A man and a woman find themselves sitting next to one another at a bar at the end of the night. They turn towards one another… and soon find themselves entangled in an embrace in an apartment together.
But their passionate encounter isn’t what it seems, as their inner dialogues take over and reveal the layers of selfishness, neuroticism and anxiety that both bring to the bedroom.
Writer-director Jose Lourenco’s short redefines the notion of a whirlwind romance, using immensely clever writing and an eye for irony to track the unspoken histories and assumptions that two people bring to a romantic encounter at a bar.
The film is shot like a contemporary romantic drama, complete with moody lighting and a fabulously decorated city apartment. But true to the film’s title, language is at the heart of the film’s artistic approach, and the inner dialogue that each character narrates as they go through the motions of their eventually unsatisfying encounter is witty, sharp and specific with psychological insight. Viewers can hear the judgments and assumptions that each person has of the other, which of course ends up revealing more about themselves than anything else.
The great irony is that neither character brings this subconscious awareness to their present actions, especially as they engage with one another. Their bodies are on autopilot, but their brains and mental programming never stop functioning, which keeps each from progressing emotionally. The humor comes less from setting up jokes and delivering punchlines and instead from a snowballing accumulation of physical passion with growing inner doubt and despair — and by the time the prospective couple is done with one another, it’s clear to both them and the audience that any relationship between them never really stood a chance.
The arc of “Romance Language” is less about a story told from beginning to end than understanding just why this particular would-be couple’s story will never get off the ground. Viewers will laugh at the sentiments, doubts and judgments each character expresses — perhaps with the knowingness of recognition — and the film has a lot of fun with the foibles of modern courtship, which include the outsized expectations we have of one another and of relationships in general.
But there’s also an undertow of melancholy in how so many expect to be disappointed or heartbroken even before any kind of connection has begun. Humor and ambivalence are a tricky tonal balancing act for any film to hold, but it’s this balance between the longing for love and the cynicism of potential disappointment that is at the heart of “Romance Language” — and perhaps any romance that manages to rise above the incessant din of our inner monologues.