdrop to any of the vignettes in the movie, and in only one case has money been the instrument of a character's downfall. The fact that the filmmaker lost his intended vision of the film is also evident in other aspects of the film, leaving its entire message or purpose unclear. One common element is the use of sex as the great savior of the spirit, yet no one ever wins, but this is more of a statement of the obvious than a compelling message or theme.
Despite my enthusiasm for the film's positive points, `Love in the Time of Money' is not for the causal film-goer. It requires a more adept indie-film aficionado and mature student of human nature to better appreciate its better qualities. Alas, the film's drawbacks, especially its lack of a more coherent message, leave it dry in the end. Still, I have to end on a high note, by giving it credit for depicting deeper, complex character profiles in short time-slices, a quality not easily done by debut filmmakers. Bravo for that.
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