Hi! Welcome to a new series called “Alex’s Foreign Foray”. Today’s segment and review will be based on the 2017 film Bokeh, directed by Geoffrey Orthwein and Andrew Sullivan.
My name is Alex, resident Canadian here at The Nerd Mentality, and like many others here at the site, I love movies. All kinds of movies. Any genre and I’m there, as long as it’s good (though I occasionally sit through a bad one). However, there is one type of film I haven’t dabbled too much in, regrettably, and that’s foreign. I’ve seen some, like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Raid, but for some reason never really got around to embracing the films of other cultures. That’s what I’ve now decided to do.
The idea is that I’ll be traveling from country to country from the comfort of my couch every week (ideally). So, I hope you’ll join me as I depart the cold comforts of Canada and venture forth into the world. I’d love some traveling partners.
I’ll start off every review by giving a quick overview of some things I liked and disliked about each film in standard review fashion. After which I’ll move into spoiler-filled, almost analytical, discussion. I’ll state next week’s film at the end of every review.
We start our journey in Iceland, and I’ve selected a film found on Netflix that is both Icelandic and American, to sort of ease us into things.
Iceland’s film is entitled Bokeh, and it was released in 2017. It is a sci-fi/romance film that follows two lovers on a trip to Iceland, but when they get there, everyone in the world seems to disappear, forcing them to survive and come to terms with themselves and each other.
Now there’s not much to actually spoil in this movie and I honestly couldn’t recommend Bokeh to anyone, so this section is going to be fairly short this week, while the spoiler section will be longer. I think that this film had a great concept and played with some interesting ideas but ultimately ended up falling flat in practically every aspect except the cinematography, which wasn’t terrible but wasn’t exceptional either.
I get it, Iceland is gorgeous. But when you have thirty minutes of your ninety-minute runtime dedicated to various shots of Icelandic scenery and nice-looking views it makes the flaws in the film all the more apparent.
Now I’m not saying that movies with long, sweeping shots of scenery can’t be impactful, but in order for those shots to be justified the audience needs to feel connected to the story so that these shots have some meaning. All we get in Bokeh is a lot of moping around from the characters and shots of “hey, look at this Icelandic thing we found while shooting!”. It just becomes painfully evident that the screenwriters had a beginning concept and an ending (which I also dislike but that’s for spoiler talk) but no way to connect the two.
The acting is painful, too. I don’t necessarily blame this on the actors (Monroe was good in It Follows, for example), but rather on the dialogue, which feels like something out of the subreddit “I’m 14 and this is deep”, and the situations, which make no rational sense. The lines are all delivered at the same level of intensity and it all comes across as cheesy and just plain silly at times.
Alright, I’m going to move into spoiler talk now so if this concept or the trailer interests you, I guess go see it, otherwise:
Piggybacking off of the last point, the situations are so painfully unbelievable that it honestly distracts from the film. You’re saying if these two people wake up with everyone disappeared, they’d mope for a bit and then hit the town and go shopping? That these seemingly law-abiding young adults would steal a car after maybe six hours of wandering around? What if that person who owned the car was just going to the bathroom? Why was the car still “in drive” but not moving? Why wasn’t that aspect explored?
And that’s where the largest chunk of my beef comes with Bokeh. It trades off legitimate storytelling for a “deep” and emotion-filled movie. The issue is that absolutely nothing happens for around an hour of the runtime. The couple mopes, they have fun wrecking shit in the grocery store, then they mope some more. The character’s motivations and feelings towards the situation flip-flop so goddamn fast that it’s jarring and painful. They mix those different scenes of moping and enjoying themselves too much with the scenery shots and boom, we have an hour of the movie that slogged by! Was there supposed to be a deeper meaning here throughout the film? If so, it’s hidden so far to the point that it’s not there, even if you’re looking.
I wouldn’t even mind a subtle or hidden story if, again, the dialogue didn’t make it seem like the two characters were just there to spout existential theories at each other. Almost immediately they ask if they’ve been “chosen”. I mean, before the even consider any other option, they’re off wondering if they’ve been selected by God for some experiment, or if the rapture happened. Then they dismiss it, sulk about being alone, and talk about God and being left behind again. The repetition in this just gets old after around twenty minutes, but that sort of loop goes on the entire movie.
Eventually, they find an old man, who, like them, has no idea what is happening. They talk for five or ten minutes about more existential things, and then they all go to sleep and the old man dies. There’s really no purpose to him even being there other than to spout more existential and God-talk, especially when he dies ten minutes after introducing him. This is a legitimate exchange between the old man (Nils) and the young woman (Jenai):
Jenai: None of it matters. Even if God exists, He’s forsaken us.
Nils: You human, go forth. And in the end, the question of God exists is inconsequential. If there is a design we are foregone to fit within it. And if there is no design, we are alone in our keep, and no grand hand will hold us.
This is the kind of conversations all three characters have throughout the entire movie as if it’s the way people actually talk. In the end, Bokeh just seems like a vessel for the writers to express their feelings on God and the idea of the rapture/apocalypse. I was never once invested in these people as characters. I saw right through it and saw their interactions as just writing, not dialogue.
Then we get to the end of the film, (and presumably a few months later), where Jenai decides she’s had enough with moping around and waiting for nothing to happen, so she kills herself. At this point, we’re shown that Riley has been making instruments to help with irrigation so that they can eat forever and survive. It really doesn’t make sense for Jenai to go off and end her life, especially when Riley’s been working so hard at making life a little better for them. If they were both working at it together, they could easily survive for a long time. Instead, we’re led to believe that he’s off doing the hard work while she’s off feeling sorry for herself.
Now, maybe this film is an examination of depression and you could easily argue Jenai was likely depressed in some way before the disappearance happened, and I would believe it. However, the film did nothing to show it at any point throughout, if she was battling depression pre-trip. If we had gotten a brief indication in any way of her mental health beforehand, not only would it make her death more justified, but it would also have added a layer of intensity to the film, as any time she goes off on her own or begins to be sad, we’d fear for her safety. At the end of it all, when the screenwriter/director duo goes for a deep and meaningful ending, it comes off as schlocky, unjustified and totally out-of-left-field.
What would have made this better is if Jenai (and Nils, the old man) just disappear like everyone else. It would have left Riley alone to wonder what he hadn’t done right, why he wasn’t taken away too. Instead of taking the simple route of death and having two of the three characters die, having two of the three disappear would not only make the post-film conversation more thoughtful but would probably lend itself to whatever theme the directors were trying to convey. It just comes off as lazy, and that the directors were aiming for something deep and meaningful but copped out of the only thing that would have made it either of those things. I’m fine not getting answers to what happened, but I can’t help wondering what the movie would have been like with better writing and if they went all-in.
At the end of the day, Bokeh is not a film I would recommend to anyone, and it is a slow starting point for this journey we’re about to take. The film’s script, story and acting all make the film a chore to watch, and although the scenery of Iceland is beautiful, that alone can’t make a film.
I’m betting Iceland definitely has more to offer in terms of quality films, but for now, we’re moving on. On a possible round two, I’d love to see something that takes advantage of the gorgeous and unique landscape and tells a good narrative with engaging characters within it. Until then, Bokeh is not that film.
If you don’t have Netflix, Bokeh is also available digitally from Amazon or other services.
1 out of 5
NEXT TIME: we depart from Iceland and head west across the sea to Norway, where we’ll be looking at a film called Kraftidioten, also known as In Order of Disappearance. It’s available on (US & Canadian) Netflix for sure, but shouldn’t be too hard to find if it’s not in the rest of the world. Hopefully, you’ll join me next week, and if you have any comments on Bokeh or want to engage in conversations about it or In Order of Disappearance next week, feel free to leave a comment below.
The Journey So Far