Billed as the first feature film to be shot on a flip camera, A Love Affair of Sorts looks it. Full of unsightly images of quotidian life (a shot from below of the male lead’s face as he works out on a treadmill is a particular eyesore) punctuated by nauseous blurs whenever the camera moves, David Guy Levy’s movie foregrounds the potential ugliness of modern technology in order to comment on it. But that doesn’t make the film’s visuals any less hideous. Similarly, the characters—Los Angeles “artists” who live in big houses and never work—may acknowledge their own vapidity, but that doesn’t make them any less vapid or their stories any less mind-numbingly empty of human interest.
Buoyed by a framing device which establishes that A Love Affair of Sorts is about its own making, the film begins with Levy, as himself, rehearsing a scene with his lead actress, Lili Bordán. The movie then gives way to the fictional world of the film proper as Levy, playing an artist named David, meets and falls in love with a young Hungarian woman named Enci, enacted by Bordán. Rather than simply letting nature take its course, the pair decides to supplement reality by concocting a video project in which, each armed with a flip phone, they film one another over the course of several days, hoping via the wonders of recording technology to uncover the inner person behind the surface.
But sometimes the façade is all there is and after an hour or so of sub-Joe Swanberg dialogue and stomach-churning HD camerawork (a friend of David’s praises his two-camera setup, but you won’t), the film slides down the sinkhole of faux earnestness and abstract discussions of identity. Turns out David isn’t a rich douchebag, he’s just a lonely guy who doesn’t know who he is. That’s okay because Enci is there to reassure him that she knows who he is, a state of being that the audience is never privy to because the film doesn’t bother to explain its hopelessly intangible conceptions of self.
That question of identity is further complicated, though never interestingly elucidated, by the film’s final act, which returns us to the framing device and charts Bordán’s frustrations with the shoot and with Levy’s aggressive insistence that the actress share her character’s feelings for her director/co-star. This slippage between film and reality—which extends to three levels, the actual film, the “film shoot” as seen on screen, and the film-within-the-film—is the stuff of perfunctory reflexivity, which should be over-familiar to any viewer by this point in our post-postmodern limbo. Levy seems to be suggesting via this framing device that we’re all performers in a technological-based world. If we can no longer tell the difference between fiction and reality, then aren’t all our love affairs destined to be “of sorts”? Perhaps, but the idea of life as a performance is as old as the hills (or at least as old as As You Like It) and Levy’s dime-store self-consciousness hardly goes any way toward reshaping the debate.
A Love Affair of Sorts seems to want to ask (without ever quite asking) whether technology makes people more narcissistic, but any answer to that question the film proposes is destined to be inconclusive. Certainly, if you spent your whole life walking around with a video camera, then that would tend to make interpersonal relationships more difficult, but this central device seems a rather gross exaggeration of our obsession with documentation. Still, in the end such questions seem largely beside the point; Levy’s characters would almost certainly be as self-obsessed as they were devoid of interest even if no one was watching.