Review: An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Title: An Oversimplification of her Beauty

Release date: One day release at the Picture House chain, 11th February 2014 (UK)

Director: Terence Nance

Starring: Terence Nance, Namik Minter

Rating: 12A, Contains moderate nudity and bloody images

Terence Nance’s ‘An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty’ is the most innovative and fresh piece of filmmaking I have seen in a feature film for a long time. His alternative directorial style lends itself beautifully to the layered and complex relationship he explores between himself, as the protagonist and Namik Minter, his not-quite lover/not-just friend who also features in the film. Her apparent rejection of his advances by standing him up forms the basis of his agonized musings that both inspired and make up the content of the film. If it were a Facebook status it would most definitely be ‘Complicated’.

Nance in fact chooses to merge two films, his original short film and a later created film, continuously swapping and changing between the two. It is a very deliberate choice to have an unorthodox, de-linear narrative structure, one that reflects Nance’s wandering and haphazard mind. Creativity literally buzzes around every device used and there are a multitude of them, ranging from graphics, documentary style footage, dolls, a myriad of different illustration and animation types as well as more traditional film footage.

Conventional film functions are flouted from the very beginning when the credits are played over the opening scene. Before and after each extract of the first film there are old school VHS graphics – ‘pause’ ‘eject’ ‘play’ – the second film framed with a mock up of a traditional studio ident. This is consistently repeated mirroring the back and forth of Nance’s thoughts and emotions.

As you would expect with a film as inventive as this, the editing and cinematography vary wildly throughout with no set style, choppy editing in some scenes contrast with longer sequential scenes and even further still with any of the illustrated sections. It is all so mismatched and yet seamlessly fits in with the presentation of a story neither Nance or Minter can seem to work out themselves.

The device of narrator is used to stupendous success. A deep, rumbling Voice Of God narrator is comedic in its formality but it is the blending and merging with Nance’s own voice that brings us back to the personal and allows us to feel the deep sense of rejection and confusion that he is experiencing as he struggles to marry his emotional unavailability with his rapid and deep infatuations.

Nance is a founding member of Media MVMT a film production company who are partnered with the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art and this influence is intrinsic to the look and feel of the film whilst feeling so natural that it is almost invisible. Musical choices of hip-hop beats or jazz funk tones don’t jar with the story or multitude of visual styles.
The females in the film are refreshing to see, an array of black women of different shades and presentations – light skin, brown skin, dark skin, natural hair, braids. It is essentially a celebration of black beauty in realistic and relatable forms, not the long stereotypical, long limbed air brushed Hollywood beauty of the Halle Berry’s and Zoe Saldana’s but real women in their natural states, being worshipped by Nance and his recollection of their romantic dalliances. It’s quite beautiful to see.

While the acting seems amateur it’s almost as if it's meant to; the film is so personal, so autobiographical that any attempt at pretense doesn’t sit quite right against the more fantastical animations or the hyper-real documentary footage. I read an interview with Nance ( where he discusses the revealing nature of An Oversimplification, whether he feels it is too much or symptomatic of our over-sharing generation.
“Whether or not I put something in the movie or not it’s not simply a matter of how ‘private’ or not private it is but it’s more to serve the portraiture that’s happening and kind of steer it in a direction…I think that this idea that we’ve somehow socially changed to now want to talk about ourselves more or something is like a chicken or egg question.”

I personally think  that our generation is hugely self-involved but also very self-reflective; willing to analyse and look at why we do things and their impact. The nature of social networking means we often communicate our every thought to hundreds, even thousands, something unique to our lifetime. The social aspect means we can instantly find people to LOL at our joke or relate to our soul searching heartbreak or we can encounter an antagonist who makes us justify our position, thus really thinking about why we believe what we’ve said.
Nance has even capitalised on this aspect by including Namik’s reactions to his initial short film.

This is far from a rom-com yet is inherently romantic and deeply funny; Nance’s narration is intuitive and self deprecating, he knows the audience will find his constant falling in love childish and instructs us not to laugh at a point we most definitely were. Namik’s explanations of her point of view I found hugely interesting as a female who has been in that position myself. It delves into that feeling of fear and validation and allows a female perspective into the situation. Even more comprehensively the film examines a young black male emotional psyche in a raw and exposed manner that I haven’t encountered in a long time.

A tad longer than necessary, perhaps emphasised by the use of so much repetition, would be my only criticism.
A creative and confident debut from Nance, I look forward to seeing what else he has to offer.
Picturehouse Cinemas did special screenings as part of their Discover Tuesday programming and Nance attended a Q&A at the screening at the Ritzy, and there were some good reviews, but other than that the film received little recognition from British cinemas, which is understandable in the context of a financial return – very little promotion meant a tiny audience, even on the only available day to watch. A terrible shame but still a successful indie film, that has done well on the international festival circuit and built a hum of underground buzz. Oh yeah and someone called Jay Z executive produced. Not bad.

**** 4/5

All images sourced from Google

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