August 26, 2022 Art of Love (Movie Review)
Originally, the Puerto Rican film Art of Love was called Simone, as per the Eduardo Lalo novel it was based on. It still goes by that title in most countries worldwide. But, for a few, it was changed to Art of Love; possibly to avoid confusion with the 2002 film S1m0ne. Thus, the film can be found under that name on digital platforms from July 22, 2022, onwards in the US via Samuel Goldwyn Films and Shoreline Entertainment.
Directed and adapted for the screen by Betty Kaplan (Of Love and Shadows 1994, Doña Bárbera 1998), the film is an Erotic Thriller. Set in 1994, it follows a Professor (Esai Morales: La Bamba 1987, How to Get Away with Murder series) at Puerto Rico’s top university who is also a renowned author. He’s losing interest in his position, for writing, and for life. When he is not working, he is in a complicated arrangement with his ex-wife.
Then things get even more complicated when he meets Li Chao (Kunjue Li: Berlin, I Love You 2019, Tigertail 2020), a Chinese student who’s been sending him messages. One thing leads to another and the two end up in an affair. Through her, he feels revitalized. Though is it worth risking his job and reputation? And what is Li Chao getting out of it? And does she have anything to do with his colleague Carmen Lindo? (Caterina Murino: Casino Royale 2006, Voice from the Stone 2017).
Erotic Thrillers used to be all the rage back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, 1987’s Fatal Attraction and 1992’s Basic Instinct still get talked about. They are much less common nowadays, though the odd one does still turn up. Some can even be touching and engaging, like 2008’s Lust, Caution. The original novel received fair praise when it was released in 2011 too. So, can the film back up its words?
Here is the long answer. The film looks okay technically, with fair editing and lighting. Nothing really fancy, bar some aerial shots for transitions that make it look like an old TV show. There are also some horrible CGI sequences that should have been scrapped if they could not have been done with the actors. The message planting scenes are odd too, as they are written in Spanish, then the Professor inner monologues them into English for the audience’s benefit. Everyone in the film speaks English, despite the Puerto Rican setting, so it feels like a needless hurdle.
Still, these messages do give the first act of the film a hint of mystery, and concern. The journey towards the big reveal can be genuinely intriguing. Particularly with the connection to ‘Simone’, and some of the red herrings along the way. However, it gets sorted out within the film’s first quarter as Li Chao turns up to be a character. Kind of.
The actual drama is on shakier ground. For one, the film has the Professor narrate certain scenes, illustrating his thoughts or telling other characters’ backstories. Maybe the words are taken from the novel, but they play out better in pages than in speech. They come off more pretentious with their dreamy terms, sounding thoughtful while not being particularly deep or engaging.
It does not help that the Professor is not that interesting. Morales plays him well enough, and the audience certainly gets the idea behind his character- tired of life, excited by girl, driven to despair when girl leaves. But there are plenty of Erotic Thrillers about older men getting shaken up by younger women, and the film does little to change from that.
If anything, it should have been told from Li Chao’s perspective if it wanted to be unique. Why is this young woman, a self-admitted lesbian, trying to charm a man? The film suggests some power play on her behalf, as some of the film’s most erotic scenes involve her taking the lead. Though again, it is interpreted by the Professor. That could be the case, or it could be in his head. Li Chao is just an object of desire with few expressions of her own, and what is expressed is problematic at best. Murino’s Carmen Lindo is barely a character either, so the lesbian side of the drama is little more than lip service. The film teases more exciting angles, only to end up being much more vanilla.
So, here is the short answer: Art of Love is a bog-standard film told from the perspective of its least interesting character. Despite Morales’ efforts, it does not tell the audience anything that they would not have learnt from other Erotic Thrillers that follow middle aged men. As it is, the only scenes that might stick with the audience are the saucy scenes or the terrible CGI dream sequences, and the internet can deliver better options for both. Thus, Cryptic Rock gives Art of Love 2 out of 5 stars.