Yesterday, I had a conversation with my partner over my distaste for television. I have sine hang-ups with “prestige TV,” the long-form form of storytelling that is the hot thing of the present. My frustrations were solidified during a television studies class that I took that underlined just how different the two mediums actually are. There’s a tendency to coalesce both television and cinema, because both are audiovisual mediums. You can easily recognize this through sentiments that try to suggest that Twin Peaks: The Return is actually cinema, or that you should treat The Irishman as being a “four-episode mini-series.”
These sentiments aren’t necessarily incorrect, but they ignore a fundamental difference between the approach taken by each medium to the expression of change through duration and temporal shifts by the nature of their very structure. Additionally, it must be recognized that I’m speaking almost entirely in an American context here, as there seems to be a better tradition of blurred distinctions between the two forms in Europe through long-form, made-for-TV projects like Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day. But in the context of North American Media, something like Stranger Things has a very different approach to the way it considers how things change, to something like say So Yong Kim’s Lovesong.
So Yong Kim is a name we should all probably be aware of, as her fourth feature Lovesong is a sneaky underrated feature. It’s impossible to imagine what the “prestige TV” version of this is, and how much would be lost in translation. “Prestige TV” is all about the all-encompassing mass of details. No momentary stone, no detail to be left unturned. It’s not so much that the creators deign to make you aware of every solitary moment, but rather, that they wish to provide the feeling that you’re getting an extreme breadth of detail.
In contrast, Lovesong fundamentally works to create gaps. The editing style is pointedly elliptical. It is not unlike say, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A City of Sadness, a film which creates meaningful details in the changes that have occurred off-screen. Outside of a brief title card to designate a three-year-temporal jump, Lovesong’s temporal structure offers little in the way of understandable temporal changes. We are never made aware of exactly how much time has passed from moment to moment.
It definitely affects the way this story is to be told. A moment of physical intimacy between soon-to-be single mother Sarah (Riley Keough) and her best friend Mindy (Jena Malone) is ostensibly edited out. It causes a rift between the pair, that is never really discussed again save for the film’s emotional climax. Most love stories emphasize moments of physical contact. This one works around it.
In doing so, the film moves towards a manner that is achingly romantic, and simultaneously heartbreaking. There’s an absence in the film, much like there’s an absence in communication between the pair. Kim aims to find a truth in what is not there, and yet, very much there.
Thus, I have a hard time imaging a way that you could stretch this for a television format. How many TV shows do you know that are shot like this, edited like this, and ostensibly cut out some of their most climatic scenes? The answer is zero, because the entire production context of television would avoid such parameters.
I digress. This is more than just simply a funkily structured story; it’s a damn good film. Kim’s ability to vary her shot types and lengths creates a fascinatingly pointed visual style. At times the camera is hand-held and intimate, and at other times, it still and pointed. Yet, the film seems to find the right match for each moment.
Big Spoiler Alert For The End Of The Film
My one general frustration is the fact that Lovesong is atypical, save for it’s ending. So many queer love stories end in heartbreak. This one is no exception. Sometimes, it works. Here, I felt a bit cheated. The thesis of the film is Sarah and Mindy finally being able to admit their feelings for each other, but to have Mindy go through with her wedding despite both trepidations, and the bombshell of news that she just received, goes against how I feel the film could’ve concluded. Here’s my pitch: you end the film with them admitting their love by the lake. Hard cut to black. We don’t see the wedding, or the lack of one. The ambiguity would accentuate the film’s thesis.