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Film Review: ‘Love & Engineering’

Tonislav Hristov skewers the nerd herd in this alternately funny and painful look at the gender divide.

With:
Atanas Boev, Todor Vlaev, Tuomas Nieminen, Markus Virtanen, Andon Nikolov, Kati Vainio. (English dialogue)

Following his personal exploration of bachelorhood in “Rules of Single Life,” Bulgarian-in-Finland helmer Tonislav Hristov takes another amused look at the gender divide with “Love & Engineering.” Centered on a nebbishy computer geek acting as professed scientific love guru to four woefully nerdy engineers, the docu reinforces the concept that certain men truly inhabit a planet many galaxies away from women. The guys’ painfully inept social skills draw audience sympathy, yet Hristov fails to acknowledge that the distaff side isn’t as impenetrably mysterious as these romantic washouts suppose. Still, a limited theatrical run could entice a following.

After getting married, stuttering 3D engineer Atanas Boev feels he needs to share his wooing skills with other men also handicapped by fear of the opposite sex. Bringing his engineering training to bear on the inscrutabilities of courtship, he convinces his willing guinea pigs that there’s a scientific formula to bagging a mate. The details of his love algorithm shift between sketchy and ridiculous, yet his optimism is unflagging as he tells his class of four: “You won’t get the Claudia Schiffer type, but you’ll get something that is good enough for a lifetime.” Note the “something,” not “someone.”

Boev’s students are, frankly, a sorry lot. Tuomas Nieminen, 30, admits he’s never had a girlfriend, and Todor Vlaev reveals he freezes up whenever he talks to a woman. On a monitored blind date (Boev has them wired up and offers advice during the encounter), Markus Virtanen can only talk about videogames and heavy metal, even though his date has already said she’s not interested in those subjects. It’s all pretty cringe-worthy, and you can’t help but feel for these poor schnooks. Only Vlaev, outgoing and with a greater sense of self-presentation than all the others combined, seems to have a chance, but what he needs is a shrink, not a well-meaning yet bogus love engineer hooking him up to electrodes and putting him through ridiculous “personal odor” tests.

Watching these guys flounder in their cluelessness is alternately funny and painful, yet the helmer could have delivered a superior documentary by countering the general impression that the sexes inhabit mutually unintelligible worlds. The few ladies here are ciphers, just as unfathomable as Boev and his pupils think: A Carnival scene of women dressed up as exotic birds reinforces the notion that these beautiful creatures are to be admired but never understood, their conquest akin to one alien civilization laying siege to another.

Fortunately, a female evolutionary biologist is seen gently debunking the pseudo-science, yet her appearance is brief and leaves no impression on the hapless bunch. Instead, Boev urges his acolytes to hack the system because, he says, women with their makeup, push-up bras and miniskirts hack the system all the time — it’s a battle of the sexes plotted out like a game of Battleship. Too bad Hristov couldn’t manage a side wink to the viewer conceding that the female brain isn’t one of the Eleusinian Mysteries.

For auds less concerned about the imbalance, there’s much to chuckle over, and the way the group self-destructs while on a short women-hunting cruise can be read as an acknowledgement of the foolishness of it all. However, “Love & Engineering” doesn’t condescend or ridicule, instead conveying the sense that Boev and his pals simply experience a greater degree of girl-shyness than the average male.

Crisp visuals provide counterpoint with tongue-in-cheek soft focus, and the editing furthers the sense of irony, notwithstanding an occasional feeling of repetition. Music is nicely handled.

Film Review: 'Love & Engineering'

Reviewed at Sofia Film Festival (Balkan Screenings), March 15, 2014. (Also in Tribeca Film Festival — Viewpoints; Hot Docs.) Running time: 84 MIN.

Production: (Documentary — Finland-Germany-Bulgaria) A Making Movies, Filmtank, Agitprop production, in association with Bulgarian National Television, ZDF/Arte, YLE, VPRO, Sveriges Television, NRK. (International sales: Films Transit, Montreal.) Produced by Kaarle Aho, Kai Nordberg, Thomas Tielsch, Martichka Bozhilova.

Crew: Directed by Tonislav Hristov. Written by Hristov, Kaarle Aho. Camera (color), Peter Flinckenberg; editor, Nikolai Hartmann; music, Petar Dundakov; sound, Nani Schumann, Hendrik Knoch.

With: Atanas Boev, Todor Vlaev, Tuomas Nieminen, Markus Virtanen, Andon Nikolov, Kati Vainio. (English dialogue)

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