Bokeh (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

Here is a film with great potential to explore the depths of loneliness when a young couple (Maika Monroe, Matt O’Leary) vacationing in Iceland wakes up one day and learns that everybody is gone. The hotel, the streets, the shops, the tourist spots in the country—all empty, dead silent. Even phone calls to their loved ones back home go unanswered, texts receive no reply. But the picture is a disappointment because the plot fails to take off in an interesting or surprising direction. Instead, we spend most of the time watching this couple either flirting, which eventually lead to an embrace or a kiss, or looking sad and claiming they miss home.

Perhaps the screenplay by Geoffrey Orthwein and Andrew Sullivan, also co-directors of the film, is meant to function as a metaphor for romantic relationships and the hardships that come with years of having to live together. Upon Jenai and Riley’s discovery, we learn about their personalities, where their interests lie, their perspectives about life and death, what it means to them, personally, to really live rather than simply enduring each day. In some ways, they are opposites and these lead to scenes that are mildly interesting; the material is at its best when there is friction between the characters, when they are angry and wish to scream at one another. Most unfortunate then is the two being forced to make up so quickly after a fight that tension dissipates just when we suspect it is finally going to take a turn.

There are a few highlights in terms of imagery. For instance, when the duo stand in the middle of streets which should be teeming with people, vehicles, noise, and all sorts of activities, the absence of hustle and bustle is so eerie. When Jenai and Riley are out in nature, the camera takes the time to allow the audience to absorb the beautiful environment. It captures images of the soil, the glaciers, the plant life—we get an impression of how chilly it must be when the performers shiver a little between their lines. It is in these naturalistic moments that the picture shines.

Less impressive is its so-called poetic lyricism clearly inspired by Terrence Malick pictures. No one can do Malick but Malick and this one tries so very hard only to come across as a cheap, pale imitation. When the ambitious yet delicate score swoons, it is more distracting than enlightening or involving. There are numerous occasions when the music is so overpowering that the dialogue is completely drowned. I wanted to know exactly what these people are saying to one another in the midst of a potential global crisis and yet the score remains present. I got the impression it is a picture that is afraid to be silent—strange because the plot begs for silence, meditation, contemplation.

“Bokeh” takes on the subject of survival. Eventually, food in stores will run out. Electricity is not unlimited. Clean water will become an issue. This would have been an avenue worth exploring deeply, but the writer-directors consistently swipe it on the side and reintroduces it only when convenient. Clearly, the screenwriters needed to have excised the fat off the material and sorted out which plot points are truly worth exploring.

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