Michael Glover Smith's 2015 feature reboots the saga of some of the earliest Mumblecores: traits variously include dancing in Chicago, black-and-white images high and low contrast, cheap living on low wages, and a primary leisure activity involving kitchen table conversation. Swap Chicago for Paris and Cool Apocalypse reboots the earliest Nouvelles Vagues, most especially the first film in the movement as it's most commonly understood (when it is neither Vigo nor Renoir), Présentation, ou Charlotte et son steak by Éric Rohmer (silent version and image edit completed 1951, sound version completed 1961).
With its two pairs of 20-something couples, Cool Apocalypse smashes together the modern no-to-micro-budget relationship-film with the love story as I've historically understood it, from '60s Godard through the Carax of Boy Meets Girl and beyond. As such, it comes full-circle with both American independent cinema's significant recent past (Joe Swanberg's Young American Bodies and Kissing on the Mouth, Frank V. Ross's Present Company, Andrew Bujalski's Mutual Appreciation) and its present (the relationship-film-meets-love-stories of Swanberg's Happy Christmas and Digging for Fire). One couple (Tess [Chelsea David] and Claudio [Adam Overberg]) act out a relationship-film, the other (Julie [Nina Ganet] and Paul [Kevin Wehby]) a love story. The dynamic, the tension, between the idioms offers a critique, intentional or not, on the current and (at least at present) seemingly endless procession of slow-burn character-studies that involve "dramatic conflict" as the crux of worthwhile "dramatic" art. The love story portion of the picture corrects the relationship-film portion and ultimately resolves in an "all's right with the world" ending like a breath of fresh air.
Nina Ganet, of the love-story element, is as captivating as a Rohmer heroine: specifically, her lean-in and natural goodwill remind me of Katerina Diaskalou of Triple Agent without the cloying reliances that I still have not been able to reconcile with my love for Rohmer and that film in particular. There is in Cool Apocalypse even a shock moment, or beat, that would not be out of place in either Rohmer or perhaps even Rivette and which involves a cane and a wineglass.
I mentioned therapy against depictions; I want to say that the love-film is an act of therapy, and that the relationship film is a mere depiction of reality. The designations might be reversed; note for further elaboration. For now I will quote Godard in Adieu au langage, who says: "Those who lack imagination feel the need to take refuge in reality." I believe this trait to be endemic of most of the present American (truly) independent cinema and represents a kind of fall from the age of the earliest Mumblecores, such as their legacy as been misunderstood by a great deal of post-Swanberg post-Bujalski would-bes.
Love-ideal v. real(ationship)politik?
Yet in Smith's film the composite parts: the restaurant, the bookstore, the kitchen, the smoking balcony, the sidewalk: everything seems a quotation and a new instillment. The nocturnia of the film, too, recalls implicitly a kinship with another Chicago picture of recent vintage that searches for a new path, that is, a new way out: Vishnevetsky's Ellie Lumme.
Rest in Peace Forever David Bowie. Image from Leos Carax's Mauvais sang [Bad Blood, 1986].
"I'm standing in the wind / But I never wave bye-bye / But I try — / I try —