Review by Dawn Davis
The Temptation Game (2015). United States, 14 minutes. Directed by Charline Odiot. Starring: Jessica Graham, Ross Crain.
Lying in bed, an insecure lawyer (Jessica Graham) initiates an erotic game with her husband, a director (Ross Crain). I’ll be one of your actresses, she tells him, and I’ll try to seduce you; your only job is to resist. She teases him about being too easy while he attempts, uncertainly, to understand and play the game correctly. Is she herself now, or is she acting? He can’t tell. It seems like a no-win situation.
“Imagine I’m her.”
“Who? My wife or my actress?”
Directed by Charline Odiot, and co-written by Odiot and Michael Sibay, The Temptation Game is a cinematic chamber play and an excellent example of how to make a compelling short film, utilizing one location, two actors, and fascinating subject matter.
The conundrum of many relationships is that they occupy gray territory. We often try to force each other into black and white roles to avoid pain, which is impossible because human beings are complicated creatures. A monogamous relationship can be like one long trust fall with no safety net. Watching this film, I felt sorry for Charlie, Laura’s husband, because it was impossible for him to redeem himself. He endeavors to justify a past indiscretion that occurred years before before they were married but she doesn’t trust him. The film asks the tough, and perhaps unpopular, question: can a long-term relationship of mandatory monogamy, without any grace periods, be considered realistic or even kind? Laura plays a jealous and dangerous game that, by design, will make them both unhappy. The film pushes the boundaries of whose side we feel we’re on – or should be on – and why.
A key component of Odiot’s success as a director is her vision when it comes to the lighting and production design, which makes this film look polished and much more expensive than its approximately six thousand dollar budget. Although shot in HD, it has the feeling of a black and white New Wave film, with its focus on the relationship and minimal treatment of the environment. The apartment is spare, furnished in white, and washed in bright natural light; a pop of color comes from a bowl of red apples – the forbidden fruit. Laura appears in a white sheet, then white underwear, then nude, and then finally in a gray robe – perhaps an acquiescence to the complexity of her dilemma. She can no longer view her marriage as a black and white scripted scenario, but instead must acknowledge that it lives in the flawed and murky territory of real life. The film’s production design beautifully mirrors the subject matter, which elevates this piece to a work of art. Bracketed by classical music, the rest of the film is devoid of a score, which pulls focus to the performances. Ross Crain as Charlie, and Jessica Graham as Laura, are natural, connected, and vulnerable in their work – both physically and emotionally. Odiot has a keen eye for camera blocking and transitions; it would have been easy for this essentially extended scene between two people to become talky and static but in Odiot’s hands, the camera movement and composition nurtures a dynamic dance of sexual power play.
Odiot has shot several short films over the past couple of years (Conflation, Amalgame, Postcards from Paris, Solitude, and Summer Memories). She is a confident and elegant auteur and those qualities, combined with a fearless approach to her controversial subject matter, makes her one to watch.