A dark love triangle develops a darker quadrangular twist in the spellbinding -- if ultimately maddening -- "InContact," Israeli-American director Ann Oren's entry, screened tonight only, in CMU's ongoing "Faces of Media" International Film Festival.
This is the on-and-offline tale of sexy best friends Gen (Silya Nymoen), a struggling singer, and Christina (Anna Gutto), a cheese-store vendor and would-be actress, who are tightly interconnected -- actually and virtually -- by the new state-of-the-art Web platform, InContact. It's a kind of hi-tech cross between Facebook and reality TV, providing a constant live video stream to and from each other's computer cams.
Also connected is Gen's new boyfriend George (Noel Joseph Allain), a writer's-blocked writer and pretentious Proustian, who uses poetry as a seduction tool. It works like a charm on Gen and, soon enough, on Christina. But he hasn't quite disposed of a third girl -- his recent ex -- who retains the key to his apartment.
3 stars = Good
Silya Nymoen, Anna Gutto, Noel Joseph Allain.
R in nature for language and sexual themes.
Writer-director Oren's chief influences have been Michael Haneke ("The Pianist") and Maya Deren -- for better as well as worse. "InContact," her first feature, was filmed entirely on laptop computers, webcams, mobile phones and surveillance cameras in just nine days. The Big Brother nature of the new "platform" -- eyes always open and streaming, unless briefly turned off -- make for its perverse evolution from delightful toy to devastating weapon.
"InContact" explores our whole new state of voyeurism and exhibitionism, where everyone is both viewer and performer, trading off the voyeur and exhibitionist roles. Ms. Oren is fond of that switcheroo. In her short film "Role Reversal" (2007), she had non-professionals imitate famous scenes from Hitchcock's "The Birds" and Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction," editing in clips from the original films so that the real actors appeared to be watching the karaoke amateurs.
Here, she has Christina doing Faye Dunaway's part in "Bonnie & Clyde"! Who's watching whom, and on what large or small screen? Christina is outraged on the rare occasions when Gen turns her camera off. "What're you hiding from me?" she demands to know.
The exhilarating but dangerous immediacy of the digital "stage" -- so instantly accessible, addictive, titillating -- ends up producing less, not more, real intimacy. And certainly less romance (if that old-fashioned notion still interests anybody). Says Ms. Oren: Instead of the doorbell ringing and a girl finding a guy standing there with a bouquet of flowers, she gets a text message saying, "Come down, I'm outside."
Not least of director Oren's virtues is eliciting excellent performances from her three leads, plus a terrific fourth from Birgit Huppuch as Gen's mom (whom Gen gets hooked on InContact, too). We watch these restless, unhappy characters' rising temperatures and narcissistic tensions with increasing fascination. It's a veritable tour de force, up to -- but not including -- the finish line. In so superbly illustrating the themes of distractibility and disconnect, Ms. Oren ends up distracting herself from her job.
No danger of giving away this film's ending: There isn't one. I screened it on a DVD in the discomfort of my own home, and so could run it back and re-watch the final scene three times -- with minimal enlightenment. Intentionally ambiguous? "Let the viewer decide"? Neo-nouvelle vague? Yeah, yeah ...
No, no! Not subtle, just lazy.
(Screens tonight only, 7 p.m. in the Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Melwood Screening Room, Oakland. Features an appearance and discussion with director Ann Oren and reception, compliments of Allegro Hearth Bakery.)
Post-Gazette film critic emeritus Barry Paris: email@example.com.