Say what you will about Boaz Yakin’s epically awful Death in Love, but it wastes no time letting you know what you’re in for. Intercutting footage of the film’s protagonist (Josh Lucas) aggressively fucking his young lover with images of bloody Nazi medical experiments, the film’s opening sequence very clearly sets the hilariously over-the-top stage for everything that follows. Lucas stars as a modeling agent whose mother’s actions during the Holocaust set off a cycle of guilt and pain that affects his life and the life of his emotionally disturbed brother (Lukas Haas). The characters go unnamed throughout the entirety of the film, just one of many of Yakin’s laughably self-important choices. He jumps back and forth between the past, in which the mother (Jacqueline Bisset) is sent to a concentration camp and sleeps with a Nazi doctor in order to save herself, and the present, in which Lucas deals with a mid-life crisis by getting involved with an obvious real-estate scam set up by his co-worker (Adam Brody) and Bisset’s Nazi lover comes to New York for a visit. The story threads never explicitly overlap—Lucas remains ignorant of his mother’s actions from beginning to end—but that doesn’t stop Yakin from posing an almost mystical connection between them.
Death in Love is Yakin’s “personal,” “serious” picture, which means it features a bunch of scenes of explicit sex and violence that are clearly intended to be shocking but are really just hysterically overwrought. The whole thing plays like a graphic parody of a parody of an Ingmar Bergman film, where every gesture and over-emphatic line of dialogue seems intended to carry the weight of 500 years of human suffering. But while Bergman actually often had something to say, Yakin’s point is apparently that having a mother responsible for abetting Nazi war crimes will lead to an inability to connect meaningfully with others, which may be just about the least interesting repercussion imaginable. And when the mother’s past actions bear so little direct impact on the present that her guilt could literally be about anything (a hit-and-run, say, or that college library book she forgot to return 30 years ago), invoking the crimes of the Holocaust reeks of tasteless exploitation, especially when the Holocaust scenes are shot with all the artistry and restraint of an Eli Roth movie.