Conversations With Other Women puts a stylistic gimmick to good use

Conversations With Other Women puts a stylistic gimmick to good use

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The release of Sundance winner Fruitvale Station, set over a 24-hour period, has us remembering other day-in-the-life dramas.

Conversations With Other Women (2006)
In cinema, a fine line often separates what folks will pejoratively describe as a “gimmick” and what could be seen, in a different light, as an adventurous technique. (Think of Hitchcock’s Rope, with its illusion of a single, unbroken shot, or Memento, which predominately unfolds backward.) A fairly recent example would be Conversations With Other Women, a little-seen indie talkfest whose lone claim to fame is its stylistic hook. Set over a few hours, during and after a small New York wedding, the film is primarily a twofer, in which Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter chat away a long evening. Although they initially appear to be strangers, their shared history quickly becomes evident—though audiences will realize even more quickly that the entire film has been shot in split screen, with the two actors occupying the opposing sides.

That may sound like a stunt—and to a certain extent, it is—but director Hans Canosa makes remarkably strong use of the bifurcated frame. Often, the split simply functions like a two-shot, allowing viewers to observe both actors simultaneously. But as the film progresses, Canosa employs it to more lyrical ends, like when he occasionally treats half of the screen as a window into the past: While the two stars wander down memory lane and open old wounds, a pair of younger counterparts act out their ancient, fledgling courtship. 

The dialogue, by screenwriter Gabrielle Zevin, occasionally suggests the overwritten patter of a mediocre black-box stage play. Thematically, though, Conversations With Other Women is rock solid: In its depiction of battle-scarred lovers role-playing as strangers, and of a hotel-room rendezvous that goes from sexy to serious, the film anticipates the marital identity games of both Certified Copy and this year’s exquisite Before Midnight. And both Eckhart and Bonham Carter are superb, handling the shift from playful flirtation to bittersweet reunion with aplomb. No gimmick required there.

Availability: DVD via Netflix.