Grappling with death — and art and love — two filmmakers turn the cameras on themselves and each other in the thorny, tender and unvarnished "One Cut, One Life."
The final work by Ed Pincus, a seminal figure in direct cinema, is a collaboration with Lucia Small, who first teamed with him for a post-Katrina look at New Orleans, "The Axe in the Attic." But it's the involvement, often under protest, of Pincus' wife, Jane, that is in many ways the heart of this nakedly searching chronicle.
Pincus' filmography is brief, and he spent most of his adult life as a flower farmer. But the Brooklyn-born filmmaker, who died in 2013, influenced generations of documentarians with his innovative forays into first-person nonfiction — notably "Diaries," which put his and Jane's family life and open marriage front and center.
At Small's urging, he embarks on "One Cut" with her after he's diagnosed with a potentially fatal blood disorder. She's haunted by the violent deaths of two friends and anticipating her grief over Pincus' passing. Thematic connections don't quite crystallize, yet the film poses stirring questions about not just mortality but also the marital bond, the male prerogative and the camera-wielding artist's intrusions and self-justifications.
Jane, an artist and author, resents the constant filming, but she's nonetheless forthcoming before the probing lens, expressing jealousies that recall the emotional terrain of "Diaries." Small claims to be troubled by her confessions, while Pincus remains unapologetic about his personal needs and the artistic imperative.
The film is an exploration of art as a way through immense and complex emotions. It is unexpectedly a breathtaking reminder of life's joys — in nature, in friendship and, in a particularly buoyant scene, in the bark of a deceased friend's poodle.
"One Cut, One Life."
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.