Directed by: Jonathan Parker | 96 minutes | drama, music, comedy | Actors: Adam Goldberg, Marley Shelton, Eion Bailey, Lucy Punch, Vinnie Jones, Zak Orth, Ptolemy Slocum, Michael Panes, Svetlana Efremova, Marceline Hugot, Janet Carroll, Ben Hammer, David Beach, David Cale, Dean Wareham
It is an ever-recurring question, which certainly sounds loud in times of government cutbacks: what is (good) art actually? Are they the big, controversial crowd pullers that everyone has an opinion about or the idiosyncratic experiments that have been pushed away in small-scale galleries? Is it possible to know which art will stand the test of time? Perhaps the ultimately most influential artist of our time is still dressed anonymously in an attic room.
To say that ‘(Untitled)’ does not shy away from these questions is an understatement; they are the essence of the film. The film is populated by a few main and secondary characters, a number of clear plot lines and surprisingly high joke density, but these are all at the service of the above questions. For example, the main characters are more symbols than three-dimensional people: protagonist Adrian Jacobs (Adam Goldberg, with an indelible frown) is a gruff composer of difficult, atonal squeaky music that no one listens to; his brother Josh (Eion Bailey), a bland painter who spends a lot of money his work on hospitals and mediocre hotels; and gallery owner Madeleine (Marley Shelton), with a passion for difficult art but also the pressure to sell something.
The setting in the more artistic regions of Manhattan, the love affairs of the protagonists and the countless quirky dialogues will delight viewers who love to see Woody Allen create in ‘The Big Apple’ films. Fortunately, this agreement is limited to the surface and director and co-writer Jonathan Parker knows how to navigate his own thematic course. What Allen’s films often look for is purely human themes, such as love and death, ‘(Untitled)’ focuses on something more social with its focus on the arts. On the one hand, it is clever how Parker offers a parody of the art world, where the line between nonsense and masterpieces sometimes seems wafer-thin and the specter of commerce is always lurking to gain the upper hand,
The most interesting example of this is when Madeleine takes Adrian to see the work of an unknown artist, who pastes simple objects on the wall and declares them art via a nameplate. Is this timid eccentric a pure and sparkling performer, as Madeleine claims, or just an easy-going con man, after Adrian’s protests? And does Adrian have the right to speak up? His innovative sounds are actually just someone kicking a bucket. ‘(Untitled)’ leaves it up to the viewer whether or not to choose a side. However, it becomes clear that, regardless of the artist’s artistic value, he has no chance against types like Barko: he does not have the ego and one-liners to really convince purely financially thinking collectors.
‘(Untitled)’ ventures into a theme that could have been woolly, but it is presented in such a fresh and funny way that it doesn’t feel top heavy for a moment. Madeleine’s very noisy clothes have a leading role in one of the nicest running gags; Jacques Tati would be proud of this kind of college slapstick. Perhaps the secret lies in the fact that Parker retains control of the plot to the end, thus drawing the viewer into the difficult underlying questions.
‘(Untitled)’ offers both rabid art subsidy haters and regular visitors to progressive galleries something to enjoy and participate in. It is an achievement that a subject that causes so much bickering can still be made fresh and even amusingly filmed, and is so difficult to resist despite the polarizing subject.