Rating: (3 out of 5) Saturday, 10/24/2009, 1:00pm Feature presentation, $10 at Shakespeare Theatre’s Harman Center for the Arts
THE GREAT SHAME of those responsible for the glut of so-called reality programming is what they have stolen and corrupted from the art of the documentary. Time was when a carefully researched and crafted filmic essay on the lives of others could deliver subtle but often mind-altering perspectives on the human condition. Now, with our screens filled with the sleazy contrivances of bottom-feeding producers, we have to come to expect nothing more than a camera that roves bodies and faces like a dirty old man.
Enter Poppy Stockwell’s Searching 4 Sandeep, a gentle and adamantly honest diary of a romance between the filmmaker and a woman she met online. Since Stockwell lived, at the time, in Australia and her girlfriend is British-Indian and a Muslim, the two have plenty of obstacles to surmount above and beyond the question of whether they’ll fancy each other as much in person as they do on the web.
Though it certainly shares the feel and premise of any number of reality offerings and includes the ubiquitous post-production voice-over, in all other aspects Stockwell leaves the trash behind. For starters, there is nothing more ambitious here than the small and refreshingly unadorned documenting of two intelligent women from very different backgrounds trying for a workable middle-ground upon which to grow a relationship. There are no make-up masks, gym-rat abs, slut-wear or orchestrated ”surprises.” These are people who might be amongst our families, friends or co-workers and their voices ring with the authenticity born of that balance between grounding daily reality and the heart’s dream of true love.
As personal as this story is to Stockwell, she nevertheless maintains a gratifyingly consistent and confident narrative style which entertainingly moves back and forth through the chronology of the romance. She works with restraint, allowing the mood and meaning of each scene to emerge without being forced or over-edited and this choice draws us slowly but surely into the increasingly important question of whether this relationship can work. Stockwell’s willingness to share her quiet moments of self-doubt and despair without caring a tad how she looks delivers this piece a credibility that network TV can only dream of.
And thus, though we may worry for this unsure pair, it is never with the cynical schadenfreude with which we watch the usual reality fare. It is impossible to follow these two women without being touched by the tenderness of their dreams and thus, Stockwell has gone a small but significant step towards reclaiming a wayward genre.
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