In the marvelously original “Love Story,” German-born, Kiwi-raised helmer Florian Habicht (2003′s “Woodenhead”) commences production on a fictional love story, then hits the streets of New York to ask complete strangers how the story should unfold. This eccentric and very funny combination of docu and crowd-scripted romantic comedy is a surefire festival hit, and reps an enticing prospect for specialty distribs. Winner of the top film prize at the New Zealand Film & Television Awards, “Love” opened locally Aug. 10 and rolls out Down Under in December.A bearded beanpole with a likable screen presence, Habicht starts with what seems to be the only premeditated part of the movie. On Gotham’s transit system, he meets a mysterious beauty holding a piece of cake. Cutting to vox-pop interviews, Habicht asks strangers to interpret what he’s seen. With “the cake means seduction” being the most popular response, Habicht relocates the woman (Masha Yakovenko) and casts her opposite him in what would appear to be a scripted romantic drama. While Yakovenko maintains she is an actor playing a role, Habicht is smitten and clearly hopes for offscreen romance to blossom. At this point, he returns to the streets to tell passersby everything that’s happened so far, and to seek suggestions on how his next encounter with Yakovenko should play out. This imaginative approach to storytelling proves utterly enchanting and uproariously funny. The line between reality and fiction has rarely been so delightfully blurred as Habicht and Yakovenko act out scenes determined by a colorful cross-section of unrehearsed Gotham residents including Coney Island entertainers, commuters waiting for a bus and a stock broker in a taxi. Among the most hilarious of these crowd-sourced sequences are Habicht bumping into drama students at a 24-hour convenience store while dressed in nothing but gymnast’s tights, and a raunchy interpretation of the “I’m the king of the world” scene from “Titanic” staged in his bathtub. Apart from supplying plot suggestions, many interviewees speak with affecting candor about their experiences in and out of love. One of the movie’s most appealing threads is Habicht’s conversations in German and via video link with his father, Frank Habicht, an acclaimed photographer. Many auds will be in stitches while Habicht senior gives fabulously enthusiastic feedback on junior’s artistic choices and romantic strategies. Although the pace tails off just slightly toward the end, the pic never loses its charm, and Habicht emerges as the funniest and most lovable Kiwi to hit New York since Flight of the Conchords. Lensing around mostly grungy locations is simple and effective. Mixing lovely tunes by composers including Nino Rota and Lalo Schifrin with an original score that sounds like shopping-mall Muzak on hallucinogens, the soundtrack is a gas. The rest of the tech work is fine.
A Metropolis Films release of a Pictures for Anna presentation of a Laughing Whale Films production in association with New Zealand Film Commission, Arts Foundation of New Zealand. (International sales: Laughing Whale Films, Auckland.) Produced, directed by Florian Habicht. Screenplay, Habicht, Peter O'Donoghue, the people of NYC.
Camera (color, HD), Maria Ines Manchego; editor, O'Donoghue; music, Marc Chesterman; sound (stereo), Phil Burton; second unit camera, Isobel Dryburgh, Bob van der Wal. Reviewed at Melbourne Film Festival (Documentaries), Aug. 9, 2012. (Also in New Zealand, Hot Docs, Montreal Documentary film festivals.) Running time: 94 MIN.
Florian Habicht, Masha Yakovenko, Frank Habicht. (English, German dialogue)