For thousands of years of human existence, love has proved a fruitful source of artistic inspiration. When New York artist Terence Nance felt compelled to explore his feelings for – and stuttering relationship with – the beautiful Namik, the mode of expression was naturally film. This resulted in the short How Would You Feel? (2010), which was subsequently fleshed out to form his kaleidoscopic feature debut, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (2012). A heady mix of fact and fiction, live action and animation, it’s an enthralling collage that toys with the fluidity of narrative, experimenting with myriad emotions and ideas.
It’s almost impossible to provide any kind of succinct synopsis for this expressive cinematic mosaic. The original short provides the foundations, giving the viewer an apparently fictional situation in which a young man (Nance) arrives home to find that the female friend with whom he is romantically interested (Namik Minter) will not be visiting that evening after all. The audience is then asked how they would feel in this situation before the scenario is relayed multiple times, increasingly imparting a greater degree of context. In the feature, the original concept is further extrapolated. What was a morsel in the form of How Would You Feel? becomes a rich and satisfying meal, with each course expanding on the flavours of that initial taste.
Non-linear to the extent that it may test the patience of some, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty plays like a restless stream of consciousness, filled with handbrake turns and an intoxicating and elliptical editing style. Bold use of animation helps to illustrate the thoughts, dreams and fantasies of Nance as he wrestles with the strikes and gutters of his love life. The patchwork of cinematic styles includes interview, psychedelic animation and home video amongst other things, all spun into an overarching whole that makes each feel absolutely necessary. What makes Nance’s film feel all the more potent is the realisation that the presentation of his love affair with Namik is at least partly true and seeing her own involvement – questioning the way he represents her – is a fascinating subplot.
This all serves as a playful reminder of the outrageously subjective viewpoint from which the film approaches the relationship which, in turn, actually manages to provoke a deeper empathy rather than being alienating. It’s because of this that the undeniable indulgence is actually one of the aspects that make An Oversimplification of Her Beauty quite so captivating. The intentional imperfections – as well as displaying his quixotic do-it-yourself attitude – play like self-deprecating reminders of their creator’s conflicted and flawed nature. It’s effectively reading the knowing, audiovisual diary of a ruminative, lovesick twentysomething; it could have been a painful experience, but Nance’s innovation and imagination manage to sweep you up in his limerence.