The great love story with full-on eroticism has never sounded like the sort of the thing the British do at all somehow, much less do it well. Director Ashley Horner set out to put that right.
His protagonists are two freewheeling youngsters that are 'In Love.' So they spend most of the 97 minutes of this film 'Having Sex.' Manchester is a sort of would-be photographer and Noon is a self-confessed taxidermist. Their sources of income, if any, are not particularly clear. But such details could after all complicate the heady sense of falling for someone you have heady sex with. Especially at an age where hormones are high and responsibilities are low. Things can get complicated. Such as when Manchester leaves his lovingly lensed erotic photos in the local boozer. And they are picked up by someone with a slightly more commercial eye for such things.
The good things about Brilliant Love are quite a few. Seeing the two leads with all their clothes on for the Q & A at least reassured me that they did an decent job as actors, and weren't just a couple of hippie-types that had wandered onto the set. The film is shot in a very warm and natural way without being cheesy. There is none of the attempt to desexualise (the quite graphic) sex as is so common in art-house movies which want to prove they are 'high brow.' People in Brilliant Love are meant to look warm and sexy in a nice way, and actually achieve that. There's plenty of natural, inoffensive full-frontal nudity along the lines of two people who might wander around half naked anyway, and happen to be young, and happen to be physically good-looking. No penetration close-ups in case you are getting hot under the collar. It doesn't seem to be pushing UK censorship boundaries, for instance, and so doesn't have particularly to wave a flag that justifies it in the name of art. The only thing a stuffy person might object to on the nudity count would probably be the sheer quantity. The filmmakers should also be complimented on turning out a decent job on what was probably a non-existent budget. The script is as natural as the acting, and it generally has all the warm fuzzies that go with saving small furry animals from a night in the cold.
But if Brilliant Love succeeds in making a fully British erotic love story, it doesn't quite manage to make a great one. Except for competent demonstration of technique, one might question whether it was worth making at all. It is hard to care about the characters that deeply, or whether they are in love. 'Nice-ish kids' is about the best you could say. There is no perceptible intellectual connection – in fact both of them seem a Rizla paper short of a spliff at times – and any emotional connection seems based more on the devotion arising from good physical chemistry and easy-going natures. Such shortcomings alone would not ruin a film, and indeed the last ten to fifteen minutes manage to salvage much of the dramatic tension. But the story is weak. Grand end statements try to assert the seriousness of the affair – sadly, using standard three-part formula of, love, break-up, and reunion. Overall, Brilliant Love is just a little bit too inoffensive to really get our teeth into.
What particularly worries me is that it is being held up as a very British offering. Films that are different and have something to say in some way need to stand out more. At least 9 Songs divided opinion. Not that sexy, but it had shock value and an unusual, segmented composition which I personally rather liked. Erotic and explicit love stories do seem to come from abroad. Whether major hitters such as Breillat's beautiful Brief Crossing, the wistful hedonism of The Dreamers, the aesthetically engaging romance and eroticism of Sex and Lucia, the controversial love-tragedies like Irreversible or Antichrist, Cronenberg's fetish love (Crash), or the simple shock-value graphic love in The Brown Bunny. All these films, love them or hate them, are worthy of serious attention. Sadly the harshest thing one might say about Brilliant Love is that it is just . . . well . . . 'quite nice.' The ideal market might be the age-group where people are losing virginity with weekend pocket-money at the cinema. Getting swept up in waves of strong first emotion – or infatuation – and definitely passion. Where they might strongly identify with the characters. Ironically, the ubiquitous soft-porn warmth of 'erotic love' so constantly on screen will possibly classify this film as 'unsuitable' until they are of an age to have refined their tastes or cooled their ardour. There again, a lot of people in the audience seemed to quite like it. Maybe I'm just an old fuddy-duddy . . .