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By Mark Bell | July 20, 2013

Sophia (Sophia Townsend) has asked the haunted and drug-friendly Anton (Nathan Barillaro) to be the lead in her film about a struggling filmmaker. Then again, Mark (Lucas Linehan) is pitching a film idea called “Metaffliction,” and his film is about the sentence you just read. Except Anton is making a film with Sophia, about a somewhat clueless filmmaker named Mark who is pitching a complicated filmmaking idea. Or is the overall film I’m reviewing about the making of itself?

Metaffliction is a seemingly tangled brush of a film, a film about the making of a film that may really all be about making films, and I’m missing a couple layers of narrative in my attempt to pin it down to a single sentence. It’s a concept that is so confusing to explain, it’s possible I just turned you off by attempting to do so. The good news is, for as challenging as it is to explain in a simple synopsis, it isn’t that hard to follow in practice.

For one, the film utilizes the differences between black and white and color footage to clue you in to when the narrative has moved to another layer. Then again, sometimes it doesn’t, but by the time it starts getting that freaky with itself, you’re already connected with what’s going in the various subplots (such as drug-addled Anton’s problems with his former best friend or Mark’s failed attempts at getting a date with another filmmaker) that the transitions are more naturally accepted. The film only becomes too precious when it has completely revealed itself, and you’re stuck wondering why you had to pay attention to all those other bits, if everything potentially meant nothing?

Because isn’t this a bit of cinematic masturbation? An idea so meta that its very purpose becomes… what? If the various narrative elements that you may begin to care about, or the characters being presented, are just caught up in this film that may simply be another film about making a film, then isn’t it just a clever novelty? Like the magic trick, where you appear to have a bunch of complex knotted rope but, with a quick move of the hand, it is revealed that the rope was never tied in the first place. At first it’s like, “cool, neat trick” but then… it’s just a rope you’ve been staring at, and for all the flash of it, there was never really much going on.

Now, that said, often when you see films about making films, they come across as lazy, or betray that the filmmakers didn’t have a story to tell, so why not tell a story about trying to tell a story? I can even think of a few recent examples where the concept has failed horribly. Without conceding that this film is anything more than smoke and mirrors, it at least is a unique spin on it all. If I have to watch a film about making films, I’d much rather someone make it at least appear interesting, regardless of whether it is, by doing something more challenging with the concept. In that sense, Metaffliction is a great success… to a point.

Honestly, for a film as self-referential as this one is, it truly doesn’t become too much until the final twenty minutes or so, when all has been revealed and yet the film feels the need to continue going. At that point, going back to the magic trick metaphor, it’s as if you’ve seen the knotted rope revealed as a single, untied rope and now the magician wants to show it to you again. And again. And again, while talking about how the trick was done. It’s just one step too far.

Overall, the film is its own best critic, as a sequence early on, when the character of Mark is pitching his idea for “Metaffliction,” reveals. All the problems with self-referential, meta-filmmaking are laid bare, and potential criticisms are raised (in much the same way Looper preemptively points out that “why” time travel works isn’t as important as the rest of the plot). As the film goes on, it continues to comment on not wanting to be a film about people just sitting or standing around talking. Which, in the end, is precisely what it is.

I think the film out-clevers itself at a certain point, but I do think it’s worth a watch to garner your own interpretation. Maybe it’s a knot, maybe it’s untied or maybe there’s no rope at all. I applaud the film for reinvigorating the meta-film genre slightly, and whether I agree with all the choices made, I respect the boldness of the moves.

This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.

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