One of the worst, most self-indulgent and bizarre offerings from 2011’s Kansas International Film Festival has to be Nude Study, an Australian film that takes place primarily in Canada, which equates nudity with artistry and being disaffected with being deep. Though it’s colored with a few loosely experimental shots (e.g. a film strip showing an eye cut in half), on the whole the film is a slog through bad acting, bad writing, bad filmmaking.
We open with wedding video, and our lead Sarah in voice-over describing how such videos are similar to pornography in that both are an image of fantasy. Really? Your extended family eating cake and listening to music at a wedding reception is similar to graphic images of people having sex? We just have to roll with this, though, because we’re stuck with Sarah – a girl who is so totally wise beyond her years, only knows heartbreak and poignancy, and is a filmmaker herself so she definitely knows stuff about the human condition. After her mother dies from
plot contrivance cancer, Sarah rips off her clothing (why not?) and thrashes around her room much as any grieving person might, an act which causes her to destroy a globe and discover that one of the shards of the Earth prominently displays the Yukon Territory.
So Sarah leaves Sydney, Australia, and goes to Canada to get some Gatorade. Which is where she meets a prostitute slash performance artist (!) and the two become roommates and best friends. Thanks to some drunken boob-flashing, as the literati are naturally inclined toward, our girl Sarah gets a job working for a video dating service. Either this movie takes place in the 1980s, or the internet doesn’t exist in the Yukon Territory. There’s not really any use for this dating service except as an easy way to introduce the characters who will become major players later on, completed with exposition allowing them to describe who they are while providing more of that good ol’ fashiong faux poignancy. “People are naked in these,” says George, owner of the business. ‘Cause like, the movie’s called Nude Study and there are two different meanings, ’cause like, it’s like the word “naked” also means honest, ’cause like, the movie’s not just a low-budget erotic thriller, it’s like about emotions and stuff, too.
As far as that other part goes, the “erotic thriller” part, Sarah decides that the best way that she can express her dark brooding and artistic passion is by filming a series of nude studies, short videos of naked women standing around or lying down or something, but with the film tampered with to make the image appear to be more purposeful. There’s a ridiculous auditioning montage that accompanies this decision, which consists entirely of two heavy-set women – one who is embarrassed to be in the video to begin with, the other with an outsized personality that clashes with the project. All of this is a hi-larious way of setting Sarah up with Lyndsay, wife of Kyle, best friend of George. Lyndsay disrobes for Sarah’s camera at every opportunity, though the videos being produced don’t have any utility and mean nothing. In the most ridiculous scene, the two women are having a sort of passive-aggressive squabble when Lyndsay begins taking off her clothes, yelling, “Is this what you want?” She heads for the refrigerator as Sarah instinctively grabs the camera. With the tape rolling, Lyndsay covers herself in food, making a huge mess in the kitchen because of a petulant temper tantrum. And Sarah acts like it’s the greatest thing ever put on film, a naked (I mean honest!!!) portrayal of sincere emotion filtered through the symbolism of chewing on a banana, peel and all. With the right lighting and some color correction, people might just mistake this for a statement of some kind!
While Sarah and Lyndsay do their thing, the roommate and Kyle both go out of town at the same time. Hmm, you don’t suppose? Of course the two are having a
covert conspicuous affair. You know why? Because it’s an easy, sexually charged way of providing additional drama to the events. More egregious than that is a finale which introduces revenge sodomy, suicide, spousal abuse and lesbianism. The situation doesn’t spiral wildly out of control into a heart-pounding conclusion, nor does it become a madcap and macabre picture of things going horribly wrong. Instead, it’s as if the filmmakers sat around thinking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” and then crinkled the movie up to make it happen. That’s more or less the way that Sarah goes about creating her own short films – wouldn’t it be cool if I splatter paint on the print here and there? – and so it follows that the film proper does the same thing, only in the writing instead of the literal production.
You know how people look at paintings and say, “My kid could do that”? My kid could have made this movie. The film pretends to be about true emotion, but there’s no life in its characters at all. By the end of the movie, we’re no closer to understanding anything about Sarah or Lyndsay, except that the former has some weird trauma surrounding her mother’s death even though their relationship seems negligible prior. There’s a particularly tactless moment when the two women are in town for whatever reason and are approached by a man trying to hand out pamphlets regarding his religion. Sarah swears at him, making up a story about being abused as a child by an uncle who shared this man’s beliefs. When asked why she would make up such a story, Sarah responds with probably the stupidest line in the whole film: “I was just trying to humiliate the Scientologist.”
Humiliating the Scientologist feels like a potent metaphor for the flaws of Nude Study. It starts with a base concept, then tries to back it up with absurd, false conflict. It’s cheap and desperate to be provocative. Most of all, it’s just so dumb.