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All too often, films fall under very strict definitions, easily falling into a long-established set of specific genres and standards. A few visionaries have refused to comply with such labels, and have produced some extraordinary work to this effect, creating their own styles of sorts. Tabloid Vivant seems absolutely determined to defy expectations and genre-tropes, and maybe pushes a few too many corners on the envelope, but that doesn’t stop it from being an intriguing experience.
The plot follows a creative mad genius named Maximilien Klinkau (Jesse Woodrow) and an art critic named Sara Speed (Tamzin Brown) who are in a sexual relationship and very little more. The two have diverse opinions on art, yet she is utterly captivated by the enigmatic and driven painter who has plans to unleash on the world something that will shock the establishment. He claims his painting have a kind of DNA, but are in fact a complex mix of mathematical equations and specific color pattern that convince the viewer what they see is actually a constantly shifting ambiguous image that is, by its design, trancelike. And as they discover, much more. He’s a little worried about the process, tenuously in control of what it is, yet both see potential for it to better their careers. However, then she decides to sit as his model and it’s not long before the two begin to descend into a kind of madness that tests the boundaries of their sanity and the meaning of their existence. And then art itself.
Written and directed by Kyle Broom, first I must mention the film’s visual style, a sometimes jarring mix of cut-a-ways and purposeful low-budget effects, that give the story its quasi-fantastical feel while allowing us to delve into the absurdity of the plot. At any given moment, we might witness a perversely gratifying conversation about the metaphysical meaning of analog to digital photography to a couple in a stationary car “driving” on obvious rear-projected streets. In fact, so bold is Broom in being progressive, at one point he cuts away from a seemingly important conversation to show the screenplay literally being edited on screen to reflect changes that should be made as it happens. It’s a brash moment that tests our resolve in the film’s structure, but it has a deeper meaning in the context than we might at first realize. These moments will be the markers that either draw the viewer in or ultimately repel them, however it is the vivid, disturbing story that should be the true test for one’s opinion. Broom waxes deeply existential with lots of banter between characters that push the boundaries of pretentiousness and artsy, but at the same time, remains oddly compelling. It’s hard to look away.
Tabloid Vivant is a darkly erotic and decidedly weird film. I want that to be clear. Broom admits to his inspirations, with Lars Von Trier at the top of his list, and the comparisons are obvious, especially with Trier’s remarkably divisive (and brilliant) AntiChrist (2009). Here, as in AntiChrist, two lovers are trapped in an isolated cabin out in the wilderness. The two begin to fail, and as their bodies become emaciated and weakened, they find more and more ways to find addiction to his art while constantly at each other’s throats.
It is these two performances that hold the greatest interest of course, with Woodrow’s gangly, tortured artist perhaps clichéd at the film’s start but diverging into something else entirely by its end. He is a casualty of the art he has created, and it has utterly consumed him. Brown is his equal, creating a strangely magnetic character that grounds the madness, even as she disappears into a pasty white catatonic mess. Yes, the film trips over the line of sanity well into the first act, but these frightful characters are victims of a tragedy we are never truly meant to fully understand. Even as they spiral into the void though, they never lose the opportunity to try and comment on the world, eager to both embrace and skewer.
Is there a larger contextual meaning to it all? Without a doubt. Will it be clear? Never. We are left to discern for ourselves the context of what the paintings and the criticism and the chasm between print and digital technology ultimately mean. That it’s bookended by a heavily stylized jazz-infused connection to the Black Dahlia murder and an art show only offers more questions than answers. The mere fact that this is a sentence I just typed is reason enough to give this film a look. Tabloid Vivant will leave you spinning.
Director: Kyle Broom
Writer: Kyle Broom
Stars: Jesse Woodrow, Tamzin Brown, Chris Carlisle
Genre: Horror, Drama