Screens at CIFF: 10/16 & 10/17 & 10/18
World premiere: 23 June, 2011, Denmark
Love Is in the Air feels like a terrible, tragic accident - like somewhere on a wet road at night, a truck containing the complete works of Baz Luhrmann hit a truck containing European urban realism, and before either of those could react, they were hit by a third truck, containing the costumes for a troupe of hipster circus clowns. It is an aggressively bright musical in which four young people spend a night wandering from one exercise in candy-colored lighting to the next while breaking into very simple, very direct pop songs (that's the Luhrmann part) while facing down their uncertainties about sex and sexuality in the damp streets and dubious clubs of a city that seems, based on the film's evidence, to consist of nothing but underbelly (that's the European part).
If you are like me, then you too would be instantly certain that this must be awesome based on all that, even if you were very strongly warned away. Which means that if you're like me, the warning I'm about to issue will be of no use; but I'll say anyway that LIITA is a bad movie. Not just a disappointment, or incomplete - it is bad. A large part of the reason is that our protagonists are so wildly annoying, a bag of quirky details that have virtually nothing in common with the human experience as it is lived out in the world, but which are meant to suggest to us that they are yearning, beautiful free spirits and not distasteful insane people. To this end, each of them is given a single personality trait and a costume that has absolutely nothing to do with their thoughts or behavior, and only serves to raise the question of why absolutely nobody else in the whole movie is dressed like it's Halloween. First we have Terese (Victoria Carmen Sonne), dressed as a 19th Century general, celebrating her birthday and hoping to lose her virginity; the object of her affection is Stefan (Anton Honik), who is fairly transparently gay but trying to hide it from himself and everybody by seducing every pretty girl that comes his way, and is done up like an Edwardian gentleman. He lusts hopelessly after Daniel (Anton Honik), a matador, who is very much in love with Lina (Emma Sehested Høeg), wearing a dress that makes her look like a Disney princess; it's wider than she is tall. Also, she has a Napoleon-style paper hat made out of an Asian newspaper. And she wants to be a singer, to which end she steals a man's insulin to blackmail him into letting her come backstage during some generic rock star's new show, so that she can seduce him and make him love her demo CD while they fuck. Isn't she absolutely magically full of life and spirit, and not at all a sociopath?
So, the music definitely works. It's a grab bag of pop styles from any manner of Danish artists, I gather, and it lends the film a driving energy and bubbly sense of fun. The colors also work, sort of, though there is a considerable mismatch of aesthetic registers: I didn't say "Baz Luhrmann + urban realism" for nothing, because that's exactly how it would feel, and if that doesn't sound like something that could exist out in the world, that's because it mostly doesn't. You can't just drench any old location in bright yellow and green light and expect it to work, particularly when the color isn't the point of the movie, but just a back-up to the characters' quirky problems. Still, it's fun to look at.
The characters and the scenario don't work to a calamitous degree. Lina is a particularly unlikable figure, both because virtually everything she does is selfish at best and an actual, go-to-jail crime at worst, and because she is wearing a goddamn stupid paper hat that communicates in the clearest terms that director Simon Staho wants us to respond to her with ebullient joy and enthusiasm, because she's just that perky and upbeat and delightful. I found her to be none of those things, nor any of her friends. They are manic and shrill and tiresome, and their experiences do not in any way at all suggest to me an understanding of people sufficient to create an arch, heightened-reality love story. They and their movie are solely about the surfaces of things, rancidly chipper and so fucking adorable and in their own world that they become alien beings and not movie characters. I feel like this movie must be what the inside of Zooey Deschanel's head must be like, all the time.