Sunday, June 23, 2019

Andrew Haigh | Cahuenga Blvd.

the end of love
by Douglas Messerli

Andrew Haigh (writer and director) Cahuenga Blvd. / 2005

British director Andrew Haigh’s 2005 short film (only about 6 minutes in length) Cahuenga Blvd., shot in Los Angeles, reveals a great deal about his later, feature films, Weekend, 45 Years, and the most recent Lean on Pete. In each of these films love is strangely transitory—even though the couple of 45 Years have been together for that length of time, without really knowing one another—and yet deeply felt in a modest realistic manner that depends upon the actors and Haigh’s always probing yet lovingly revelatory camera.
      The tag line for his 2005 work, featuring just two characters played by Luis Patino and Isabel Sztriberny is “A one night stand in the middle of the afternoon,” and that pretty much sums it up.
      At a Cahuenga Blvd. café the two major figures encounter one another, he an American who has recently broken up with his girlfriend of some time and she an Austrian who is about to return to her homeland. In minutes they become attracted to one another (a situation repeated in his first feature film between two gay men, Weekend) and find themselves returning to his apartment to engage in a brief sexual tryst.
      As in Weekend, we immediately perceive that this couple is the perfect match, she intimately questioning him, and he feeling comfortable enough with her to explain how he has come to break up with a woman he thought he loved, suggesting something to the effect: “She wanted to see other people. Why if you love someone do you need others?” One day she simply announces it’s over.
      Asked if he still loves her, the male responds so openly honestly that it is almost painful: “I would like to know how her life is going. What has happened to her.” But obviously that is not to be.
       Haigh is able to create an easy warmth between these two figures that makes us desire that a miracle might happen, that she might delay her voyage home, and the two fall into a deeper romance. Yet this director is an utter realist, and miracles in his works never occur.
       He accompanies his temporary lover to the airport, they kiss, and she leaves him, he sadly moving to the escalator to move up and out of their brief romantic encounter.
       That gesture, repeated with variation in Weekend, might almost be said to be a metaphor for the temporary love his characters discover (even after 45 years): a recognition that love is never truly permanent, even if the couple remain together. There is always, in his films, a deep pain in loving and an even deeper one for not finding a lifetime of love.
       Haigh might almost be described as an auteur of love found and lost, of desires that are never quite fulfilled. Yet he does this with an unblinking sense of truth. Love, in all his films, slips away, disappears, or proves to be something other than the lover imagined it was. Men and women come together and pull away just as quickly, creating pain and startlement, but seldom sentimentality—even when it leaves one out of breath and in tears.

Los Angeles, June 23, 2019
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (June 2019).

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