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This Closeness Review: Intriguing Take on Intimacy

A naked man kisses a woman on a shoulder in the film This Closeness

Kit Zauhar writes, directs, and stars in This Closeness, a mumblecore portrait of three people in stillness on a quiet quest for intimacy and territory. 

Director: Kit Zauhar
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 88′
US Release: June 7, 2024 in select theaters
Global Release: July 3, 2024 on MUBI

Kit Zauhar’s This Closeness proves that an average-sized 2-bedroom apartment has plenty enough room to rummage through the complexity of relationships, deprived of physical and emotional intimacy. Within the bland, lifeless walls of a rental home, a quiet drama ensues that is inconclusive but, in that way, unequivocally human.

This Closeness tells the tale of a seemingly ordinary relationship between Ben (Zane Pais) and Tessa, played by the writer-director herself, put to the test when they spend the weekend at a rented apartment with an oddly reclusive roommate, Adam (Ian Edlund), who is left to be their host. The three of them have to find a way to cohabitate for the few days that Ben and Tessa are in town for Ben’s high school reunion. Inevitably, the true colors of the couple’s imbalanced dynamic are revealed as the two struggle to communicate with Adam and with each other.

Having such a bare set-up for a full-length feature film, stripped down from any high-production cinematic eye candy, it’s almost impossible for a filmmaker to camouflage their greenness or lack of vision because there’s nothing it can be hidden behind. However, while watching This Closeness, you can tell that the nakedness of the creative choices was not a consequence of budget or production limitations, but due to having something purposeful and valuable to say.

There is a constant, silent tug-of-war happening inside all three characters, which dictates how they react to each other and what they crave from each other. Grasping the others’ flaws becomes increasingly difficult when they fail to grasp their own. Instead, the flaws become weapons in intimate interactions, a defensive mechanism standing in the way of connection and trust.

Tessa, Ben, and Adam are territorial beings, each to their own. Yet they’re also deeply insecure. They seek to claim their territory, either in the face of the apartment itself or their person of desire, but their insecurities give way to their internalized urges to feel superior, loved, paid attention to.

The film’s themes prove engaging enough to be investigated, thanks to Kit Zauhar’s instinct for dialogue. Every scene walks on thin ice, sliding between on-the-nose confrontations and between-the-lines subtlety. The fluctuating tension that these two dimensions create feels authentic to how real people would talk to each other, how a real couple would fight and make up on such topics. However, even the most sensitive of scripts can appear mediocre with mediocre execution of the words on the page.

A man stands in the shower with an arm on the wall in the film This Closeness
This Closeness (Factory 25)

Zauhar and Pais’ performances aren’t weak, but they certainly had unused room to grow into the centerpiece of this intimate drama and realize the screenplay’s potential. The turbulent processes that drive Tessa and Ben as a profoundly damaged couple needed to be more internalized by the actors in order to be believable in the ways they would treat their partner. It’s a puzzling experience to not be able to believe Tessa as a viewer, knowing the actress is the author of her own lines, but to be completely engrossed in Edlund’s portrayal of the socially paralyzed roommate Adam and his stiff but intriguing physical language. Next to his performance, the other two appear more unfinished.

On a visual level, This Closeness manages to do so much with a static camera and a plain Airbnb that it’s almost surprising. Kayla Hoff, the cinematographer, is impressively intentional with her choice of angles and compositions. The most fascinating one of all is the decision to double down on the stubbornness of the still camera. Even in the highest-energy conflicts of the entire film, the camera does not cut away or move an inch, not interfering at all with the audience’s observations. It’s almost as if we are meant to be the fourth person living in that apartment.

Kit Zauhar extracts a significant amount of substance from circumstances that don’t give a filmmaker quite much to work with. For the small and restrictive canvas that it’s painted on, the portrait of territorial intimacy and social isolation in This Closeness is notably intricate. The characters lack some emotional punch in the way they’re shaped and executed, but the film is a respectable achievement nonetheless.

This Closeness will have its US Theatrical Launch at The IFC Center on June 7, 2024, with further cities to be announced. The film will be released globally on MUBI on July 3.

This Closeness: Trailer (Factory 25)
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