Losing Ground

Losing Ground ★★★★★

There's so much going on in this I can't believe she crammed it all into 85 minutes. The juxtaposition of the academic attempting to research her way to the ecstasy her philandering, artistic husband can achieve seemingly at will. That discrepancy also breaks down, of course, across gender lines, and barring one hilarious, shouted bit of pathos at the climax, fully sublimated into the body languages and demeanors of the respective members of the couple instead of bluntly said aloud. Sarah's teaching of the French existentialists often airs some of her suppressed feelings; it's revealing that she gushes over Sartre's biography of Jean Genet and praises its descriptions of living as a gay man as coming close to describing the Black experience, finding more truth in interpretation than in the more direct, colonially inflicted attempts by Western white intellectuals to analyzing Black life.

The spiraling tension between husband and wife is as funny as it is caustic, and its frequent expression through the student film Sarah agrees to act in (itself another show of how few people take her seriously as a Black woman that she works for one of her students) only compounds the central narrative and thematic conflicts. This is an exceptionally well-conceived film, and Collins' direction may be even better. Grounded in the sunlit, softly colored naturalistic look that recalls French New Wave films of the '70s, the film occasionally lurches into expressive realms, as in striking shots of Sarah dwarfed in her own university office, her desk shrunken in a corner as hellish red light ominously blots out the windows overhead. The film-within-the-film segments can lapse from the comical into the buoyant in a heartbeat, transforming from a goof on pretentious art students to a radiant bit of escapism in faux-musical dance numbers with a man who sees Sarah far more clearly than her husband.