Bless its heart, every so often there’s a film that is trying desperately hard to be a serious, dramatic, ‘issue’ piece and instead comes across so off-kilter as to be wildly peculiar.
Director Jon Knautz’ and writing partner Alexis Kendra’s Goddess of Love is one such film. The story follows Venus (also Kendra), a mentally unstable hopeless romantic ex-ballet dancer turned manic pixie dream stripper (yes…), as she strives to create what she sees her life should be in the world around her.
Venus is obviously ‘not right’ from the start. Her house is filled with boudoir kitsch (fantastic production design thanks again to Kendra), she dresses like a brothel-bouncing ballerina and smokes crack in a heap in her undies like it’s going out of fashion. She’s a phenomenally outlandish character whose painted-on eyebrows twitch when the outer world doesn’t mirror her plans and who works in a strip club yet has no understanding of economic basis of the sex industry. Even the visions she has from time show her as a fish out of water and there’s a lot of screen time devoted to them. In fairness, this is the high point of the narrative owing to Kendra’s performance. The character may not achieve what the story seems to want in terms of a harrowing depiction of mental distress, but she is oddly and utterly compelling. She has a winning vulnerability tripping over screaming to herself while out for a morning jog (which comes across as cute), louche squalidness on a desert with her legs akimbo and yet utter, girlish determination to get her sparkly eyeshadow just right for her date. She seems to assume that by gifting herself to someone – the caddish, bruised Brian (Woody Naismith) – she will be made whole through appreciation.
What makes the plot work is that half of the people she stays around are as broken as she is and the film becomes maliciously funny as the characters treat each other spectacularly badly; it almost Showgirls-esque. Nevertheless, the lighting (which goes from gently kissing her thighs as she crawls across a stage, to hard light to show the strain in her face), suggests Kendra is actually a brave and rather accomplished actress. She is doing a lot more than mere face pulling here.
The silent star is the editing. Because of the way Venus is shot, we see her vulnerability seeming to bleed out of her like lipgloss away from the lines of her mouth. The more determined she gets to prove love can work, the further her vision is edited to precision and the final sequences actually do make sense.
Goddess of Love is a soapy title for a film that desperately tries to be a serious study of mental illness. Instead, because its central character is so singularly eccentric, it casts her instead as a frenzied, often funny female Maniac. That said, the later denouement leaves a strangely unsettling taste in the mouth.
GODDESS OF LOVE / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: JON KNAUTZ / SCREENPLAY: ALEXIS KENDRA, JON KNAUTZ / STARRING: ALEXIS KENDRA, WOODY NAISMITH, ELIZABETH SANDY / RELEASE DATE: TBC