This is the first installment of reviews from the 2015 Gold Coast Film Festival.
Undoubtedly the most influential romance films of the past 20 years have been Richard Linklater’s Before series (the first of which, Before Sunrise, celebrates its 20th anniversary since its Australian release in a few weeks), chronicling 18 years in the life of a couple, Celine and Jesse (played by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke), as they meet by chance on a Vienna-bound train, reunite nine years later in Paris, and, nine years later again, deal with their relationship with many other forces around them. They’re films that have been tried to be replicated by many a filmmaker, no-budget versions attempting to offer up tired perspectives on romance popping up on the indie film market. However, they’ve been largely unsuccessful at offering an encapsulating commentary on love and culture that Linklater’s films do; intellectual, but still preserving that nervous excitement that new love brings.
Victor Levin (a writer for the TV series Mad Men)’s 5 to 7 is a film of similar cultural commentary to that found in Linklater’s films, a comedy of cross-cultural manners. Brian Bloom (Anton Yelchin) is the type of white, male, 20-something, uninspired writer (or whatever creative profession he happens to be in) that doesn’t get out much that is a dime-a-dozen in indie films. On a rare trip out from his apartment decorated in rejection letters one day, he meets Arielle (Berenice Marlohe) outside a hotel. They meet-cute, share a cigarette, and part, promising to meet at the same time, the close of lunch on Friday, of next week.
It’s the type of ageless, classic New York romance not only inspired by Linklater, but also Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Roman Holiday, films of the 1950s and 60s that were unashamedly, well, romantic. Manhola Dargis addressed it herself in her ‘Best Movies’ write-up in 2014 – romantic movies are rarely defiantly romantic anymore. These days, romance is largely limited to sappy Nicholas Sparks fare that is forgotten as fast as it came about, and outside of that, it’s largely limited to films that make romance look the opposite of pleasurable and happy, instead creating characters and couples who are snarky and narcissistic, at each others throats and leaving a bad taste in your mouth, and a rush to leave the cinema. To put it as Dargis did, “That sincerity may be too alien for audiences or perhaps years of Katherine Heigl flicks have made them skittish about heterosexual romance”.
It may be drawing a long bow on a film that is, admittedly, pretty lightweight and conventional, but the main question raised by 5 to 7 is one of Americanised society’s attitude to romance. Are we afraid of yes, talking about sex, as our attitudes to rating sex much more sensitively over violence might suggest; giggling over it like children? Are we too quick to ‘box’ romance in, to take it out of the joyful, blissful, honeymoon period, fettered by a sense of entitlement to that; to suddenly turn it into a serious commitment? 5 to 7 says yes. Brian and Arielle (who we find out is married to a French diplomat and has two children) inevitably pursue a relationship, one grounded in the daily twilight meetings, one that is utterly pleasurable to watch, relaxed and unhurried. No phone numbers are exchanged, it, right down to a trip to the movies like those commonly found in classic romance films, feels utterly free. They breeze around the city, airy and bright in yes, an aura of extreme privilege that allows them to meet at such an hour, but also an unwillingness to progress to the next level of romance beyond the honeymoon phase.
It’s all, yes, very polite and sweet and relaxed. The French have long been portrayed as ‘free’ lovers on screen, sleeping with everyone and dispensing advice on how romance differs between the two cultures. 5 to 7 doesn’t do anything to break outside these cliches. The whole notion of extramarital affairs being so freely accepted and visible (Arielle’s husband has a mistress in book publisher Jane, played by Olivia Thrilby) seems like another extremely untrue depiction of the French in movie land, except it does give some worthy criticisms of how love is treated in society. Why do we hide something so natural, something that results in so much happiness? People fall in love, passionately in love every day, why is it treated like a big, shameful secret; hidden away and talked about in hushed tones? “You told him?” Brian says with shock to Arielle in one scene, after asking if he found out from “a credit card bill or something”, and her replying with “no”. “With great joy,” she replies.
It may be less inventive and lasting, and much too willing to go the conventional route in the last act; but 5 to 7 nonetheless presents interesting observations on the way, with almost a sense of repulsion, that romance and sex is treated in Americanised culture, and the unwillingness there is to change that somewhat juvenile perspective. After all, why deny ourselves happiness, even if only for a brief time? “Maybe your culture needs to grow,” Arielle says in one scene. I can’t help but feel that she may be correct.