For audiences unaware of the backstory, “Love Me” plays as a modest yet gemlike three-hander about a young woman’s unresolved issues with her mercurial father and the impact this has on her personal relationship. In interviews, docu helmer Hanne Myren explains that the trio basically re-enact their own story, in a manner akin to that of Danis Tanovic’s “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker.” The information adds an interesting layer but feels irrelevant, given how well Myren transforms their recent past into engrossing fiction. Fests will find receptive viewers, especially among twentysomethings; home release is skedded for March 2014.
Because of the documentary roots of both narrative and director, “Love Me” played in competition in CPH:DOX (along with Tanovic’s film), a problematic programming decision that opens up a Pandora’s box, given the questionable fashionability and philosophical conundrums of “docu-fiction.” Fortunately, Myren doesn’t explore this element, notwithstanding the source material and her decision to cast the real players as themselves (with changed names). Instead, she presents the pic as a clear-cut chronicle with appealing indie trappings, never hinting at the authenticity lying just below the surface.
An opening indebted to “The Tree of Life” sees Marie (Julia Wildschut), 20, and b.f. Adam (Ahmed Wasty) horsing around, sunlight flashing through a tree. The Malick trappings quickly give way to a more straightforwardly intimate aesthetic, the sensual camerawork lingering on fingers stroking hair and flesh, or fearless closeups. Marie is generally playful and energetic, but there’s something eating away at her: Her father, Paul (Petrus Wildschut), regularly drops out of sight and contact is impossible.
On the phone, Marie’s mom reminds her that this is who her dad is and always has been; it has nothing to do with Marie. Yet the young woman pines for a normal father-daughter relationship, and when he texts her out of the blue saying he’ll be in Oslo, she becomes both excited and pensive.
Paul comes and goes, leaving Marie off-balance. She argues with Adam, claiming he never expresses affection outside their apartment, never includes her with his friends. Though she complains about him, it seems like she’s actually the one choosing when to be alone and when together. Shifting suddenly between spry confidence and deep vulnerability, Marie tries to work out some of her anxieties at a dance studio (tellingly, she practices alone and leaves when others arrive), but it also provides an escape from dealing with the source of her insecurities.
As for Paul, he’s like the father in “The Glass Menagerie,” a man who fell in love with long distances. Blithely unaware of the impact his selfishness has on his daughter, Paul is in many ways a sad figure with no real connection to time or place. Marie is not always likable, either — she can be abrasive and irresponsible — but her flaws make her real. Adam’s character is the least developed, accorded just one crucial confession, about his own father; a little more would have strengthened his role, though the suitably short running time feels absolutely right.
No concessions need be made to the amateur cast, who must have worked long and hard with the director to expose themselves with such ease before the camera. It’s a tribute to both Wildschut’s talent and Myren’s handling that the actress was awarded a prize at Abu Dhabi. Tech credits are pared down without feeling minimalist, making optimum use of natural light and darkness, and soundscape and music are used to further moods already in the film. The English-lingo title was originally “Jealousy,” but “Love Me” is far truer to the material.