#Berlinale2019: Books, lies and videotape- Review of The Plagiarist


Director Peter Parlow attempts a deep dive into the creative mind, trying out a series of ideas before settling on a curious comparison of the merits of books versus film in this frustratingly pretentious art-house styled film playing in the official forum section of this year’s Berlinale.

A young heterosexual couple, Anna (Lucy Kaminsky) and Tyler (Eamon Monaghan) are on their way from a drinking party in the country. She is a wannabe writer who cannot bring herself to complete her memoir. He is a filmmaker totally lacking in confidence. While bickering back and forth on a road trip to Philadelphia, their car breaks down and a strange older fellow named Clip (Michael ‘Clip’ Payne) who claims to know a friend of theirs, comes to their assistance.

READ MORE FROM WILFRED OKICHE: Wanuri Kahiu’s ‘Rafiki’ is technically proficient but a little too safe




Editor’s Note: 

Our in-house critic, Wilfred Okiche, was invited to the 2019 Berlinale Film Festival as part of its Berlinale Talents programme and is sending dispatches from the front lines of global film, enjoy.

After some reluctance, Anna and Tyler take refuge in his place and over the cold winter’s night, engage in a wide-ranging discussion that includes treatises on high and low culture. Everything from Dogme 95, Richard Wagner’s opera to Justin Bieber and the internet of things is represented.

Written by James N. Kienitz Wilkins and Robin Schavoir, The Plagiarists is essentially a series of conversations taking place across three holiday seasons- two winters and a summer. Parlow shots his film on video in what is obviously an ode to Steven Soderberg’s influential 1989 independent classic, Sex, Lies, and Videotape using handheld, shaky camera movements that help to provide a sense of familiarity that the characters feel for themselves and for the intellectual interests that they share.

Largely free of a compelling plot, The Plagiarists rests on the crutches of these conversations as the characters discuss issues that matter to them as creatives, most of which may be largely irrelevant to folks who do not quite subscribe to the artistic struggle.

For Parlow’s characters, plagiarism may be the lowest form of artistic deceit and a particular segment involving a passage from the second volume of Norwegian author, Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle autobiography series serves as a source of conflict, both internal and external.

The free-wheeling discussions between Anna, Tyler, Chip and later with Allison (Emily Davies), the friend that supposedly unites all three characters are occasionally sublime but for the most part, heavy-handed and unnecessarily verbose. But it is this for these same reasons that The Plagiarists is likely going to stick around in the minds of audiences curious enough to give it a try.

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