Wednesday, September 02, 2009

PAPER HEART

Beyond being adorable, Nicholas Jasenovec and Charlyne Yi's Paper Heart is more appropriately an innocent expose on the fallacy of "truth discovery" in the age of the modern documentary. The questions that Yi (Paper Heart's guide and narrator) asks - Does love exist?, What is love?, Is the 'glow' of love physiological or mystical? - serve as the perfect opened-canned/nobody-could-ever-know ponderings for Jasenovec to craft his playful musings on non-fiction film around. But let's be clear, this isn't a cynical movie. From Paper Heart's wistful title to the care in which Yi gives her cardboard, cotton ball, and construction paper reenactments, we can gather that she is a young woman of knowing sensitivity.

Or, at least the character of "Charlene Yi" is. Paper Heart welcomes us to question everything. Who's to say that Michael Cera isn't simply channeling the college years of Paulie Bleeker instead of revealing the nakedness of his inner Canadian? And why should we trust Charlene when she says she's IMing Michael from her hotel room? But, most importantly, how can we possibly take the few handpicked & charming accounts of the couples Charlene interviews (from NYC to Oklahoma City to Amarillo and back to LA) as any kind of resolution to her larger philosophical questions of the heart? We can't. The real truth is that a hovering camera persuades more than it records, just as an editing bay cheats more that it condenses. What's so refreshing about Paper Heart, is that it's a "documentary" that finally acknowledges this.

In a scene where Charlene and Jasenovec are shooting BBs (which appear to be there in "sound" only) at some mounted beer cans in between couple interviews, Charlene expresses concern that the constant filming may be negatively affecting her relationship with Michael. It is here where the invasive 24/7 two-man camera crew that follows Charlene (and eventually Michael) around is revealed to be Paper Heart's central character. The concept of the camera's seductive power is much more subtle here than it is in, say, Diary of the Dead or Peeping Tom, but Jasenovec is still clearly overwhelmed enough that he fails to hear Charlene's pleas to lock picture. Even when Charlene warns him that she's gonna be sick, Jasenovec's desire to capture something true trumps his friend's direct warnings.

Fittingly, and appropriately, it is Jasenovec's eventual self-awareness that stands as the powerful climax in Paper Heart. His decision to pull-back the camera, and then to cut sound completely, is not only an acknowledgement that questions of love (and politics and culture) are better debated and addressed in intimate settings rather than under a light stand (the documentary's "heat lamp"), but a comment on our voyeuristic desires to intrude in on even the most personal of moments. Jasenovec's revelation is felt by all when, upon his decision to not force the camera into Michael's home, we catch a brief spot of emotional comforting between the couple from the mic still hanging on Charlene's sweater. Without the camera around, the change in tone and vulnerability in both Michael and Charlene's voices are recognizable, and it is here when the crew cuts sound.

Paper Heart's end of summer trickling-out release is the perfect anecdote to the now widely accepted failure and fraud of Sacha Baron Cohen's ambush freak-journalism. Notice especially how Yi treats her interviewees from coast-to-coast America. Whether it be via New York City or Lubbock, Yi emits a genuine respect and wide-eyed fascination with the eclectic cross-section of people. There is no red state/blue state bullshit pandering here... Bill Maher be damned. Paper Heart also remedies the romantic contrivances of Marc Webb's perplexedly popular (500) Days of Summer. After taking in Paper Heart's "Christmas Tree" song montage and its hand-holding supermarket hunting sequence, it should be clear which film is more in tune with the concept of the indie-pop romcom (see also the underrated Gigantic).

Now go order yourself a "BLT (minus the B, add P and C)" and spend some time with your own thoughts on love.

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