Everybody Is Looking for Love – In Some Special Way

in 14th Flahertiana Documentary Film Festival Perm

by Kirsten Kieninger

Love. A common theme in fiction film. Fuel for countless romantic comedies and tragedies. A protagonist looking for love, that's a simple and appealing theme — a theme rarely found in documentaries, though. Documentaries usually don't deal with people falling in love. It's a process that happens perennially, everywhere in the world, but it's difficult to apprehend with a camera. And why would a documentary filmmaker want to film it? As special as it might be to the two people falling in love, it is just as unspectacular for anyone else. The common human quest for love is not really interesting — unless there's something unique about it.

And there is something really special about the quest for love that two films in Flahertiana's International Competition recount: Love & Engineering by the Bulgarian filmmaker Tonislav Hristov and The Special Need by Carlo Zoratti from Italy.

In The Special Need we meet 29-year-old Enea, who has never had a girlfriend let alone sex. He is funny, honest and direct and tends to take everything literally. Smalltalk is a mystery to him. It's his Asperger's syndrome that prevents him from engaging in something that seems to come naturally to everyone else. By the time his old childhood friends Alex and Carlo (the director) meet him at the beginning of the film, he is really desperate for a girlfriend. Driven by his vision of the perfect woman and his high expectations, he attempts to get to know girls wherever he can. But his autistic manners are just a little too intrusive and repulse the girls as quickly as he gets to talk to them.

Romantic love seems out of his reach and even paid sex seems off limits to Enea. Due to his Asperger "disability" the law treats him like a child and thus any prostitute engaging with him would commit crime. Any adult should have the right to experience love (or at least some sex), so his two friends decide to help Enea and take him on a road trip across the border, to places where disabled persons have stronger rights of self-determination.

The Special Need is a warm-hearted and sometimes hilarious film that does not stop to make fun of Eneas often inappropriate behaviour. Carlo and Alex treat Enea like a normal person who maybe has just a few peculiarities, and this is how the audience perceives him: very lovable and maybe just a little weird. The film has an optimistic drive and some dramatic moments. Its well crafted lensing and editing convey the feeling of immediacy. With no interviews and only direct-cinema style action, its images dipped in warm colours, the film feels like a perfect summertime road movie. Three friends on a journey, at the end of which Enea won't be the only one to have learned something about that thing called love that everybody always seems to yearn for.

In Tonislav Hristovs Love & Engineering we meet a bunch of male IT-engineers looking for love. Their only handicaps are shyness, clumsy behaviour, lack of experience, and the fact that they are perceived by the female world as computer nerds. So how do you hack a woman's firewall? The two Bulgarian and two Finnish guys are instructed at the University of Helsinki by another computer geek who — despite his stutter — "did it". He is happily married and claims to be on the track of the "algorithm of love".

The film draws its entertaining spark from the collision of logic and love, mathematical equations and romantic feelings. Aren't we all a bit like these nerds when it comes down to it? Who wouldn't want to know the formula that makes love work? The four protagonists eagerly engage in theory and tests. For one of them — he is less of a nerd and half a hipster with an engaging smile — things shape up well from the start. He's the one with whom the audience will experience all the stages of falling in love, both scientifically and emotionally. Meanwhile the others continue struggle with the first step of falling in love, namely getting to know somebody. Love & Engineering always keeps on the safe side, following its own formula and this is not really surprising.

Nevertheless, the film offers an entertaining insight into the "science of love," commented on pointedly in voice-over by the director. Through its score and use of hand-held cameras, it conveys the look and feel of modern times in a big city.

Love & Engineering and The Special Need, despite their rather special protagonists (and the fact that the latter also discusses the manner in which society deals with handicapped people) both tell stories of young men looking for a partner. The quest for love — a very common theme that becomes even more universal against the backdrop of these unique stories — proves to be well worth a documentary approach.

Edited by José Teodoro
© FIPRESCI 2014

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