“I love that you never do anything for me…it’s like I don’t even exist.”
That’s what Ann, a depressed New Yorker in her thirties, tells her older BDSM lover in the first scene of writer-director Joanna Arnow’s “The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed,” in which the director has also plays Ann. Her heroine is an existentially moribund millennial consumed in an anonymous corporate job who spends her time with sexual degradation when she’s not arguing with her nagging Jewish family.
This clever and haunting indie unfolds in enough sleepwalking footage to match its protagonist’s spiritual awe, whether she’s gaping her ass for her partners (clients?) or on the phone with her insistent mother that, NO, is not running out of breath despite trudging up and down the streets of Manhattan. (He really is, and he runs on the spot in her life.) Kneeling viewers could draw a cross between Miranda July’s mumblecore and Lena Dunham’s lack of filtering here in terms of Arnow’s willingness to degrade herself on camera, but this it’s a comparison the director would likely be annoyed at, and one that sidesteps the film’s uniquely goofy feel.
Ann is bored with contemporary life and has gone through it as a sleepwalker. She’s been at her barren company concert for “three and a half years,” she says, with little notice from her employers, who hand her a trophy declaring her congratulations on her one-year anniversary. It’s not clear what she does at her desk job, or what she is, but that matters as much to us as it does to Ann. There is, at one point, a restructuring and a title change (“electronic specialist in clinical media learning”, whatever the hell that means), but Ann saves the real adventures of her life for a private parallel sexual universe in which she performs as a “sub” to dominate men. There’s finance guy Allen (Scott Cohen), fucking film composer Thomas (Peter Vack), emotionally inaccessible Elliot (Parish Bradley), and, finally, Chris (Babak Tafti), with whom he might finally get close to the Love. But how much is a performance if Ann is really involved in the whole arrangement?
In between freak-out searches, she lives alone in a Brooklyn apartment, eating microwaved meals squeezed out of bags, which is ultimately destroyed by her sister (Alysia Reiner), whose life is falling apart. But as with Ann’s Dates, this is just one of a series of vignettes that the screenplay loosely pieces together: there isn’t so much a story as a sort of languid pace at which the film unfolds, with long single takes framed from a distance almost as if Joanna Arnow were watching over herself in front of this character. The montage (which Arnow also does herself) picks up when Ann’s life starts to get too mundane with her routine: going to work, having degrading sex, going to sleep, maybe going to yoga and repeating.
Arnow is totally willing to sink to the lowest of onscreen lows as when, in one sequence, Elliot turns Ann into a “fucking pig,” dressing her in gags, pig ears and all, and asks her to masturbate in her city. roof. Some of Ann’s encounters are more interesting than others; Vack is little used as a composer who, after enjoying many blow jobs, tells Ann that he’s getting back together with his ex-girlfriend, who doesn’t want him to see any more “subs”. Ann briefly bonds with him over her love for her soundtrack to “In the Act of Wishing for Love,” a fun malapropism for “In the Mood for Love” that could also be wishful thinking at the end of Ann . The fact that she gets the title track from her favorite movie suggests that Ann is always so out of touch, but maybe even just walks to fuck with it.
Among her independent credits, Arnow previously directed the 2013 film ‘I hate myself :)’ about a self-proclaimed fogger documentary filmmaker during a year into the life of her toxic relationship. That headline, when contrasted with “A sense that the time to do something has passed,” suggests that Arnow has now learned something along the way. Ann doesn’t hate herself, she never self-destructs or tries to. She’s just going through life.
There is undoubtedly a level of autofiction going on here on Arnow’s part as he uses the mosaic structure of a series of BDSM encounters to interrogate the alienating aspects of millennial life. (One of the relatively hilarious moments in the film that targets very specific Gen Y angst comes when Ann goes on a family vacation and her mother is dumbfounded that she has to work remotely during the trip.) It’s also clear that Arnow wants to present a photo of a woman in a BDSM relationship who has agency and ownership of the situation rather than a passive participant. “The Feeling That the Time for Do Something Has Passed” lacks drama in its portrayal of the day-to-day reality of the sex kink, but Arnow’s voice is distinctive, canny and sharp enough to keep it afloat.
“The feeling that the time to do something has passed” premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section of the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution in the United States.