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Cinequest: A Beautiful Curse (2021) - Reviewed

Posted By themoviesleuth 494 days ago on Entertainment - There may not be a single trope less appealing in “romantic” dramas than a man stalking a woman to gather information on her while the film plays it as charming. In Danish filmmaker Martin Garde Abildgaard’s debut, A Beautiful Curse, this theme is pushed to its disturbing limits as photojournalist Samuel (Mark Strepan) spends his time watching Stella (Olivia Vinland) sleep, slowly falling for her in the process. On assignment on an island where a mysterious illness has afflicted the residents with perpetual sleep, Samuel spends his days taking photos of the desolate streets. In his off time, he lies next to Stella, a woman he’s found while documenting the island, and telling her everything about himself. She, of course, can’t hear him because she’s asleep but that certainly doesn’t stop this creep from charging straight ahead. He does all of this while avoiding a pair of sinister figures in hazmat suits who themselves appear to be documenting the phenomenon. This is a tough film to parse because the core is intriguing. The idea of a mass illness is strikingly relevant. Following one person’s journey outside of it allows for an almost documentary-like approach wherein you’re privy to small glimpses of lives halted by instantaneous sleep. Extending further, there’s an interesting idea at play examining a man falling for a woman he knows nothing about and the violation that comes from being viewed at your most intimate without your knowledge. Being asleep is you at your most vulnerable and having a person rifle through your things, read your diary and create a life with you without your knowledge is terrifying. There’s an excellent horror film somewhere in this “love” story. A Beautiful Curse grapples with none of that. It instead wants you to feel for this guy, even as more knowledge about why he’s there comes to light. Even as he becomes increasingly obsessive, the film plays him out as some hopeless romantic. If only she would just wake up and see the love of her life has been there all along, right? Here’s the thing, however: a film doesn’t need to take a moral position to have value. It also shouldn’t be docked artistic points for not being the “better” film you’ve concocted in your mind while watching it. For better or worse, A Beautiful Curse, like every film, should be taken on its own merits. So how is it removed from that preamble?If nothing else, Abildgaard makes effective use out of silence and spaces. The film is at its most compelling when Samuel is making his way around the island. School buses filled with sleeping people, cereal spilled all over a grocery store floor, a man sprawled out amongst it, intensely quiet streets stand stationary, traffic nonexistent. It’s striking stuff and creates an oppressively sad atmosphere. You’re offered brief glimpses into lives and wonder who they were, who they loved, what were their passions? It’s intermittently spellbinding, getting lost in these brief portraits of humanity. It’s especially poignant when you factor in the lack of humanity many of us have experienced over the past year. Equally transfixing are the “conversations” between Samuel and Stella. Abildgaard smartly at least tries to give her a point of view by staging these talks in an almost black box theater-like setting where Samuel unloads his life onto her and she responds in kind. It’s a fantasy, the delusions of a stalker, but it’s a clever way to convey some level of chemistry between the two. This is kneecapped by the ever-present feeling of wanting to take a shower while watching what you know is excessively creepy but it’s a textured and cinematic way to show it. No matter how atmospheric and gorgeous Abildgaard’s work hereis, it’s always going to be undermined by the shallow underpinnings of his script. There’s nothing to Samuel, nothing to this relationship and zero work put in to give Stella any agency. Devoting a laughable five minutes to her say in the matter, tacked on at the end is maybe the most insulting aspect of the film.A Beautiful Curse is a film with a few strong ideas, all set aside for a bafflingly gross central one. You can’t fall for the couple falling in love because the relationship simply doesn’t exist. No amount of insistence from the film changes that. Yet another plodding genre film too afraid to go all in on anything in particular and instead dresses itself as something else. That that something else is so toxic and vile is a flaw too debilitating to overcome. -Brandon Streussnig  (function() { var zergnet = document.createElement('script'); zergnet.type = 'text/javascript'; zergnet.async = true; zergnet.src = (document.location.protocol == "https:" ? "https:" : "http:") + '//'; var znscr = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; znscr.parentNode.insertBefore(zergnet, znscr); })();

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