Film is a medium that exerts a powerful hold on the collective and individual consciousness. This could be the thesis of director Terry Miles’s latest film Cinemanovels–if enough effort had been made to create a film that could be said to have one. The story follows Grace, who upon the death of her estranged father, an acclaimed French Canadian filmmaker, sets out to program a memorial retrospective of his work. The more she watches his films, the more her life begins to mirror the films and the more understanding she gains of her father. There is a great deal of emotional potential to be mined from this premise; unfortunately, Miles and crew seem to be content with doing no more than necessary to whet the appetites of festival programmers. If they had put in a little more effort and dug a little deeper, the result could have been very interesting. Instead Cinemanovels is a film that is overly concerned with the surface, and not in a visually arresting way as with the French Cinema de Look films. It’s all gloss with no substance and no flash, somehow missing every opportunity that the script creates to explore father/daughter and viewer/film relationships. The process of coming to terms with her father’s death is one that should be deeply moving, but falls woefully flat. The whole film carries an uninterested air to it, as if everyone involved is just going through the motions to collect a paycheck.
Given that this is a film that is clearly aimed at cinephiles, the film/viewer dynamic is something that resonates strongly with the target audience, however, Miles has nothing to say on the subject other than the obvious: films affect the way we view the world. Even a cursory exploration into the why of this fact would have been appreciated, but alas, it is not to be. Instead we get snippets of supposedly famous films that begin to bleed into Grace’s life, almost as if she is possessed. Just like his protagonist, Miles is aimless and without purpose, going through the motions, trying to recreate greatness.
The clips of Grace’s late father’s films, peppered throughout, provide some interesting ideas, but the simplistic, low-budget images never quite live up to the complex concepts. These are supposed to be excerpts from a great filmmaker, and while on the surface they could have been ideas from the mind of a Goddard, Bergman or Murnau, the execution is that of a far inferior talent. This is something that Cinemanovels struggles with from beginning to end. It is suffocated under the weight of profound concepts and a director who lacks the vision and the ability to bring them to life.