“Dot the I,” the debut movie from writer-director Matthew Parkhill, begins like so many romances, with a chance meeting between strangers. Struggling actor Kit (Gael Garcia Bernal) and recently engaged Carmen (Natalia Verbeke) cross paths at Carmen’s engagement “hen party.” Bowing to a dubious French tradition that says the bride-to-be can share one last prenuptial kiss with any man of her choosing, Carmen picks Kit, and the two engage in an altogether inappropriate lip lock until she flees the restaurant. Carmen’s fiancée Barnaby (James D’Arcy) seems to be a decent sort, who appears to genuinely care for her and want her to be happy, but – as Nikki Cox would probably tell you – love does strange things to people. After dogged pursuit by Kit, with no small amount of receptiveness from the now-married Carmen, the two get caught up in a torrid affair, one that will have tragic consequences.
I always hate it when a reviewer doesn’t divulge something because he doesn’t want to spoil the ending, but that’s what I’m going to have to do here. Suffice it to say that the second half of “Dot the I” takes an abrupt left turn into some unexpected territory (though not completely surprising, given the hints dropped early on), then a few more, until we’ve gone from standard romantic drama through the looking glass into the sort of implausible scenario one usually finds in film school projects.
I really wanted to like this film. Bernal is effortless, once again, as the earnest Kit, while Verbeke’s Carmen is convincingly reluctant (and damned attractive to boot). D’Arcy has perhaps the toughest job, and if that doesn’t make a lot of sense, all you have to do is remember the one lesson movies have taught us about English people: they’re all bastards. The first half is a fairly languorous study – shot in appropriately dreamlike quality by cinematographer Affonso Beato – of what might happen to two people who shouldn’t fall in love with each other but do so anyway. Unfortunately, once the effect of the second act’s gimmick wears off, you find yourself growing more and more annoyed at the improbability of the entire setup.
Worse, the ending manages to betray just about every emotional attachment we’ve come to feel for these characters. Kit wins us over because we believe he is absolutely thunderstruck by Carmen. Carmen, for her part, is understandably hesitant to betray the man who’s been so good to her, and we’re sympathetic to her struggle. Parkhill then sabotages this good will and turns both of them into something far darker and more superficial. Maybe this was the point all along, but there are plenty of ways for them to find closure without resorting to the ridiculous measures they take at the film’s climax.
“Dot the I” has been kicking around for the last few years, finally seeing the light thanks to the success of last year’s “Motorcycle Diaries” and Bernal’s status as foreign cinema’s “It” boy. Without his involvement, however, this very likely never sees the inside of a theater.