A sardonic study in anomie from Croatian helmer Dalibor Matanic, "I Love You" is visually commanding but tonally uneven. Helmer-scribe Matanic's off-kilter style finds a fittingly moody centerpiece in Kresimir Mikic's intriguing lead perf, but script's awkward narrative shifts undermine pic's otherwise effective ambiance.
A sardonic study in anomie from Croatian helmer Dalibor Matanic (“Fine Dead Girls”), “I Love You” is visually commanding but tonally uneven. Filtering soulless consumerism through the experience of a cool ad exec whose drive to work hard and play harder is rudely interrupted by HIV, pic imperfectly marries spaced-out solipsism with social critique. Helmer-scribe Matanic’s off-kilter style finds a fittingly moody centerpiece in Kresimir Mikic’s intriguing lead perf, but script’s awkward narrative shifts undermine pic’s otherwise effective ambiance. “Love,” originally made for Croatian TV, opened Jan. 3 in Gotham, but seems best suited to fest play.Matanic’s antihero is an interesting mix of alienated romantic and rich-kid prick. Succinctly summing up the emotional bankruptcy of his whole generation in a voice-over monologue composed equally of cynicism and self-pity, Kreso (Mikic), having learned that he is HIV-positive, wanders around in a state of shock, unable to sustain any viable reaction. He cannot even completely embrace his anger, since his diagnosis feels like karmic payback: He received a contaminated transfusion after drunkenly running over a woman at a crosswalk (his attorney father got him off). Kreso’s selfishness likewise comes back to haunt him in dealing with friends and acquaintances. If he manages to penetrate the walls of self-absorption surrounding his g.f., buds and co-workers long enough to announce his tragic news, they laugh incredulously (AIDS is as yet fairly rare in Croatia) and/or head for the hills. Only a barmaid (a Vermeer-like Ivana Roscic, in a performance of singular warmth) shows any human compassion. Matanic maintains a steady distance from his alternately sympathetic and monstrous protagonist as he careens from despair to tenderness to murderous self-entitlement. Mikic perfectly balances his character’s charisma and egoism, while d.p. Branko Linta exploits Mikic’s beanpole height to create a vertical divide between the hero’s reeling subjectivity and the “uncaring” masses. But Matanic stumbles in limning Kreso’s changing relationship to people he knows, particularly the men, who are prone to homophobia and misinformation. Pic tends toward story points that yield bald, largely unconvincing statements, giving short shrift to narrative subtleties (if rarely to compositional ones). Thus, though scenes often unfold with great nuance within a given moment, major plot twists are pulled before setups are satisfactorily established, so the film’s final switcheroo uncertainly hovers between irony and bathos. Tech credits are excellent, Jura Ferina and Pavle Miholjevic’s music eerily echoing lenser Linta’s zoned-out Zagreb cityscapes.