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by Eric Kohn
April 29, 2010 5:41 AM
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TRIBECA REVIEW | Sexual Innocence: Ashley Horner's "brilliantlove"

A scene from Ashley Horner's "brilliantlove." Photo by Simon Tindall, courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

The sexuality in "brilliantlove," in which a couple's private lovemaking photos go public, creates a simultaneously frank and disarmingly innocent experience. An explicit British drama competently directed by Ashley Horner, the movie revolves around Manchester (Liam Browne) and Noon (Nancy Trotter Landry), two young lovebirds with horniness to spare. Living out of his garage in the colorful backdrop of the English countryside, Manchester relaxes in the summer heat, taking candid snapshots of his lover as the duo repeatedly engage in naked fun. Their bubble only bursts once other people are aware of it.

The sex on display may seem implicitly voyeuristic, given the idea that Manchester and Noon initially mean to keep their engagements classified, but their relationship exists on a familiar trajectory. The swift charm of "brilliantlove" eventually turns it into a comedy of remarriage with cheerful fucking in place of the double entendres.

Less visceral than poetically intimate, the sex comprises only one aspect of the movie's visual appeal. Before any dialogue establishes the characters, an opening outdoor shot captures Manchester and Noon engaging in sleepy fornication on his roof as the warmth of the midday sun beats down, shifting the focus from pure titillation to comfort.

Having established their joint tranquility, Horner gradually allows a threat to emerge: Manchester accidentally leaves his photographs at a nearby pub, where rich pornographer Franny (Michael Hodgson) happens to find them and tracks down the owner at his makeshift home studio. How Franny, of all people, manages to discover Manchester's work presents the sort of too-perfect coincidence that only happens in the movies - but the twist sets up an interesting direction for the story before it can become redundant.

Offering Manchester money and fame for his accidental art, Franny champions creativity with turn-on value, giving the photographer an opportunity for self-validation that threatens his closeness with Noon. The upbeat nature of "brilliantlove" slowly grows dark. Manchester accepts an invitation to Franny's expansive mansion, wowed by the offer of wealth and recognition, and enters into a secret deal to have his work displayed at a gallery. As his ego starts to take over, his connection to Noon moves from affection to greedy objectification - a transition defined by an awkward scene where he abruptly jacks off on his lover while she sleeps. Later, he regrets his indulgences and loses his mind.

Sean Conway's screenplay adopts a brisk tone until it aims for deeper thematic possibilities. The characterizations of Manchester and Noon are resolutely believable, but once Manchester's photos get the gallery treatment, "brilliantlove" suffers from trite attempts at satirizing the art world. "His technique is an absence of technique," a nutty curator concludes, which certainly describes the honesty in Horner's depictions of Manchester and Noon having sex.

However, Manchester's zany, drunken behavior at the gallery opening, and the strangely positive reaction from its attendees, breaks the illusion of realism that has been previously maintained. Fortunately, the drama makes a comeback with Noon's sensible disgust at Manchester's betrayal of her trust, and his desperate attempts to win her back. "brilliantlove" ends pretty much the same way it starts - gliding along on a breezy soundtrack of indie rock melodies, capturing the essence of young love with a mood as slight and jovial as its verbally compressed title.

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