When we first meet Sid (James McDougall), he’s alone in his apartment, lost in what feels like the malaise of a lonely man who may not realize just how bad it’s gotten. His current plight becomes readily apparent when the film flashes back six months, and we see the end days of Sid and then-girlfriend Karri’s (Amelia Macisaac) relationship. Their physical intimacy seems fine, but their emotional lives are going in opposite directions, and they split, leaving Sid to navigate life alone, as best he can.
The immediate words that popped into my head regarding Elli Raynai’s feature film Personal Space were “truthful,” “awkward” and “uncomfortable.” This is a film that doesn’t dress or pretty up anything, just presenting things as they are in all their sometimes upsetting, unflinching honesty.
Sex here isn’t epic movie scene sex, it’s realistic and unsettling. There aren’t any sexual gymnastics going on, no epic thrusts-and-grunts. A brief dalliance into some S&M play is uncomfortable in its awkwardness. Sid is artless in his few attempts at seduction, but it also doesn’t matter, like what is often the case in real life.
And because the film is so realistic and raw, even the image seems to rebel against what would make for compelling cinematic composition. The camera might as well be a fly in the room, and the visual palette as bland as they come. Everything is just there, for you to watch and make of it as you’d like.
Which causes an interesting disconnect, because, after watching, I read the synopsis as it appears on the film’s IMDb page and… what the movie says it is, and what I experienced, feel like two different worlds entirely. I can see how what that synopsis says could be in the film, but I didn’t see it that way.
And that goes back to the honesty of it all; life as presented here isn’t narrative-friendly in the traditional sense. The pace here is slow, the revelations, if they happen, so subtle as to be almost unnoticeable. Sometimes as blank as the look on Sid’s face.
Characters may have arcs, but they’re not obvious. You could argue that Sid changes by the end as convincingly as you argue against it. The truth is, it was never going to be obvious one way or another.
Ultimately, it’s in this nebulous middle realm that I find myself with the film. I appreciate the truth of what I saw, but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it, or found it entertaining in any way. Art doesn’t need to be enjoyable or entertaining, no, but that just means that I value it as a piece of art, but not as something I’ll revisit.
If I want awkward sex and uncomfortable truths, I’ll just keep living my life as is; I don’t get anything personally out of seeing such an endeavor on the screen. It’s not escapist cinema, it’s just too much reality for comfort at practically every turn. Again, there is a value there, but it’s not necessarily pleasant.
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