The Light of the Moon (2017)
Apologies to writer, director, editor Jessica Thompson.
If I had known how good an indie film The Light of the Moon is, I wouldn't have kept postponing seeing it.
I guess I should have remembered my infatuation last year with the indie work of another female director Nena Eskridge, who excelled with Stray.
Australia-born Jessica Thompson in The Light of the Moon has made a film that is both informative and at times gripping. Her first feature is both natural and contrived, but the deftness makes it worthy.
The Light of the Moon is the story of a rape and the aftermath it has on the victim, her boyfriend, and her unaware friends and colleagues, who think she has suffered a mugging, not a rape.
Bonnie (Stephanie Beatriz) is a successful architect, living in Brooklyn with her boy friend Matt (Michael Stahl-David). One night he's out with the boys, and she goes drinking with friends at a local bar. On the way back to her apartment, she is accosted, thrown into an alley, and raped.
The rest of the film focuses on the ordeal of her attempt to cope, and the effect on those around her.
The Light of the Moon starts garishly and glibly. It opens in an overly-bright office with characters speaking mediocre dialogue. Only actor Michael Stahl-David seems natural.
But the blatant beginning quickly changes mood and style. One of the strengths that Thompson exhibits is understatement in scenes where many directors would use overstatement. The scene of the rape is understated, but has strong impact.
Thompson also deftly cuts away from scenes of explanation - e.g., a crucial scene of Bonnie on the phone with her mother - and lets them speak for themselves. It's an effective technique.
Another effective element Thompson uses is muffled conversation that Bonnie experiences as people talk to her. This cleverly shows the effect they're having on Bonnie.
Thompson relies on the driving music of David Torn, but she also realizes the effect of quiet. The rape scene is an example of this.
Her handling of her leading character is less secure.
There is some dialogue that seems written for the character instead of coming from the character. She speaks some lines that seem calculated, instead of motivated.
We understand that Bonnie is going through serious flux since her violation. But Thompson puts some lines in her mouth that seem to contradict her previous character.
She wants Matt to change, but when he becomes more solicitous, she wants "the old Matt." She says to get a man to cook and clean for you, "Step one. Get raped." When he doesn't react, she says, "Tough room." The previous Bonnie would never have said those lines in the way she says them.
There's a predictable scene when Bonnie and Matt have sexual difficulties. Then later there's another sexual encounter between them that seems more written than natural.
Such scenes seem calculated. Coherence matters, even when experience is incoherent.
Thompson as writer puts Bonnie and us in a trap. Bonnie becomes morose and non-communicative. Matt becomes one-note. Can she find a way out?
At the end there is a lock on a wire fence. I prefer my symbols less contrived.
But despite contrivance and mannered dialogue, there are notes of subtlety and surprise throughout.
At the hospital, when Bonnie says she bit the rapist, there is a shared subtle smile between two women on the staff. There are several unexpected moments.
When Bonnie meets her Hispanic mother (Olga Merediz) in a Roman Catholic church, she gives the film a genuineness.
The actors are more capable than in most indies.
In The Light of the Moon, calculation and contrivance intrude, but fortunately creativity transcends them.