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SXSW Review: 6 Years

In the throes of first love, life becomes exasperatingly disoriented. We convince ourselves that there is but one person who can appreciate, understand and care for us and that that person should not be let go lest we never experience such a sensation of belonging again. Future aspirations come to head with plans of fidelity and the person you are and the person you want to become begin to be at odds. With 6 Years, Hannah Fidell is able to poke her camera into the epicenter of a relationship at the structural crossroads of graduating from college as they differentiate the needs of the "me" versus the needs of the "us".

From go, Mel Clark (Taissa Farmiga) gloats to friends about the idyllic nature of her and boyfriend Dan's six-year affair. Having been together since high school (and having been neighbors even then), they know each other better than anyone else and they've got plans to keep it that way . According to Mel, they'll be married with a baby at 26. Still with one more year to go before graduation, Mel seems to have her life planned out to a T, unfortunately those plans don't hold much room for variation.

Enter Dan (Ben Rosenfield), a graduating senior with a hooked-up record label internship on the brink of becoming something more. Even after six years, Dan and Mel still have amazing sex, they still laugh and communicate openly, they still have stupid fights about nothing. Fights that blow up into physical confrontations. Confrontations that land one of the parties in the hospital on more than one occasion.

To see a film about young people that navigates the dangerous waters of domestic disputes is an all too rare thing. The borderline physically abusive nature of their relationship is depicted as delicately as such a topic ought to be, raising questions rather than passing judgment with Fidell unwilling to paint in purely blacks and whites. Rather, there's a calm nuance to Fidell's voice that's often absence from that of her characters. Though she can remain cool and collected, Ben and Mel, like the young adults they are, often make rash decisions.

Because an intimate character study such as 6 Years depends so heavily on solid performances to sell the drama as the real deal, the effect and impact of the film lies squarely on the shoulders of Farmiga and Rosenfield and each handle the material with a kind of preternatural grace and convincing aplomb. When I asked them if they drew from any prior relationships to help define their roles and relationships in the film, both said no. And yet, they tackle the material with vitriol and dexterity, smoothly navigating the dramatically challenging material  and totally able to sell the more noodle-brained "teenagers in love" numbers.

Fidell keeps the sentimentality in check, able to offer a compelling though distanced look at the crumbling facade of "true love." There are moments of 6 Years that threaten to derail the authenticity of the product but Fidell proves that she knows better than to dip her toe into the salty waters of through-and-through schmaltz. That doesn't mean there aren't moments where things get a little overboard.

Emotionally raw though a dash melodramatic, Hannah Fidell's 6 Years is a bittersweet look at love and sacrifice at the ripe young age of 21. Fidell plants us at the focal point of their oft imploding relationship with truly intimate camerawork that operates in tandem with the film's unobtrusive technical aspects - like Julian Wass' mellow score and Andrew Droz Palermo's low profile cinematography work - to create a convincing, and affecting, narrative. Able to share its time equally between the two leads - both of whom offer excellent performances - 6 Years paints an important and empathetic portrait of young relationships without necessarily taking a side. Like Boyhood and Blue is the Warmest Color before it, 6 Years enters a class of independent film that young people should be made to watch before making any major life decision.


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