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Puzzled Love

Other // Unrated // August 2, 2016
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted October 13, 2016 | E-mail the Author
Of the many stylistic and structural tricks a movie can use to create a unique experience for the viewer, one of the most common -- and least effective -- has to be the anthology film. The most common division is a three-parter, consisting of topically connected but otherwise unrelated shorts. Puzzled Love breaks from the beaten path in both instances, offering up thirteen short chapters in the story of the same couple, with more freedom allotted to style than story. Unfortunately, with such a limited amount of space in which to make a mark, the majority of the filmmakers spend more time trying to make their bits memorable than crafting something that feels like part of a whole.

Sun (Saras Gil) and Lucas (Marcel Borras) have both arrived in Barcelona as part of an exchange student program, and are staying in the same building. The only problem is, thanks to a bit of confusion in the back office, they've both booked the same tiny bedroom. With the flip of a coin, Sun gets the bedroom and Lucas settles for a storage closet, putting them at odds with one another, but a few parties later, the two of them are hooking up (despite the owners' rule against it). Lucas, insecure and seemingly inexperienced, is frequently jealous and suspicious of Sun, especially as she returns to Chicago briefly to entertain a job offer from her father, but their connection over their year-long program only grows. As their affection for one another deepens from attraction to passion to true love, the predetermined conclusion to their time together weighs on them both, pushing both of them to make potentially life-changing decisions.

Stylistically, the shorts run the gamut from straightforward, realistic drama to an entire segment filmed as if it were part of an imaginary sitcom (complete with a laugh track). Although the wilder segments are often good at defining themselves internally and standing out as distinct from the rest of the movie, it often comes at the cost of whatever story points the segment is meant to convey. The sitcom segment comes early, arguably too early for the audience to sit through an entire "chapter" that feels like a lark. It's unclear what methodology, if any, was used to determine which piece of the movie was given to which director, but the film would clearly benefit from careful planning that determined in advance where the audience might need a pick-me-up with a blast of style or where the story called for a more grounded approach.

That said, style isn't necessarily the enemy -- some of the stylized sequences are among the movie's most dramatically and emotionally effective. When Sun's American boyfriend briefly comes to visit and Lucas finds himself struggling with jealousy, the film segues into a sequence cut and edited like a music video, which is surprisingly electrifying. Another, more sensual sequence involves a split screen, starting with side-by-side frames of Lucas and the movie that he's watching, only for Sun to return to Barcelona and surprise him. The sequence turns into a clip show of classic movie romance next to Sun and Lucas' hot and heavy reunion in the back row of the movie theater. There is also a playfully sexy bit involving two FaceTime screens, even if some of the beats where various parties turn or turn off the camera feel a little belabored. (Frustratingly, the credits don't key each director to their individual segments, so I have no idea which short was directed by which person.)

At the center of the film are Gil and Borras, who generate just enough chemistry so that the movie doesn't fall apart, but maybe less than the ideal screen couple would generate. Part of the problem is that Lucas is so mired in anger and jealousy that is clearly negative, and it never appears to stem from any serious dramatic need. It comes off more like something the filmmakers accept as normal, which can leave a bad taste in the mouth. Gil is far more charming as Sun, even when the shorts gloss over what feel like crucial hypothetical moments in her decision to sleep with Lucas for the first time, or the point where their exchange-student fling becomes something more serious. Furthermore, with the movie designed as a template for various filmmakers to fill in the blanks on, the movie builds to a fairly cliched final chapter, which also overstays its welcome. With a bit more finesse, Puzzled Love could be a dazzler, but the filmmakers can't quite figure how to prevent the gimmick from getting in the way of the story.

An extremely misleading screengrab has been chosen for the cover of Puzzled Love capturing Sun looking off into the distance as a man kisses her neck -- who those who have seen the movie will know is not Lucas. It makes it look like a steamier movie than it is (even if the film is R-rated), and potentially edgier. The film is also misidentified as being 74 minutes when it's 84 minutes on the back cover. The one-disc release comes in a cheap non-eco Amaray case and there is a booklet featuring other Film Movement titles inside.

The Video and Audio
Although aspect ratio changes some throughout the film as the movie moves through various segments, the base is a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The source quality various throughout as well (one sequence is "shot" entirely on two FaceTime windows), but on the whole the picture looks fairly strong. Occasionally, there is a bit of a struggle to properly render shallow depth of field, contrast varies some, and whites run hot, but the only serious complaint is burnt-in English subtitles instead of player-generated captions. Sound is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track that is a bit murky in crowded party scenes but sounds fine the rest of the time.

The Extras
None, not even autoplay trailers -- the only two menu options are "Play Movie" and "Chapter Selections."

Although Puzzled Love is ultimately underwhelming, there are definitely bits of it that hint at the movie it could've been. The okay transfer and barren extras package don't warrant a purchase, but a rental might make sense.

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