This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 14th August 2011
New Zealand filmmaker Florian Habicht’s sixth film brings him out from behind the camera and plonks him centre stage – a brave move in many ways, as the gracious Habicht has none of Michael Moore’s boorish vanity, yet here casts himself as a leading man in an unorthodox romance.
In a curious mix of doco-reality and fantasy, construction and fiction, Habicht is in search of love in New York. Spotting a striking, Russian model called Masha as she carries a slice of cake on a plate through the streets, Habicht endeavours to invite her into his world. Then, interviewing average Noo Yawkers about their lives and loves, he seeks direction as to how his own story should unfold. Rather like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” tale.
It’s a brilliant concept, and uncanny at times when different sets of interviewees come up with similar prompts – “She should get hit by a cab!”. Romance clearly isn’t dead in the Big Apple. Masha becomes a fixture, and we watch the couple engage in some interesting forms of love-play, some of which exude vulnerability and come off as truly tender, and other scenes which border on cringy, whether intentionally or otherwise.
This is, of course, sort-of-not-really-real, but not fiction either. Spliced throughout the film are snippets of wisdom from locals, though one senses that just as it proves difficult to shoot the great city in anything other than a stunning light, you’d be hard pressed not to find someone kooky on a street corner. Some of it we’ve seen before – and then, a gem, as we are caught off-guard by something so true and poignant, it can only have come from a real person.