What happens when the writer of some gems as "The Punisher", "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights" who also directed crap like "Uptown Girls" decides to write and direct an artsy flick?
Death In Love is the answer. This film does not pull any punch when it comes to gruesome and explicit scenes. Writer/director Boaz Yakin had to finance this film all by himself because he had specific things in mind. This would never have been approved by studios and I understand why he got no financial backing. Having a specific vision, refusing to compromise are all laudable as far as I am concerned.
It's just that, unfortunately, Yakin's vision seems terribly limited. So are his skills as a storyteller. The founding story arc revolves around a Jewish girl who begins an affair with a doctor overseeing experiments on human in a concentration camp during WWII. Yakin goes all guns blazing trying to showcase the intensity of this relationship and fails spectacularly because there is a total lack of chemistry between the actors and the script is emotionally numb right from the start. She just supposedly falls in love at first sight, with a psycho doctor who looks like an extra in an infomercial.
The second story arc (which gets the most screen time) takes place in the present and features this woman again with her husband and two adult sons. All of which seem to be mysteriously as nuts as she is for no reason whatsoever.
In between, we get flashbacks from the time her sons were children and how she'd go nuts and scare them, but it's done awkwardly, like what you'd expect in a direct to video "it happened for real" melodrama featuring Melissa Gilbert or some other has-been.
The present-day story arc features the most interesting and intriguing scenes. The youngest son (Lukas Haas) is a total waste of screen time as an obnoxious man-child who has various phobias and still live with his parent. But the eldest son (Josh Lucas) gets a lot of screen time. He's almost 40 years old, seemingly jaded about everything. Of lot of his scenes (particularly with his co-worker played by Adam Brody) feature dialogue that, while not amazing, is still better than what the rest of the movie has to offer.
There are a few themes displayed but Yakin, in the least subtle way EVER implies a strong connection between pain and sexuality. In fact, so strong that he almost implies one is synonymous with the other. This could be a powerful and interesting theme to explore in a few characters but here, it's just not done well. Every character on screen has intense desire to masturbate, and it seems nobody is able to make love without beating his partner at the same time. It's just... amateurish. The story and characters feel artificial despite all the courageous grit Yakin put in the film.
There is also a strong undercurrent of self-loathing in all the main characters. Yakin is Jewish himself and I sensed that he was extremely critical of a segment of people who shun their origins and hate what they are. And I can appreciate his attempt to highlight that. One of the most powerful scene, to me, was a small one where the Jewish girl at the concentration camp (who receives favorable treatment from the doctor, her lover) refuses to give the rest of her meal to a starving Jewish violinist. Instead, she sadistically eats every last crumb, as if she renounced her Jewish heritage and what she really is.
All in all, I think Yakin tackled powerful issues in a very confusing way. This feels like a very personal film but unfortunately, the few powerful scenes in there, the great performances by Lucas, Bisset and Haas and the grittiness can't save a weak script and a weak story.