Terence Nance’s playfully experimental feature An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty is both stunning and stymieing—a film so effusive that it’s hard to separate its signal from its noise. Built around an earlier Nance short called “How Would You Feel?”, Oversimplification opens with a man the narrator calls “You” (played by Nance) in a self-pitying, navel-gazing mood, because the woman he likes (Namik Minter) has canceled a date. Then the movie expands outward, considering the larger context for the protagonist’s case of the blues, taking into account his job status, sleeping habits, past romances, and other, more esoteric factors. Nance describes “You” through multiple second-person voices, adding lengthy quotes from relevant books and old love letters, along with animated interludes in different styles. He shifts from one to the other frequently and fluidly, making this the kind of film—wildly inventive, aesthetically and structurally—for which the term “visionary” was coined.
If only An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty was as easy to connect to emotionally as it is to admire. Nance’s barrage of disparate images, coupled with the wall-to-wall, frequently poetic narration, makes the movie feel so personal and allusive that it recedes from viewers from moment to moment. The “You” conceit also proves curiously alienating, distancing the audience from Nance and making him something of a void at the center of his own story. The original short from which Oversimplification springs is reminiscent of Jørgen Leth’s classic avant-garde film “The Perfect Human”—immortalized in Lars von Trier’s documentary The Five Obstructions— but “How Would You Feel?” is more repetitive, as it covers and recovers the same moment when the hero feels abandoned and unloved. Even as Nance keeps enlarging the frame surrounding this incident, the incident itself continues to seem awfully small to support an entire feature.
Still, An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty is so alive with possibility and gusto that it makes other independent films look not just damnably safe, but inert. The byproduct of Nance’s intense reflectiveness is that he just sees things differently from most. On the day he’s stood up, for example, “You” is wrestling with a bed that he’s transporting by subway to assemble in his apartment. Before long, Nance has turned that bed—so unwieldy, yet so necessary—into a metaphor for his love life. Pretentious? Sure. But also funny—and more importantly, true.