Monday Editor’s Pick: An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (2011)

by on March 20, 2012Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Sat March 24 at 4:15 at Film Society of Lincoln Center and Mon March 26 at 9:00 at Museum of Modern Art [Program & Tix]


The annual “New Directors/New Films” festival kicks off at MoMA and FSLC. Word on the street is that this is The One To See.

The Vulture‘s synopsis and verdict from Sundance:

Plot: Utilizing documentary footage, recreations, animation, and much more, Trevor Nance’s experimental film goes back and forth over the details of a relationship, charting it as it develops from initial attraction to romantic delirium to disillusionment — tackling the roles illusion, delusion, and self-projection play in the life of a love affair.

Reaction: One of the smallest films at Sundance this year is also one of the best. A stunning meditation on the way we fret and obsess over the details of a relationship — whether it’s in its nascent stages, at its height, or has already ended – Nance’s film is a heartbreaking, mesmerizing journey through the romantic mind. At times highly structured, at times seemingly wild with stylistic abandon, it’s an intoxicating recreation of what it feels like to be in love. See it, but beware: It might rip you apart.



Vulture contributorBilge Ebiri elaborates for his blog They Live By Night:

Ainy, dazzlingly experimental An Over-Simplification of Her Beauty, in which director Terence Nance utilizes documentary footage, an old short film he made, animation, onscreen text, voice recordings, and narrative recreations to go over the ups and downs of a particularly heartbreaking relationship and break-up. Here at last we are in the belly of the beast: Despite its hyper-specificity, and the fact that he and his former paramour are often onscreen to fill in the details, Nance’s film (which is often as hilarious as it is devastating) winds up being a stand-in for every doomed love.
Indeed, he even acknowledges the phenomenon of mis-identification in a bravura sequence where he makes his girlfriend read a passage from a Louise Erdrich novel he thinks carries some deep echo of their relationship. As she reads, the film portrays onscreen all the ways that their love resonates with the one in the book. This cinematic reverie is broken when she finally puts the book down, casually saying that she doesn’t see the similarities. In a few quick minutes, Nance, much like Sachs does in a more narrative framework, captures the confounding push-and-pull between the emotional universality of heartbreak and the unspoken specificity of individual experience. How appropriate then that these two films, by spending most of their screen time depicting the actual relationship, wind up being even more astute about the break-ups themselves. Along the way, they manage to cut the viewer’s heart up into little pieces and deposit them all over the Rocky Mountains.



Brandon Harris for Hammer to Nail:

Movies about young love are a dime a dozen and sometimes, regardless of how underwhelming they are or how obnoxious the people responsible for them, they win Sundance (see last year!), even when most of the denizens of Festival Land damn well know better. Alas, within the rough weeds of Sundance’s art world oriented, experimentally minded New Frontier section is an utterly original film about these all too well traversed themes. A fast paced iteration of young male infatuation, obsession, and yes, the oh so overused L word, Terence Nance’s An Oversimplification of Her Beauty throws the kitchen sink at the problems of modern cinema. It seems to be inventing its own cinematic language from the ground up. From claymation to direct address, it’s in here. It’s no surprise then that Mr. Nance, whose film is marching to the beat of its own drum from its sensational opening credit sequence onward, is a visual and audio artist first, a filmmaker second.

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is truly artisanal filmmaking in the mode of the New American Cinema. Part stop-motion, part traditional animation, part reenacted narrative, part awkwardly filmed interviews with the “subject,” it is a lovely and deranged summation of the director’s not quite but almost unrequited and purely platonic love. A fine, rare bird: Nance’s strategy for detailing this strange courtship—his poverty and idiosyncratic nature, Minter’s ongoing, problematic relationship with another woman and their differing points within the constellation of their black-Brooklyn-bohemian milieu—is so winning and otherworldly, I was won over before I even knew what the fuck was going on. That’s the brilliant part though and the thing that separates Nance’s long-in-the-making feature from so much other experimental work that will unspool this week in Utah and next week in Holland, before some inevitable Anthology Film Archives screening that will be half full; Nance’s film, regardless of its aesthetic pyrotechnics and self-reflexivity, is wholly, fully, truly accessible to everyone. If Hollis Frampton and Nina Paley had somehow, through the force of magic realism, had a black love child, it would have grown up to direct something like this. Instead, we have Terence Nance. Be thankful that we do.


Sundance featurette with Nance and his leading lady:


Noel Murray for The Onion AV Club:

So effusive that it’s hard to separate its signal from its noise, Terence Nance’s experimental feature An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty is both stunning and stymieing. The film opens with a man the narrator refers to as “You” (played by Nance) feeling bummed because a woman he likes has canceled a date, and then Oversimplification expands outward, to consider the larger context for this melancholy, taking into account the protagonist’s job status, his sleeping habits, his past romances, and other esoteric factors. Nance describes “You” through multiple second-person voices, lengthy quotes from relevant books, and animated interludes in different styles, shifting from one to the other frequently and fluidly. I doubt I’ll see a more visually inventive film at this fest—or this year, that matter—but I do wish that Oversimplification were easier to connect to. Still, I loved that this movie was so alive, and wish more Sundance films had this kind of daring.



Tambay Obenson for Indiewire’s Shadow And Act blog:

I want to give as little of the narrative away as possible, because I think it’s the kind of work that’s best experienced blindly. And I will say that, in this writer’s opinion, in *lesser* skilled creative hands, An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty (Nance’s feature film debut, some 3 years in the making) could have veered more towards the overbearing, instead of the bold, contemplative, inquisitive, complex work of art Nance has created here. And it’s just that – a work of art. In watching An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty, numerous artists from different mediums and their works entered my mind at various moments within the film’s 91-minute running time; like author and playwright Arthur Schnitzler (known most for his inquisitive and frank explorations of sexuality and the unconscious), Jonathan Caouette’s critically acclaimed fiercely personal 2003 documentary Tarnation, the whimsy of Jean- Pierre Jeaunet’s 2001 hit Amelie (thanks in part to Nance’s use of a piece of a track from Yann Tiersen’s score of that film), and even multi-media artist Chris Marker’s seminal, poetic post-apocalyptic 1962 short film La Jetee, itself also a work that some would classify as ART, constructed almost entirely from photographs and a running voice-over, than what most recognize as classic cinema.

I saw pieces of each of them in Nance’s film – a candid, meditative, at times whimsical, personal, complex exploration of time, memory, obsession, awareness, and change; or maybe more simplistically, why we (human beings) do the things we do, and the difficulties in acknowledging and coming to terms with those perceived to be unflattering personal traits we have; and the vulnerability that accompanies that kind of self-actualization.
To say that it’s a loaded work would be an understatement; but that should be expected because I think honest explorations of human emotionality can get rather messy – or as I said in Twitter, after saw the film yesterday, labyrinthine.Nance’s film is like an intricate network of webs that might at first seem chaotic, but you get the feeling that the person behind the creation is in control of that chaos. Call it an attack on the senses; layered busy frames, combining live-action and animation; you’re bombarded with images, sounds (music), voices (words), text, and often all of them on screen simultaneously, so much that it’ll be practically impossible to capture and digest all of it after just a single viewing. In essence, it’s a challenging work, although there’s a simplicity to it as well, in the fact that its central subject matter is something so basic and universal that I think anyone willing to commit to and give themselves over to the film will appreciate.


Roya Rastegar of the Huffington Post selected it as her #1 movie at Sundance.


Kurt Brokaw for The Independent:

Imagine a self-indulgent, self-conscious, live-action romance exploring the pangs of unrequited young love in Brooklyn today. What a lame premise. Now imagine it deftly executed through animation, claymation puppetry, cut-cut paper sculptures, and a slew of other visual techniques by a filmmaker who possesses both the playful artfulness of Michel Gondry and the formal aestheticism of Milton Glaser. Oooh, there’s a combination of talents you couldn’t have predicted would fuse in a bluesy, free form, full-tilt, gabby-to-the-point-of exasperating and utterly original movie-movie. You don’t get David Foster Wallace but you get echoes of William Faulkner and a healthy dose of Louise Erdrich with passages read from her novel Love Medicine.

The director claims he shaped his character as a combination of Bean and Jacques Tati—so it’s no wonder he’s not connecting very well with women. Nance is 29 and a recent graduate of NYU—but his art is mysterious and mischievous in ways that feel way beyond his age and experience. On the one hand, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty looks like it was created in tiny pieces (probably according to whatever miniscule amounts of money the filmmaker had on hand). But Nance kept drafting and shooting these little bits, on and on, building layers on layers, content overloads styled like voice-mails, iPhone messages, and social media apps that keep piling up and up. It’s more than anyone can absorb and completely sort out in 90 minutes—which is probably exactly what the director intends. Why else would he put a title on his movie that won’t fit on most theater marquees?


Alicia Van Couvering talks to Nance for Filmmaker Magazine:

There are a lot of versions of you in this movie – the you that’s the subject of the voice over, discussed in the second person, the claymation you, the animated you, the video taped you. Was it strange to direct a movie in which you’re the main character? Like how did you describe your character to the animators?

TIt’s still happening now in the sound mix – “when Terence says this, make his voice like this,” “Make Terence’s hands bigger.” It’s constantly weird for me, in my own mind. But the animated me is definitely my best tool in complicating the ‘me’ on screen. “How Would You Feel” depends on the audience having empathy for my character, and a lot of people reacted to [that film] by saying that on-screen I just didn’t look like somebody they could ever feel sorry for. That was a big note.
So, the animated you lets you be cute?

Nance: Yeah, exactly. But everyone has that – there’s the cool outside, and then the little boy inside crying if a girl doesn’t find me fast enough on Facebook. The lie about it is that I use [those tools] to adjust the ‘me’ in the film. Which is why it’s not a documentary. My direction for myself was Mr. Bean and Jacques Tati. I put the parts of me like that authentically into the performance. I’d paint myself as extremely unsure, ho-humming around, lazy. People who know me will tell you I’m not like that; I’m aggressive, I’m ambitious. But I don’t see those parts. To myself, I’m Jacques Tati. So the physicality of who I am on screen — [staring into the lens mournfully, flopping onto couches, staring at the ceiling] — is very considered, in order to show that there’s something about me that Namik is not going to want to pursue for life.

I want to talk about the way you show all the other girls in the film. Sometimes I couldn’t tell which girl we were talking about; they blend together and then there are shots of Namik interspersed in the middle of a story about another girl…
I think there’s one relationship you have that kind of explains the others, and Namik was that one for me. So, one fact the movie presents is: I don’t say how I feel, I felt like I needed to keep up a certain stoicism with girls. Then it explains what that fact has caused and what it will cause in my life. That’s why it’s so depersonalized, why I hardly ever use the other girl’s names; it’s to make it clear that they’re all really Namik. There’s part of every relationship in all the other ones.

Do you have a sense of people’s reactions to it yet – if they didn’t relate to you in the short, how they’re going to feel now?
I’m so curious to find out. You know when you pose a theoretical question to a friend, like by saying, “What if a girl texts you ‘I think I love you question mark,’ what would you say? What does that mean?” And then later you admit that it’s about you and you explain the situation. The whole movie is that – trying to get an unbiased opinion of the person you’re talking to, starting out more generalized and then getting specific. At the end the movie admits it: this is what happened to me. Will the audience walk away implicating themselves in the character, relating to it, projecting what they’d do, or do they walk away thinking, ‘huh, that thing happened to that girl and that guy.’ Is the initial relatable feeling trumped by the remove that going personal and specific can cause?



Ed Champion for Reluctant Habits:

Nance hasn’t so much oversimplified Namik’s beauty, as he has complicated it into a distorted view that no longer bears any resemblance to the original lived moment. And while another older person (especially one with several failed marriages) might find this annoying or horrifying, I found this oddly enthralling. Nance confesses that he doesn’t really possess the emotional memory of his moments with Namik, and that her motion in the clips edited on his laptop somehow actuated these false highlights. Does technology debilitate the romance or the inherent truth of our memories? Probably. And I think, given the defiant iPhone-centric manner in which he ends his movie, Nance does too. Yet here is a man who, not long after showing a version of his film to Namik, puts the microphone in her face and presses her on how she feels, curling it around her (while sitting behind her) like an arm. I’ll be hard-pressed to find a better epitomization of 21st century life (especially among those who document it) in any film I see this year.


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