Jun 6, 2017

Phantom Love (Nina Menkes, 2007)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

A long-take sex scene which opens this feature pretty much explains its title. As a man's sweaty body moves back and forth, a woman's eyes are clouded with apathy. We assume they are lovers, but their love and passion seem to be things of the past - mere ghosts.

Her name is Lulu and her accent betrays the Russian origin. She works as a croupier in a Koreatown casino and her daily routines, involving her medicated, self-destructive sister and the aforementioned penetrator of a boyfriend, intensify her anxiety. The telephone conversations with her intrusive mother do not bring joy to her life either. Familial love is also of the phantom kind.

The film's deliberate pace, absence of music and morose B&W visuals reflect Lulu's inner workings - her crumbling psyche, to be precise. Even the TV footage of the Iraq War is utilized as the indicator of her anger and frustratrion. And frequently, it is hard to tell where her reality ends and fantasy (dreams, memories and hallucinations) begins. On her way back home, a snake slithers through the hallway. At one point, she levitates above her bed and explodes into nothing, during a sequence which is the obvious homage to Tarkovsky's The Mirror.

About ten minutes into the fragmented, non-linear and to a certain extent, hermetic story, she polishes her nails so ferociously that one gets the impression her nervous breakdown is imminent. However, the pressures only make her stronger and the epilogue sees her liberated... or is it just her mind playing tricks on both her and the viewer?

Nina Menkes invites us to recognize, understand and process some of our own issues and yet, what she has in store for us is not constantly inviting, given that some 'choruses' repeat too many times. Thankfully, her haunting cinematography commands our attention at any given moment, and Deren-esque and Lynchian vibes are definitely not to be underestimated.


  1. Thanks very much for your thoughts about my film :-) BTW Chris Soos and I worked together, he does lighting and I do camera. www.ninamenkes.com

    1. My pleasure.
      And apologies for the last sentence - I used IMDb as the reference, but I shall correct it. :)