A gimmick will always call attention to itself. It is after all, a gimmick. Wether or not it works or becomes distracting is all relative to how much it enhances a story rather than calling too much attention to itself. As far as gimmicks go, Sexual Dependancy director Rodrigo Bellot's uses split screen and a loose documentary style visual approach to tell five different, sometimes intersecting, tales of sexual deflowering, betrayal, and shame.
The first story, "My Baby is a Woman Now", is set in Santa Cruz, Bolivia and follows a pretty, poor, inner city girl, Jessica. Her protective father worries over her bourgeoning body and hormones. His fears turn out to quite prophetic when she succumbs to the advances of older rich kid at a friends sweet sixteen party. The second story, "You Goddamn Whore", follows that rich kid, Fabian, earlier in the same day as the party. Along with a couple of friends, Fabian picks up his sheltered fifteen year old cousin Sebastian from Bogata. The evening results in Sebastian partying and drinking and then being goaded into losing his virginity with a hooker.
"The Bluest Eyes" follows Choko, blessed with money and looks, a rico suave guy if there ever was one. His girlfriend is a big time model and has to do a show his last night in town before he leaves for the US to attend college. He throws a jealous tantrum, gets kicked out of the after party, then goes to a club and hooks up with a married woman. In the final part of the story, he arrives in the US and is a fish out of water, which leads us to the final section of the film.
This may be one of the worst last thirds in a film I have ever seen. All of the stories I've mentioned so far are shot from an observational stance and there is a naturalism present in the actors (you can tell much of the cast are not professionals) right down to the loose way the scenes are captured. The stories are very simple and don't try to embellish potentially juicy scenes, favoring instead for understated realism over high drama.
"Mirrors" is a one woman monologue. It is very clearly a stage piece, which the film fully reveals later, with one actress delivering the kind of bloated, self-important polemic that gives one man/woman shows such a bad reputation in the theatrical world. "Graceless- Sexless- Nameless- Me." It is too bad such a weak piece involves a black woman talking about the weighty matters of her racial strife and being gang raped. In the context of the film though, the most unfortunate aspect is that it sticks out like a sore thumb and contrasts the established tone of the film by forsaking simple frankness for a bleating soapbox.
The final story "Angels and Billboards", again, takes a very heavy-handed and obvious approach. Like "Mirrors', it is a shame because the central character is a gay football player who is hiding his sexuality. It is like they saved all the cliches for the minority characters. The story just plays like a bad after school special, the closeted star athlete surrounded by stereotypical, fag-bashing, liquored up, carbon copy macho jocks, complete with a telegraphed dark, "shocking", twist finale.
The approach (non-professionals, handheld, guerrilla camera work) and subject matter (teens/young adults sexuality) is reminiscent of Larry Clark's Kids or Ken Park. At first, director Rodrigo Bellot and screenwriter Lenelle M. Moise (both first timers) tackle the subject well, though it is clearly, like too many films about sexuality, focusing on the more downtrodden, impersonal, and uncomfortable aspects of sex. (Honestly, cant anyone in indie cinema make a film about healthy, fun, passionate sex lives?) The final act deflates the movie with inflated rhetoric that hurts the subject matter they were trying so seriously to address.
I'm all for the gimmick. I think split screen, when done right, is a great cinematic tool. Split screen is burdened by a sour reputation as being dated and disastrously distracting. I still love the idea of films done entirely in split screen. Unfortunately, due to Sexual Dependancy's heavy handed and unconvincing nature, it is not a great example. Plus, Bellot has the image merge very often, with the two cameras attempting to make one whole shot (though unevenly because they are both handheld) which doesn't seem to serve any purpose other than to awkwardly call attention to his trick.
The DVD: Wellspring
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. The image is very nice. This is a very well shot digital feature, largely free of the stark, dull color or excessive grain that hampers many DV films. The presentation is technically sound. The picture is very detailed with good contrast, sharpness, and vivid colors. There are a few moments (a darkly lit scene or night shot here and there) where the grain and contrast do show a rougher quality, but that is only due to the nature of the medium.
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 Spanish/English language, with optional English subtitles. The dialogue is captured in the same pseudo documentary style in which the film was shot, so there is some natural roughness there. Otherwise, the score is nice and lush, getting a little more push into the side and rear speakers on the 5.1 mix.
Conclusion: Well, I think for a good hour or so, it is a worthwhile film. Then it hits the displeasing final act where the film makers have all the subtlety of screaming into a megaphone "My, aren't we so provocative!!!". The split screen technique is interesting but ultimately only that. Barebones DVD with a good presentation, making this one a rental at best.