Keith Hill’s “This Is Not a Love Story” is a deceptively light look at a love triangle. Far more adult than most American indie pics treading similar turf, Hill’s first feature (after several well-regarded shorts) reveals a writer-director-editor of considerable talent, equally strong on camera placement, pacing, language and character detail, all of it suggesting more good things to come. Kiwi project deserves not only quality handling at top-flight fests, but also finishing funding so super-16 original can be transferred to 35mm to improve the murky telecine version screened. In such form, pic would have fine commercial prospects beyond the Oz-Kiwi zone.
Leaving home after the death of her father, fledgling writer-poet Belinda (Sarah Smuts-Kennedy) moves to the busy urban core of Auckland. In short order, she settles into a stylishly spacious loft overlooking a large neighboring building, where she’s treated to an excellent view of Tony and Suzanne (Stephen Lovatt and Peta Rutter) riding out their turbulent relationship. She keeps crossing paths with the couple — together and separately — in hallways and at supermarkets, which works to draw her closer to the couple.
To satisfy her need to write, Belinda has made friends with the likes of Violet (Beryl Te Wiata), who works as a translator and writes contempo fairy tales, and Suzanne, a painter with a caustic disposition. Hill’s script is happily unafraid of depicting Belinda as something more than the wonderfully sweet artist ready to blossom; she’s also kind of a half-cracked nut, who can absorb Violet’s sage writerly advice but then embarrass herself in front of Suzanne by reciting Dickinson. In fact, one of the refreshing aspects of “This Is Not a Love Story” is how it shows the relationships among women artists who, except for their gender, have virtually nothing in common.
Meanwhile, there’s Belinda’s growing curiosity and attraction to Tony, who turns out to be a successful but burned-out thesp on a dumb, long-running Kiwi sitcom that makes him feel imprisoned. In a Chekhovian touch, Belinda, Tony and Suzanne aren’t made out to be purely fools or victims of circumstance, but rather as regular people responding to desires before they consider their next step. They’re replete with the kind of flaws that end up sabotaging both relationships, with Tony in the comical middle, the classic guy operating more below the belt than above the neck. And in a wry and thoroughly unpredictable performance, Smuts-Kennedy allows us to consider that Belinda is inserting herself into the lives of Tony and Suzanne mainly to gather the stuff of fiction. Thesp trio is aces, delivering droll sexual comedy. Though Hill brings in the pic at less than 90 minutes, he allows for some fine observations about such matters as the gap between a literate older generation and a TV-addled younger one, the loneliness of a painter’s life and how the insecurity of showbiz translates easily to Auckland.
Production package is fine, with Steve Garden’s underscore recalling the moods of Brian Eno.