Set against the background of the Persian Gulf War and the economic recession of the early 1990s, “Ignatz & Lotte” is a “slice of life” film about a dissatisfied married couple in search of meaning in their personal and political lives. Shot in black-and-white, New York-set pic is rewardingly intimate, but its extremely modest scale, relentlessly drab ambience and amateurish execution almost preclude commercial prospects.
Stylistically, the film is imitative of the cinema verite and gritty realism of John Cassavetes’ earlier films, though it lacks their emotional intensity and probing nature. Thematically, however, the story offers new dimensions in focusing on unusual screen characters — even for indies.
The intellectually bent Ignatz (Keith McDermott) is a newsman who becomes disenchanted with his network job as well as with the failed promise of his youthful idealism. Moonlighting on an alternative cable news program, the married man finds solace in the arms of Kenji (Konrad Aderer), a radical punk.
Lotte (Mary Schultz), his wife of 10 years, seems to be his opposite: a pragmatic, down-to-earth woman who works part-time as a cab driver while completing a Ph.D. in anthropology.
Devoting herself to raising their 8-year-old son, she struggles to make ends meet. At first Lotte shows tolerance toward her hubby’s gay affair, but gradually the unfulfilled union pushes her to explore a new kind of friendship with Sipho (Solam Mkhabela), a student from Swaziland, which leads to unexpected results.
Refreshingly, pic presents a usually unseen New York, one populated by immigrant cab drivers, working mothers, gay activists and Latino shopkeepers. But for the most part, the story stays frustratingly on the surface, never digging into its characters’ complex personalities — specifically, their sexual politics. Though both parents love their son, it’s never clear what has kept the marriage together for so long.
A more important shortcoming is pic’s failure to integrate its broader politics into the story. The film borrows a number of elements from Haskell Wexler’s “Medium Cool”; there seems to be a public demonstration whenever the tale moves outdoors. But in its worst moments “Ignatz” is dreary and drab — sort of a “Marty” with more educated, politically alert characters.
First-time director Encke King favors medium-range shots and stationary camera, but his pacing is too monotonous and the imagery not rich enough to sustain it. King shows talent at evoking the gloom of ordinary lives, capturing an unadorned side of N.Y. that neither Woody Allen nor Martin Scorsese (among others) have paid attention to. Tech credits of what appears to be a shoestringer are below average.