Manchester is taking a photograph of his girlfriend Noon. She’s asleep. He develops the film while she naps and goes outside to lay on a dingy blanket on the gravel driveway that leads to their makeshift garage-turned-apartment. Did she consent to being documented? No one seems to care. When Noon wakes up, she goes outside naked and has sex with Manchester in broad daylight.
A seemingly enviable hipster couple sequestered from the world in their own squalid little space, it doesn’t take long for things to go south. While Noon stays home preparing taxidermy birds, Manchester gets drunk at a local pub and leaves behind his snapshots of her nudity, their lovemaking. Found a bit too conveniently by a local art dealer who then spends an inordinate amount of time tracking the couple down, Manchester’s amateur, low-light snaps are sold and catapult him to fame, complete with praise for his non-technique—“just a willing girlfriend,” he insists. Not surprisingly, their idyllic, secluded, grungy love is ruined by Manchester’s brush with fame and having their privacy traded as consumable art.
Based on the filmmakers’ obsession with objectifying Noon’s ass in every possible shot, with making her the sexual object in nearly every supposedly erotic scene, it’s painfully obvious that the production team is almost exclusively comprised of men. Should the audience be pleased to see female masturbation, so rarely depicted in film, or should we be revolted by the popsicle prop in one scene, that Noon is accidentally hit in the face with the camera during sex, that physical pleasure seems to trump self respect? Brilliantlove isn’t so much a meditation on love, desire, and intimacy as it is degrading soft-core porn with a bit of art world skepticism thrown in for good measure.
I also have to wonder whether this is just a hipster wet dream. Does someone think, "I can just leave these trashy photos in a bar and find fame?" At a time when it’s hard enough to control any aspect of your privacy, I’m so unbelievably unimpressed by the lack of ethics, trust, and respect displayed by Manchester. I also wonder why, within a framework of already shaky ethics, Manchester’s consent was sought at all, or why these photos weren’t just uploaded to the Internet (which is striking absent from the film, as is bathing, eating, and pre-porn employment). Brilliantlove could have been really interesting. It could have relied on actual character development, on normalizing passion, on queering the perceived normalcy of (hetero)sexual relationships. For many, there’s obviously a big difference between sex and love, and my issue is not with this dichotomy. Rather, this is just one more film made by an all-male team unwilling (or unable) to depict thoughtful, engaging intimacy between two enthusiastic, willing partners.
Both my male partner and I were genuinely disgusted while watching it, barely able to force ourselves to finish it; desperate to cleanse our mental palates, we popped in an innocuous film to chase the memory of this damaging one. If disliking this film makes me sex-negative or some other hip third wave feminist label I deem more judgmental than useful, so be it. This film is a voyeuristic, hedonistic, male gaze fuck fest. Watch at your own risk.