Nathan Silver’s The Great Pretender is part of a bigger milieu of independent New York city-based films this year, joining its immediate predecessors, Alex Ross Perry’s Golden Exits and Ricky D’Ambrose’s Notes on Appearance. All three films are concerned with White upper-middle class New Yorkers navigating thin lines between work, life, art, love and so on. While this narrative description might produce an eye-roll, and sound unoriginal, the direction displayed by all three is anything but. Perry, for example, bridges scenes through fades, blanketing Golden Exits in a dream-like atmosphere that calls attention to the miserable bourgeois reality of its characters. D’Ambrose on the tightest budget of all three utilizes unique sound and visual design to tell a larger story. An image of a map depicts the process of traveling, and the absurdity of a Q&A is represented by a rapid-montage depicting the sullen faces of its guests. Silver’s cinematographer Sean Price Williams1 films The Great Pretender with whimsical movements of the camera, lending the film a playful, sometimes absurd, comedic tone that lampoons its characters. The story may ultimately center on Mona (Maëlle Poésy), a French theater director attempting to reconcile with her ex-boyfriend, but the narrative jumps between the perspectives of its four characters. The addition of internal voice-overs for each “chapter” aid the film in establishing the psychological conflict between how the characters feel and how they act, ultimately coming to a climax in Mona’s play. As in the ending of Vivre Sa Vie (1962), The Great Pretender too suggests art as the most sincere form of communication. But of course by then, it’s too little, too late.
1 Williams has also worked as the cinematographer for Perry’s Listen Up Phillip (2014), Robert Greene’s (who served as the editor for Golden Exits) Kate Plays Christine (2016), and the Safdie brother’s (two more NYC-based independent filmmakers) Good Time (2018), all three which I highly recommend.