I’m no fan of cheap for cheap’s sake. The love of lo-fi is hardly new, with filmmakers like Cassavetes or Fassbinder thumbing their nose at the slickness of conventional cinema. The recent mumblecore phenomenon brought a hipster funk to this ethos, with the likes of Joe Swanberg using a slew of friends to tell tales of friendship and ennui.
It all seems so dry to me at times, an insular world that plays as a kind of inside joke. There are moments of sublime beauty, sure, but I derive no pleasure from force amateurism, no frisson from seeing circumstances play out without a kind of dour sense of anti-establishment rage.
I was thinking about this, strangely, while watching Jude Klassen’s feature film Love In The Sixth. Superficially the film could easily be construed as another in a long line of home movies gone wrong, gathering a group of friends and family to tell a roughly drawn story of love, loneliness and gathering courage to make something right with your circumstance.
What sets this film apart, and what frankly accounts for an enormous part of its success, is that Jude Klassen is fabulous to watch on screen. The writer/director/producer/star is the heart beating at the center of the piece, with all other elements surrounding her either in contrast or compliment. Remove that lynchpin and the whole edifice collapses. It’s a good thing, then, that she’s an absolute delight.
There is a certain shotgunning in terms of plot – we’ve got the rough sketches of a woman coming to terms with not needing to have a guy in her life (to go on “mancation”, as described within), focussing instead on her work, her friends, and the raising or her precocious, politically motivated daughter Kat. Jude plays a character named Dani, yet most others around her, including Kat, play named versions of themselves. Again, it could feel tedious and distancing, instead it feels like you’ve been invited in to share in something special and intimate.
Tonally the film shifts from black-and-white documentary-like scenes to deeply saturated musical scenes, interspersed with interviews with some local artists and writers. Credit to Klassen and editors Jason and Brett Butler (who also appear in the film) for making sense of the narrative while still coming across as loose and improvisatory. It’s a fine line between chaos and conventionality, and these filmmakers pulled it off.
The songs are pleasing, the characters weird and wonderful, and the ride along with them a pleasant one indeed. Sure, some of the tunes overstay their welcome by a verse or two, but one feels almost churlish raining on the parade, the participants seemingly having so much fun.
Shot over a year, with a budget purported to be in the nature of $5,000, it’s a film that clearly is a labour of love for all involved. Yet that love had to be directed at something more than just the kernel of an idea, and it’s collective affection seems a genuine feeling directed toward’s Klassen. It’s her gravity that has the rest of the film spinning around, her changing moods in her peformance that sets the tone of a given scene. There’s genuine joy at play, but there’s also a world weariness and mild cynicism lurking beneath the dance numbers.
Love in the Sixth, like love itself, never goes quite the way you expect it to. Underneath the childlike bubblegum music and sunny exterior there’s still a sense of very adult comradery, the innocence of jingoism of her young daughter in contrast with half-hearted attempts of finding happiness while feeling alone.
Soon the enthusiasm takes you over again, the tune drawing you in, the polemical asides spicing up a romantic storyline that never quite coalesces. Yet it’s the infectiousness of Klassen on screen that keeps things both honest and engaging, showcasing an extraordinary ability to be seriously silly and amusingly serious at the same time. I kind of loved Loved in the Sixth, falling hard for its charms despite quirks that could have annoyed. It’s fair to say you’re unlikely to see a film like it this year, and I applaud all involved for making such a fun little film emit such a feeling of togetherness and celebration.