Review: Je Ne Sais Quoi
Director: John Koch
Writers: John Koch
Starring: Dave Andrae, Victoria Nohl
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: approx. 90 min
In the midst of summer blockbuster season, it’s nice to head in the direction of the “dustier” corners of the city and find cinema that is of the slightly more independent fare. Or in the case of Je Ne Sais Quoi, extremely independent fare. It’s quite a treat to get away from the lowest common denominator crowds at the multi-plex and take in some true art that’s not only enjoyable, but also inspirational for its heart and indie spirit.
I have to admit right off the bat for being a bit biased towards this film. It is shot entirely on location in my home city of Minneapolis and the fact that the cast and crew are also natives of Minneapolis of course raises my brows maybe more than the next guy. Still, one must look at a film objectively as possible and gauge it on its merits, not necessarily how close it sits to your heart. And I have to say, Je Ne Sais Quoi works really well throughout most of its running time. It’s got some hints of technical problems and first time screenwriter-itis, but all in all most enjoyable and funny.
Paul and Anna are two early thirty-somethings who both live in the same building. A couple of chance run-ins with one another leads to a broken, shy conversation which in turn leads to a couple of dates. Paul is fairly cynical and forthright, but also full of self-loathing and oddity. Anna is a bit more… normal. She sees things as they are and at first, Paul seems kind of funny and charming; but over time, she realizes he is pretty narcissistic; borders on nuts. So while he’s falling in love, she’s trying to distance herself from him and his confrontational style.
Mainly the film is a series of interactions between Paul and either Anna or his two best friends; who are of course the cliche, guy friends who only talk about getting laid and how Paul needs to step up and “stop being a pussy.” Paul’s interactions with his friends are mildly amusing, but I couldn’t help feel like I’ve seen them many times before. It was the conversations between Paul and Anna that are the film’s forte. And thankfully most of the movie is spent focussing on these strengths.
Paul (Dave Andrae) is very funny and has lots of quips and quirks that make his character unique and endearing. The chemistry he has with co-star, Victoria Nohl, seems very strong and she plays off of him and “feeds” him well. This isn’t to say she isn’t quite endearing herself. In fact, her quieted, yet sarcastic, condescension towards Paul is pretty funny in its own right. When the audience is watching these two characters alone together is when the film works best and borders on mesmerizing. When we’re other places, it varies between mediocre and excruciating. Thankfully, the majority of the time is spent in different locales with these two characters.
The first ten to fifteen minutes of the movie had me a bit worried. It’s slow, very little character development and equally little dialogue. And the dialogue that is there, although amusing, seems almost needless since there is no frame of reference on who the characters are and why they are. Once Paul and Anna meet up for the second time in a library (the first time is in a foyer while two guys engage in a distracting fistfight right behind them), everything goes uphill from there.
It seems like arbitrary conversations and mundane dialogue that might have many patrons bored to tears, but the screenplay writer has taken his time to develop some interesting and funny dialogue to help keep things rolling along smoothly. Along with the dialogue, the director (who is also the writer) employs some super interesting techniques to help engage the audience and help us feel like we’re right there listening to the conversation: either at a nearby table at a restaurant or up one flight of stairs in a stairwell (where we can’t quite see the actors completely – just a hand or two and the top of a head).
But in this little low budget film from Minneapolis, I saw one of the more interesting techniques I’ve ever seen to keep us involved in a conversation. Picture if you will, two people sitting at either ends of a desk in a public library, engaging in a conversation (again with mundane, yet strangely interesting dialogue). The camera never shows you both parties at the same time. Instead, the camera seems to be on a pivot and pans back and forth between the two characters in about three to four second intervals. It doesn’t seem to matter which character is speaking. We just just pan left for four seconds, then pan right for four seconds and so on. We either get to see speaking or a reaction to speaking. And this goes on for what feels like about ten minutes. It is so simple yet ingenious at the same time. This scene alone won me over and there were several more just as intriguing that followed over the next 70 minutes.
So sure the film suffers a bit with slowness from time to time and no, these actors aren’t the most seasoned talent you’re likely to see; but this wasn’t cheese-ball fluff with people off the street. You can tell these actors have experience and are full of charisma and charm. Their chemistry together is undeniable and the amusing, smart dialogue put together by a director/writer who obviously put much of himself into the lead character is high on the entertainment scale and had the audience cracking up continuously for the last 60 minutes or so. So while I had my doubts at first, the film completely won me over with its heart and I’m more than glad I was in attendance. If you’re currently near the Minneapolis area or if you see this one coming to a festival circuit near you, don’t hesitate for a second to drop a few dollars down – you won’t regret it.