Directed by: Dana Lustig; Runtime: 86 minutes
Leonard Cohen's song/poem "A Thousand Kisses Deep" serves as the inspiration behind director Dana Lustig's mind-bending contraption of a drama, with portions recited at the beginning and end of the film almost as a framing device. It's about the dying flame of a problematic love and the loneliness and acceptance built on stepping away from the relationship -- important elements in this somewhat creative exploration of a woman's past through a time-traveling lift in an apartment, and the changes that occur when something is removed from each period of her life. Alas, the concept of creating a more psychologically stable future by retreading and tampering with the past is the extent of the clarity behind this needlessly opaque and absurd journey through a woman's life experiences, fostering several interpretations without provoking the desire to follow any of them beyond the bitter end.
After returning home from work one day, nurse Mia Selva (Jodie Whittaker) witnesses an elderly woman plummet to her death after jumping from the upper floors of her apartment building. Oddly, shreds of an old familiar photograph surround the woman's body, featuring an old flame of Mia's named Ludwig (Dougray Scott), an abusive and unpleasant jazz musician. Finding the photo leads her to ask the apartment building's caretaker, Max (David Warner), to permit her entry into the woman's home, which he allows her to do after obscure warnings about not removing anything from the apartment. She neglects the advice, which opens up the psychological and metaphysical ambitions of A Thousand Kisses Deep: Mia has disrupted the balance of time and memory, and she must revisit her experiences to correct the imbalance by traveling up and down the apartment's mystical lift. This proves difficult when she's forced to confront Ludwig himself in each timeline, due to her lingering connection to him.
Mia interacts with her past in a strange, suggestive fashion: instead of, say, jumping into the bodies of those multiple versions of herself similarly to The Butterfly Effect or Quantum Leap, she's an onlooker whose appearance and voice reflect how she currently looks. She has conversations with old acquaintances and, eventually, observes the way Ludwig treated her at various earlier points in her life, even interacts with those moments similarly to the memory traipsing in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This is intentional, of course, since A Thousand Kisses Deep yearns to be a psychoanalytical puzzle that reflects on a woman's battle with the demons and obsessions that brought her to her current state, scrambling to prevent the fate of the deceased elder woman -- whoever she may be. Whether one looks at the film's events literally or as a figurative, Freudian space, Mia's trying to alter things in order to achieve a more positive and liberated outcome, free of her life's baggage.
Unfortunately, Ludwig's exaggerated, loathsome actions in the past and the ease of Mia's new self's interactions with all her "memories" are hopelessly melodramatic and vainly metaphorical, leaving A Thousand Kisses Deep in a direly disingenuous state. The reactivity to her time-tampering relies on the film's allegorical setting like a crutch, excusing the story's provocations whenever they become difficult to swallow; conveniences like Mia's familiar appearance or how she easily meddles with their lives are merely part of the grand design. This also affects our awareness of Ludwig himself: was he sincerely this deplorable, or are these iterations of him an aggrandized representation of how he treated Mia? Despite steadfast performances from Jodie Whittaker as a resolute explorer of her character's psyche and Dougray Scott's vagabond shabbiness as Ludwig, scenes of their tumultuous romantic bond can't convince either way.
A Thousand Kisses Deep means well with its cryptic thought exercise, but it becomes far less readable and palatable the further it descends into Mia's history. With Max's endlessly enigmatic guidance (basically a frustrating psychoanalytical spin on Al from Quantum Leap) driving her up and down the intriguingly-realized elevator to her memories, she grows closer to unveiling a "truth" at the center of her past experiences that is, quite frankly, a mind-boggling mess of interpretation and fumbled shock-value. The hazy, rustic apartments and bars filled with jazz music might provide unique ambience for profound revelations that blur between psychosis and mysticism, but Dana Lustig's indie creation lacks the analytical hooks of similar yarns -- comparisons to Mulholland Drive or Stay wouldn't be unmerited -- that compel one to investigate further. Instead, it ends up being both bizarre and insipid in equal measure, sorely lacking the type of deep-rooted lyricism stirring in its eponymous inspiration.
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Posted by Thomas Spurlin on 9/13/2013