The hell is this film? An erotic thriller? A psychological horror film? A didactic tract on art history and the evolution of aesthetics? For the entirety of Kyle Broom’s Tabloid Vivant I struggled to keep up with a film unconcerned with diluting itself for audiences. It is a film of lofty ambitions and deliberately schizophrenic stylistic flourishes. One scene might strive for the gritty realism of filthy city streets and cluttered apartments. But the next might be a Kuchar-esque send-up to extreme kitsch with characters sitting in the front seats of an immobile car while rear-projected footage screams by. At one point a conversation between characters gets interrupted by the screenplay literally editing and rewriting itself—one of the most savagely clever methods of bypassing tedious exposition I’ve ever seen. Above all else, Tabloid Vivant unabashedly embraces its own artificiality.
The plot—if you can call it a plot—involves a painter and an art critic (Jesse Woodrow, Tamzin Brown) who travel to a cabin in the woods and slowly get driven insane by possibly sentient paintings. The painter, an irascible git named Maximilien Klinkau, has developed a new method of painting involving mathematical equations and colors which trick the mind into seeing constantly-shifting amorphous portraits. The critic, Sara Speed, realizes that reporting on his work might be her ticket into the big leagues. But as she poses for one of his paintings, they collapse into a sinister folie à deux where the edges of their personalities and survival instincts begin to fester and curdle.
In an interview with Bloody Disgusting (Link NSFW), Broom mentioned that one of his biggest influences was Lars Von Trier, especially his recent films Antichrist (2009) and Melancholia (2011). Visually and thematically I would have compared Tabloid Vivant more to David Lynch due to his propensity for oneiric alternations between various levels of reality and a more non-causal approach to narrative. But Von Trier’s influence shines through in the last third when Broom subjects his performers to the kind of physical and emotional rigors which make that European master so notorious. Woodrow and Brown desiccate themselves, staggering their way through the last act like starvations victims. When they are visited first by Sara’s boss, second by Max’s friend, they barely seem human even more.
So do I like Tabloid Vivant? I certainly admire its bravery, especially in this current climate where most low-budget directors scramble to make films appealing to the lowest common denominator. Tabloid Vivant made me think and feel—never at the same time, mind you. But the fact that it could do both speaks volumes.