Malorie (Joslyn Jensen) is a talented music composition student at a prestigious art school in Manhattan (that definitely isn’t Julliard but might well be). After losing a scholarship she was counting on she suspects a professor of taking revenge for her rejecting his sexual advances by advocating for another student. At the same time her live-in boyfriend admits he’s been cheating and leaves. She suddenly finds herself creatively stuck amidst the chaos. With the college term closing out, she must complete her piece in progress and submit it for evaluation or face expulsion.
She runs an errand for a friend and finds herself chatting with another artist who had spent time as a highly paid escort to fund her artistic life. Malorie acquires her client list with notes. Facing the loss of the scholarship and rising rent for her apartment she decides to contact the first client on the list and begins having sex with him for pay, which leads to her working through the client list.
In Stephan Littger’s somewhat abstract Her Composition, Malorie’s relationship with her own body takes center stage as she explores new experiences and stretches herself in terms of what she’s willing to do with and for her art. Nudity and sex are presented graphically, but is absolutely un-erotic. Malorie makes no effort to act as though she’s interested in the encounters. The men are presented as animals with money, barely more than props in the film.
“… relationship with her own body takes center stage as she explores new experiences and stretches herself in terms of what she’s willing to do with and for her art. “
In the course and aftermath of sex with strangers, she begins to experience a form of synesthesia in which what she’s seen becomes sounds and melodies. During an intense disconnected fugue she translates these bursts of insight as a map on her apartment wall by assembling a collage of images and artifacts. This random collection is eventually given coherent form to express her journey. The map is music.
Her body becomes a tool for generating income, and then an enemy, seemingly turning on her as she foregoes food and self-care in the burning obsession to survive financially and musically. The reactions of other women who discover the truth are a revelatory contradiction between condemnation of “slut-shaming” and shock at the reality of sex work.
I was a bit surprised to find that the director is male, to be honest. Littger has a light touch and delicate sensibilities in dialog, camera work, pace, and sound. He tells a female story from the right perspective. Joslyn Jensen is his talented co-conspirator, bringing it to gritty life with realism and precision.
The film is engaging, a quiet study in artistic genius and inspiration as well as an observation on empowerment. There’s liberation in finding one’s own limits and consequences for pushing past them. Ultimately, Malorie finds that she is composing herself.
Her Composition (2018). Written and directed by Stephan Littger. Starring Joslyn Jensen, Heather Matarazzo, Lulu Wilson, Christian Campbell.
7 out of 10