Jack Jamieson’s review published on Letterboxd:
" 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" - Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "In Memoriam A.H.H"
Pretend that you love me, because I know that you don't.
Pretend that you love me, because it will be the only love I receive.
Pretend that you love me, because I am incapable of believing that I can be loved by others.
Pretend that you love me, because I haven't felt love before, and this will be the closest I get.
Pretend that you love me, because life has been shit, and I just need some love.
Pretend that you love me, because it is better to have a fake love than to die and never love anything.
I have not been this emotionally moved by something in a long time. Maybe it is because this weekend has been absolutely awful and I relate so much to Joel. Maybe it is because I cannot relate at all to Joel. I cannot comprehend my feelings about this film and why I spent 30 minutes crying in my bed afterwards. But it wasn't a sad cry. It was a cathartic cry. It was a human cry.
I haven't seen many of the micro-budget films that populate Letterboxd, but this makes me want to seek them out. What Joel does here is masterful, using the confines of his budget to create something that the biggest budgets cannot: something heartbreakingly and utterly human.
The camera rarely moves inside of the film, and almost every shot is static. There is no score to be found, and it is almost impossible to decipher what is a performance, and, if so, if it is a good performance or not. But these seemingly boring and repetitive elements force the audience to consider what they are watching. What is film if not the characters we see on the screen? Is film determined by how the camera captures what the audience is viewing, or is it what the camera is capturing that matters?
Both Joel as a director and Joel as a character ask these questions of the audience and of the characters that inhabit the movie. Is what we are seeing real emotions, or doctored for the screen? These are questions that the audience asks itself early on in the film, with the pseudo-documentary style of filmmaking raising questions about the voyeuristic nature of the art that the audience is consuming. A film whose primary project centers around these questions would on the surface appear to be one that is plot-centric. However, in trying to answer these questions, Joel as a director stumbles across a more interesting question: does it matter? Does it matter if the love we feel is not real, or is the inherent act of being loved enough? Does it matter that we call someone up to talk under false pretenses, or does their being there at the moment fulfill that need for love? The film wisely never gives the audience a complete answer for this, allowing the audience to come up with its own interpretation.
"Pretend That You Love Me" is a stream of consciousness, rambling on these ideas that seem inconsequential until it hits an emotional realization. But is this rambling inherently bad? Does the fact that many scenes don't feel necessary for a long portion of the film, and only gain their importance (if any) later a criticism of the film? To some, like most of the people that live on my dorm floor, the answer would be yes. But what is cinema if not a curated expression of emotions?
It doesn't feel right to rate this. Does the plot, or lack thereof, of a film determine its quality? Is it even the craft that we should rate films on? Is "Pretend That You Love Me" even a film, or is it a documented interpretation of the feelings that we experience? Are these things mutually exclusive? I cannot answer any of these questions fully, but all I know is that I have found the first film I will show in an Intro to Film class. A sublime example of the extreme we don't tend to see in narrative cinema, breaking down every barrier of what is traditionally considered "well done" not out of gimmickry, but out of necessity for the story.
This is free to watch, so please do. This made me want to hug every single person around me and tell them that I love them, and the fact that I couldn't makes the films themes hit home even more.