The sentimental struggles of the self-doubting artist are at the gooey center of Michelle Figlarz’s Paris-set short Absinthe, a viewing of which could benefit from a few shots of the green liquor to wash away the corny aftertaste. The story is concerned with wayward Simon (Larry Cech, “90 Minutes of the Fever”), whose passion for photography was nurtured by his late grandmother and whose penchant for lollipops is carried over from adolescence to adulthood.
Simon has given up on his dreams of becoming an artist, but feels the pangs of regret as he strolls the streets of Paris where he once visited his grandmother. He’s directed to a mysterious secret bar where he’s welcomed with open arms by the oddball patrons that represent artistic freedom and expression via twentieth century icons like Marilyn Monroe (Charlotte Schioler, “4:48”), Frida Kahlo (Mariane Plasteig, “Before Sunset”), and Janis Joplin (Figlarz).
The events in the bar, which involve imbibing the titular liquid and rambling on incessantly, make up the bulk of the movie’s flaccid fifteen minutes. Cech plays the role unconvincingly at every turn, first sober, later drunk. The black-and-white photography and scattered editing meant to capture the effects of intoxication feel more like a sloppy spoof of arthouse cinema than an honest bid to unleash the artistic spirit.
Figlarz has certainly been inspired by ambitiously artful efforts from Baz Luhrmann’s poppy bohemian explosion in “Moulin Rouge!” (there’s even an obligatory Toulouse-Lautrec cameo) to the work of Charlie Kaufman, which is often focused on bending reality to observe tortured artists unable to properly express themselves.
It’s probably unfair to ask that Figlarz reach the heights of those artists with such a short running time, but Absinthe lacks wit and originality from start to finish, making it a pretty pitiful vessel through which to communicate the artist’s personal hopes and fears. Worst of all is an intrusive voiceover that feels added as an afterthought, evidence of the filmmaker’s own self-doubt. Cech delivers the lines dryly and spells out everything that’s currently happening or once happened or just happened.
The narration is so dully descriptive and utterly unambiguous that Figlarz leaves no room for interpretation of the movie’s fantastical occurrences. Considering how symbolic she wants the magic bar and its denizens to be, her insistence that everything be clearly explained to the viewer makes an already silly movie feel like even more of a pointless chore. If you can’t trust your audience to piece together something as simple as an artist seeking an inspirational spark, then who can you trust? Why make the movie at all? This Absinthe at least comes without a hangover, but it can still drown a few brain cells.