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BLACK BEAR: A film to watch with caution?

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Image courtesy of Amazon Studios
Image courtesy of Amazon Studios

Black Bear may have fallen by the wayside, but is it time to put this film at the forefront? 

Since the release of Black Bear, talk surrounding the film has been largely absent beyond film-centric blogs, sites and many Reddit threads. Was it merely a case of its Sundance premiere being foreshadowed by COVID? Skip to August 2021, many online film platforms began releasing Lawrence Michael Levine’s 2020 drama, including curated film streaming platform MUBI. Now, the talk of the film is booming. Still, the raising of its problematic issues is growing parallel to its positive critical reception, making it hard to justify watching the movie? Or is that too much of a basic response? 

Black Bear is a filmmakers-film. A movie within a movie. A movie made for the industry and those in the know. Or, at its most fundamental,  it’s a film joining a class of works revolving around the creative nuances. Adaptation (2002), The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004), Cinema Paradiso (1988) and an ever-growing list, now joined by Black Bear – the most contemporary of its counterparts. 

Image courtesy of Momentum  Pictures

Is it even one film or two? Black Bear comprises two stories involving the same characters playing differing versions of the same parts. “Part One: The Bear in the Road” and “Part Two: The Bear by the Boat House”; but overall, the film is centred on Gabe’s (Christopher Abbott) ego as a man who paints himself as a feminist through his characters. We see it all through the eyes of the film’s protagonist Allison (Aubrey Plaza) in perhaps her most stunning performance to date, but it’s undoubtedly a complicated watch.

The lines between the two protagonists are the ones most blurred. It’s a film primarily down to perception and interpretation – something that the film deals with internally as much as it evokes this. 

Black Bear’s physical and metaphorical idioms can be somewhat overdone at times. The play on symbolism is perhaps too rudimentary whilst the idea of how we see ourselves versus how we perceive ourselves is fundamental to the plot’s success; as is the dialogue that raises the film’s profile as wit and constructive dialogue invents its own rhythm. 

Chapter two solidifies the film’s psychosexual nature,  questions the notions of feminism explored in the prologue, and tensions and violence become amalgamated with softer moments. It’s a concept drama that plays on reality in a way that the Truman Show and Dogville have done, but through dialectics of reality, dreams and some very clever moments that can only be noticed or rather appreciated in hindsight. 

Nonetheless, there’s no doubt that this film is self-conscious, and that’s part of both its charm and its positive critical reception. And what Levine does exceptionally well is balancing a disturbing reality with humour, sensitivity, and a beautifully shot piece by Robert Leitzell (Women Who Kill, Glory At Sea).

Whilst its shortcomings is the meta stamped all over; this ambitious and playful work, with its blend of stark and deep cinematography, gritty editing and sound that takes the audience on a non-existent journey, is certainly worth theatrical merit. 

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ / ☆

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