Imagine a wide shot hovering over a woman as she walks with slight gumption through a city square, who has a very noticeable tear in her shirt. She has just casually stolen a blouse, from a nearby clothing store and while fleeing she pauses to smoke a cigarette. Within the first two minutes, you may feel this character has no redeeming quality and she hasn’t even uttered a word, that is until she’s on a metro train transcribing her poetic thoughts on a busted iPhone. This is the opening sequence to Jordan Blady’s SOFTNESS OF BODIES.
After viewing the film twice, I wasn’t keen on the first watch, but since I’m one of the curious kind, I gave it a second go sensing there was some surging, gentle subtext lurking beneath the surface. What does that mean? There’s a thin layer of complexity beneath the humorous facade of this story and watching it the second time made me connect some interesting dots. In which case, I highly recommend watching this film twice because you’ll see it in a different light and if you’re into poetry even better with all that being said, this review will also be a character study.
“I’m so sexy and fun and fucking doomed.”
This line is reiterated in voice over as our harrowing protagonist, Charlotte Parks played by Dasha Nekrasova writes habitually throughout the duration of the film, always on her busted iPhone while living life as a barista, who's a kleptomaniac in Berlin. As an American living in Berlin, she's destined to become a poet, and with that struggle she's up for a prestigious grant award and has inadvertently put the highest pressure on herself to write the best poem of her life while getting her personal love life in order. Let's just say things get a bit erratic, but makes it all so interesting especially for a creative person because there's so much material to poach from.
And as we transverse into another scene, Charlotte is sitting on a couch with a guy, she's "dating" watching his beer commercial and when she’s asked if she thinks he’s a good actor, you can feel the dreadful sigh in her voice, “You’re great. You’re the best actor I’ve ever seen,” she says almost mockingly uttering it with an over exaggerated tone clearly not one wanting to compromise who she is but also succumbing to the need of feeding the gentle, male ego. Gross. But, also lies in the notion that Charlotte has no self respect for herself, instead she pursues what pleasures her inadvertently marching to the beat of her own drum and I’m fascinated by the level of disregard and insecurity she feeds off of others, yet holds the ability to charm a poetic prowess among her peers. Nekrasova’s performance has varying shades of contempt and it’s delivered in very alienating ways which genuinely makes her character believable. The way she lies, and over dramatizes the level of scenarios she gets herself into. It’s like you’re supposed to love to hate this protagonist and it’s antagonizing yet gratifying? What the hell is that about? On one hand, I’m conflicted morally, yet fascinated because there’s truth in humanity’s faulty behaviors. It’s the flaws that makes us shine in the most dreary moments of our lives and sometimes poetic thoughts stem from them blossoming into artistic expression.
Charlotte, in all obviousness is a devious maestro with a quick wit, "living like a cockroach", she’s able to get herself out of the most dark, somewhat destabilizing situations nearly alluding to the very idea that cockroaches never die. There's a scene where she stands before a judge essentially blaming the system and takes zero accountability for her actions in stealing a pair of shoes and a sexy blouse. The judge sees right through her sorry ass explanation, and the next jump cut cuts to Charlotte sobbing uncontrollably. You'll notice this throughout the film, how the director utilizes some great jump cuts to convey the dark humor and that's the key in making a film of this subject matter work. Long live the jump cut! I've always been a fan. It's dark, hilarious, even cunning at times, and one can’t help oneself for laughing at another’s pain at least this is what stuck out to me while watching this train wreck unfold. Which begs me to question the director’s intention. Is he subtlety indicating we get some vindication or gratification in being entertained by another’s pain, masking it in humor?
The struggle of a creative person is always interesting to me. It’s a parallel that resembles the minutia of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality type. As much as an artist spends the duration of their life creating they spend about half a millisecond destroying either their work or themselves. Jordan Blady's debut film, SOFTNESS OF BODIES is poetic in varying veins yet callous, self absorbed, fueled with insecure characters either sex starved, ego hungry, infested with an idealism that tries to ignite some dainty semblance to the 1960s beat generation. A very moody concoction that centers itself between something like FRANCES HA meets THE BLING RING intertwined with a hint of Charles Bukowski. And the only reason I mention Bukowski is the context of his poem titled "Darkness" feels like it resonates a certain idea paralleling what Softness of Bodies is about. For instance, in the first two stanzas of Bukowski's Darkness:
Darkness falls upon humanity
And faces become terrible things
That want more than there was.
All our days are marked with
Some disastrous, others less so
But the process is wearing and continuous.
I feel like in some ways Charlotte is her own kind of diluted version of Bukowski, except instead of trying to be a poet in Los Angeles she travels abroad to Berlin hoping to make a name for herself. Even as I write this sentence, Charlotte also known as "Charlie" which is interestingly ironic, deals with very similar problems to what Charles Bukowski dealt with. She's hit some dark times, he's hit some dark times and there's this constant battle with herself, struggling to put creative thoughts into words, navigating a confusing love life, being a kleptomaniac, maybe has a substance abuse problem all while trying to face these dark situations, she stumbles into. Think about it, she gets beat up, arrested, nearly gets mugged, and witnesses an accidental death. This is all incredible source material for her poetry. To top it off, her incessant need to steal is a form of addiction and what she doesn’t have fills a continuous void that begins to wear her down yet she can't control it. Perhaps this is where the root of her poem takes place. Specifically in the final two stanzas:
Even a life has a price
But the thing about bodies
Is that there soft
And inside are bones that break and organs
Slowly and inevitably
And money doesn’t stop it.
I suppose if I had to sum up the moral of the story and Charlie's character is that we should live vicariously, through our troubles, our creativity, and our perseverance and perhaps, just perhaps, one day money will fix it all or we can simply spend our lives believing in that notion, like clinging to a life preserve in a vast ocean of violent waves. Maybe that's too deep of an existential, over the top, omg-thought because we're all destined to some demise and until then let's just go about life, working, creating, destroying, stealing, and just being our flawed selves.