A woman’s jealousy nearly destroys her relationship in Sophia Takal’s insufficiently realized debut feature, “Green.” Though it shows considerable thought in its visual and audio design, as well as its less-is-more ethos, Takal’s personal take on female insecurities never convincingly dramatizes its core psychological ideas, embodied as they are in a frustratingly opaque central character. Prizes at SXSW and Boston Independent fests will nicely set up this ultra-indie film (without even a production shingle credit) for a healthy fest-circuit run, but commercial options are nil.
At first, Brooklyn-based couple Genevieve (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Sebastian (Lawrence Michael Levine, who produced) appear a bit competitive over whose knowledge of Philip Roth exceeds the other’s, seemingly setting up a study of a testy relationship between contempo New York intellectuals.
Takal, though, has other intentions in mind, as her scenario takes the two out of their urban comfort zone into the backwoods of an unidentified location (the dialogue suggests somewhere in Virginia), where they’ve rented a house. Here, Sebastian will tend a sustainable garden, which he will then blog about for the better part of a year, while Genevieve, apparently having left her bookstore job behind, has no clear plans in mind.
This marks the beginning of the film’s problems, since Genevieve’s identity is vague and ill-defined from the start. Scenario begs the question of what woman — especially one with her obvious smarts (she reads Georges Bataille for relaxation) — would happily join her mate on a venture in which he has a purpose in mind and she has none.
Genevieve soon encounters a complication: Local gal Robin (Takal) is found sleeping overnight on their lawn, and is so chatty and charming that she somehow can’t be ignored. With Sebastian occupied with his gardening and writing, Genevieve latches onto Robin for daily companionship, and it’s in the women’s long walks and exchanges (some sounding partly improvised) that “Green” develops a certain fascination and texture.
What it doesn’t develop is a foundation for the jealous feelings and paranoia that begin welling up in Genevieve when Robin eventually meets Sebastian. Takal’s talky scenes are written so that her characters are wound up in trivial matters (ice cream, vegetarianism) that mean to conceal deeper concerns. But while Genevieve clearly loves Sebastian, who reciprocates but is too into himself, her full character remains puzzlingly offscreen, so her jealousy comes off as a purely arbitrary dramatic obstacle.
Takal’s camera, wielded by cinematographer Nandan Rao, aims to suggest the woman’s internal state in ways she can’t seem to express. This admirable intention, which shows the influence of Lucrecia Martel (especially her most recent film, “The Headless Woman”), isn’t helped by Sheil’s understated performance, which only makes Genevieve all the more unknowable. Cutaways to Genevieve’s nightmares of Robin and Sebastian having sex flirt with unintended laughter.
Takal’s own performance as Robin is finally the film’s most interesting element, since she’s at heart an innocent who has no idea what she’s walked into. Levine projects a cockiness that contrasts somewhat with Genevieve’s withdrawn manner.
Though at first intriguing, Ernesto Carcamo’s furtive score telegraphs the film’s descent into dark moods before they begin.