Flames offers an intriguing premise. Part documentary and part art movie, co-directors Josephine Decker and Zefrey Throwell document their relationship as it falls apart. We start with the two of them in the best part of any relationship, where it’s constant fondness and lots of sex. The camera is with them in these intimate moments, and even sticks around for a post-coital sock puppet show under the sheets. (Both are performance artists, so it makes sense.) The two burn hard and fast, and after a trip to the Maldives, they break up.
Rather than move forward with life, Decker and Throwell keep coming back to discuss why things ended, why they were so infatuated, and how they wouldn’t be doing any of this if it weren’t for the movie they were making. They felt obliged to keep in contact because of the movie, and I felt obliged to see the movie through to the end even though I didn’t necessarily like it. There’s something fascinating and genuine picking through the rubble of a ruin.
Directors: Josephine Decker and Zefrey Throwell
Release Date: TBD
There’s a moving 40 minutes scattered throughout this 86-minute film. The best bits for me involved Decker and Throwell talking about why things ended the way they did, and giving themselves time to be vulnerable and self-effacing on screen. Decker comes across better, at least to me, though maybe she’s not always so forthcoming about why things ended. Throwell doesn’t come across great, especially when he’s being honest about what happened. There’s a gleeful cruelty even when he’s trying to be sweet to Decker, and I’m not sure how much of that was real or staged. Flames is an art doc and an artifice doc.
But for that 40 strong minutes, there are plenty of boring moments in Flames that just sort of float there. The couple’s doomed trip to Maldives feels like an inert home movie about art scene hipsters in love. And there are stretches of the movie that feel repetitive or too much like navel gazing. And there are also moments that feel a bit too precious, like when Decker and Throwell go to couples therapy. At that point, they’re broken up and don’t seem to be hanging out, so their time in therapy makes gestures at intimacy but also feels like a performance art piece without stakes beyond adding a scene to the film. That might be Flames as a whole for me–a blend of intimacy and performance art, each side vying for time and control, and I’m not sure what to make of it all since I don’t necessarily know or feel connected to these people.
Yet part of me wants to like the better-messy-business of Flames because the parts that worked well enough cast some of the film’s jetsam in a different light. An act of public strip poker reveals a lot about who Decker and Throwell are as people and as participants in their relationship. And a bit of impromptu acupuncture in a naked puppet show offers some hints of the relationship that unfolds. But like relationships that don’t end well and that don’t feel like they’re worth salvaging, it’s best to just move on.