Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir Christos Nikou
scr Christos Nikou, Stavros Raptis, Sam Steiner
prd Christos Nikou, Cate Blanchett, Coco Francini, Andrew Upton, Lucas Wiesendanger
with Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed, Jeremy Allen White, Luke Wilson, Annie Murphy, Katy Breier, Christian Meer, Amanda Arcuri, Heather Dicke, Albert Chung, Jim Watson, Tanchay Redvers
release US 27.Oct.23,
UK 3.Nov.23
23/US Apple 1h53

white wilson murphy
london film fest
afi fest

Is it streaming?

buckley and ahmed
With its understated fantastical premise and a delicate, observant pace, this offbeat romance plays out in beautifully unexpected ways that will reward viewers who can be patient with its hushed tone. Working in North America, Greek filmmaker Christos Nikou is grappling with the awkward impossibility of quantifying love. Sensitive writing and directing provide insight alongside adept, nuanced performances from Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed and Jeremy Allen White.
Five years ago, researchers discovered a test that shows if you are actually in love, creating chaos in most relationships. Anna (Buckley) and Ryan (White) are certified, but Anna doesn't tell Ryan that she's now working at the love institute, helping couples connect so they increase their chances of a positive test result. She sparks quickly with colleague Amir (Ahmed), and she loves working with young couples like Rob and Sally (Meer and Arcuri). But niggling thoughts crowd Anna's mind about whether she should stay with Ryan or follow her heart against the scientific evidence.
Subtle filmmaking makes this premise almost eerily matter-of-fact, as characters refer to how the development of this test was followed by a crisis, as eight out of 10 couples came undone due to negative results. Conversely, positive results have led to couples that drift along secure in their romantic status, but perhaps personally unsure. Indeed, the central theme is that even people who are deeply in love can be lonely. And watching Anna grapple with this idea in ways she doesn't quite understand is fascinating, even if the film sometimes feels oddly inert.

Performances are internalised, with earthy humour livening up conversations to reveal sparky personalities. Buckley brings her terrific musicality to the role, playing with the superbly curated song score to reveal Anna's renegade thoughts and feelings. Her chemistry with Ahmed simmers even as it's understated to perfection, contrasted with Anna's more overt loved-up physicality with Ryan. Ahmed makes Amir a magnetic enigma, while White gives Ryan a charming puppy-dog persona. Of course it's impossible to choose between them.

Without ever boiling over into melodrama, the film quietly addresses the inherent messiness in relationships, and how romantic longing can't be explained using straightforward biology, even if that's the entire premise of this alternate world. So this is a rare story that challenges us to consider the balance between commitment and passion, between what we have and what we want. And by picking a side the film forces us to choose as well.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 5.Oct.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall