The elastic line between life and art sways over the canyon of emotional commitment like a bungee cord in “The Pornographer (a love story).” Subtle, intriguing and quite sexy in a mostly cerebral vein, handsome two-hander explores a performer’s onscreen ineffable something, while asking whether mixing business and pleasure is always a bad idea or merely a matter of timing. Scripter-helmer Alan Wade gives Martin Donovan and Irene Jacob a crafty showcase for their considerable talents in DV-shot feature that won the top prize at the Avignon Film Festival following its Tribeca debut.
Film director Michael (Donovan) lives alone in a huge loft across the river from Manhattan. It’s been months since he saw Anna (Jacob), an actress who appeared in his previous feature, but he finds himself running footage of her over and over through his editing console, savoring her image.
Michael phones Anna with a proposition: He’s at the point in writing his next screenplay where it would be helpful to hear an actor read through some of the scenes with him. He’ll pay her for her time.
So begin weekly visits during which actress and director play the parts of Diana and Henry in Michael’s script-in-progress. Michael records everything on Mini-DV, ostensibly for research purposes. Is their arrangement purely professional or does this much role-playing translate as foreplay?
Delineating the budding film-within-a-film through appropriate changes in sound and framing, Wade takes his characters into tense, will-they-or-won’t-they territory. Power circulates between protags like rogue electricity via crisp dialogue brought to life by perfectly controlled perfs.
Touching on a host of brainy yet juicy tangents, pic bracingly updates the fact that directors have bedded their leading ladies for as long as there have been beds. Does the discipline involved in observing and collating human experience wreak havoc with an artist’s emotional sensors? Is it healthier to cherish the process or the results?
Wade, whose 1997 helming debut “Julian Po” was unceremoniously dumped in the marketplace, displays a sort of gutsy finesse in this modest yet gripping entertainment. Despite pic’s low-budget demeanor, the luminous Jacob hasn’t been this flatteringly lit since her work with the late Krzysztof Kieslowski. Donovan is like a post-modern Cary Grant who, no longer destined to get the girl through a sheer surfeit of attractiveness, keeps us guessing.
Supporting cast is tangential but spot-on, with special praise for Maggie Gyllenhaal and Rainer Judd as temporary female adjuncts to Michael’s lifestyle. Varied, slightly melancholy score by Richard Einhorn is an excellent companion to the carefully calibrated proceedings.