The Beautiful Blur of Being: On "The 10 Commandments of Chloe"

Naama Kates is Chloe in Princeton Holt's
The 10 Commandments of Chloe — an understated, smart little film about overcoming yourself. See more here >

At first, this seems like a familiar — if quite beautiful — indie film in the mumblecore vein. Young hip artist types drinking, smoking pot. Casual, realistic dialogue. And our heroine, overcoming obstacles, realizing things about herself.

But this will never have been that movie. All the familiar trappings swirl around Chloe, trying to bring her into that movie, into that life. But neither Princeton Holt, the director, nor Chloe, the character, are having any of it. They divert and toss aside cliché with a deft hand.

In many ways, this is a film about the temptation of cliché. Throughout the film, both Princeton Holt and Chloe ask: Is this a story of all too human interests — life, love, self discovery? Or is all that, as she suggests in one scene, irrelevant? Are there other forces — of music, of life, of the landscape — that are more interesting, vital, engaging? Just as Chloe can never remember anyone's name, Princeton Holt can't seem to focus on the banality of human beings for very long, his camera voraciously relishing the scenery. 

These may be the 10 commandments of Chloe, as if she were the one in control. And while she may well be a formidable force, there are forces that exceed her. Her troubles and relationships vie for the focus of this film just as they vie for her attention. But other forces keep pushing her — not out of the frame but into the intense, and intensive, landscape of Nashville's musical swirl. 

For this is a film, first and foremost, of the landscape. Indeed, it opens with an homage to Woody Allen's Manhattan, giving us monolithic, mostly black and white shots of Nashville. Chloe is nowhere to be found.  When these give way, we are greeted with the first commandment: Assimilate.  And that is what this film gives us: Chloe's overcoming of herself to assimilate into the landscape of Nashville, an assimilation that does not mean her oblivion but, on the contrary, her becoming herself.

After this tell tale commandment, we are confronted with a sumptuous blur of Nashville at night. Blur can be so powerful, so beautiful, effacing the strict borders of form; blur is the image of movement, of flow, effacing the strictures of form. Throughout this film, the image hovers between blur and focus, forms becoming flow, flow taking form before being torn asunder once again. Such is the tension of this film: the movement between form and flow, human concerns and indifferent landscape, focus and blur. 

As the image begins to come into focus, we hear an older woman addressing a younger one — yes, Chloe. But it's as if the camera is trying to focus on her but keeps being drawn to the surrounding city. When the frame finally comes into focus, we see Chloe at the periphery, her back to us, walking across the frame and out of sight, the city still holding the camera's attention.

The camera does not track her, not at first. We see her go in and out of clubs trying to get gigs as a musician. The camera does not follow her in but hovers at the door, eavesdropping on her conversations. She is part of something bigger, a system of gigs and musicians and audiences and histories and relationships and club owners that exceed her.  She is not the force that takes them by storm; she is trying to join the maelstrom of which they are a part.

And this, alas, is the tension for both the film and Chloe: Focus on the form of Chloe, be human, all too human and dally in the concerns of people — family, life, love, work, relationships. Or overcome human concerns, blur them into the landscape, and discover the affective force and flow of music and life. Just as the film itself moves between having Chloe and Nashville at the center of the film, Chloe herself moves between being a woman with the familiar trappings of a boyfriend and being a musical force that ruptures and breaks such bourgeois ties. 

Even in the most romantic, humanistic scenes between Chloe and Brandon, her would-be boyfriend, the landscape of Nashville looms large as if threatening to topple down on them, the Parthenon's columns less a support than a threat. He wants her to focus on him, on him and her, and talks of getting out of there. But she diverts his focus and insists on being in Nashville. She will not be clear with him. He is form and she, alas, is in the act of becoming blur — an image of flow, a force in motion seeking out the seething of Nashville. 

In a sly move, the film keeps us thinking that this might be a movie about Chloe and how she finds herself in this new city. But it keeps blurring that vision, literally and figuratively. When she meets new people, she can never remember anyone's name — and doesn't seem to care, as if she had no time for such nonsense, as if she were of another dimension, as if she were moving and they would always be static. She is elusive towards her new boyfriend who is constantly revealing himself and demanding that she do the same.

At first, perhaps, we are tempted to side with him. What's wrong with her? we wonder. She is so guarded and indifferent, as if hiding from love and life. But, in an incredible scene about two-thirds into the film, he confronts her and their dynamic shifts: I've told you things about myself, like about my family, my mom...I want you to know who I am...apparently you don't want me to know who you are because you hide every single thing. I mean, who is Chloe? I don't even know.

She responds with this amazing speech about the music that drives her, music that is infinite, limitless, than can be beautiful and ugly and soft and hard and erratic and unpredictable. She is driven by a force that is big and, at times, ugly and that doesn't give a shit about her petty dalliances.

But her boyfriend wants to know more and more — about her, her family, what makes her laugh and cry, conducting what becomes an uncomfortable interrogation. (Foucault taught us the horror of humanism and the relationship between the invention of the true self and psychological-police interrogation.)

Finally, annoyed, she comes back at him: What is this getting to know me thing? What do you need to know about me?....The shit you want to know is childish and it's boring, boring. It's irrelevant. Why do you need to know that shit....I don't care about it.

She is no mere person. She is not a form. She is a force; she is in motion. She is the blur that the camera loves so much, the blur that is the image of seething Nashville.  

It's important that this scene takes place inside, away from the Nashville cityscape. We don't need the city because, here, we see her becoming Nashville — the glorious, indifferent, glowing, vibrant landscape.

When she walks out on Brandon, I was relieved. Forget that cloying, bourgeois bullshit! I don't want to see that movie. As she leaves, he yells, I don't see why you're so afraid. But she is only afraid from his weak perspective, from the perspective of human, all too human being. She would be afraid if she were in that movie starring Jennifer Aniston. But she's not in that movie.

Naama Kates' Chloe is no mere woman, not even a person per se. She is a force eager to join the powerful torrent of Nashville music — music that is infinite and erratic, ugly and soft, music that flows and tears and creates all at the same time. Naama Kates is bewilderingly astute as we see all these forces, all this complexity, play in her face. 

At the end, when she performs her exquisitely deranged song and hears the audience clapping, we watch her become part of the landscape. The look she gives us, only for a moment, is devastating and gorgeous. It is a look at once fearful and brave, poised and terrified, a look of someone abandoning herself in order to become herself, to become a force amidst the storm. She has followed her first commandment. She has assimilated. She is becoming blur and it's beautiful. 

"The 10 Commandments of Chloe" Trailer
from OneWayTV on Vimeo.


Naama said...

:::hat tip:::

thank you. reviews are tough and i usually hate them but ever so rarely one comes along that tells you things you didn't even know (and for which you aren't sure you deserve credit)about your own work... when the writer understands, STUFF, all the stuff; where the piece is a work of art in its own right.

you're one of those and it's a tingly pranic watercolory feeling and a delight :-)

fsevo haroshevo

Daniel Coffeen said...

As I hope is clear, the pleasure is all mine. To relish your film was a delight.

Unknown said...

Amazing film I loved it! Brilliant review also!

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Editing People said...
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