Pretenders (CIFF 2017)

Movie vacations are so rarely fun that you begin to wonder, as an audience member, if a fun vacation in a movie is possible. Here we have another vacation-gone-wrong story. Pretenders follows Juhan (Priit Võigemast) and Anna (Mirtel Pohla), a couple who are just barely still a couple. They’re housesitting for their rich friends, which means a big home on the beach and a lot of free time. Shortly after arriving, another couple, Erik (Meelis Rämmeld) and Triin (Mari Abel), are seen and require medical attention. Instead of fixing them up and sending them on their way, Anna invites them to stay, pretending to be the owner of the home.

What follows is a lot of talking. One couple talks to the other couple; individuals talk to other individuals. The majority of the dialogue takes on various undertones—social, political, sexual. Something isn’t quite right about Erik and Triin, although it’s hard to put a finger on what. The film generates tension and suspense based on not knowing, and it brings thematic depth to the forefront through its dialogue. It’s not always comfortable, as it isn’t afraid to touch on parts of relationships and life that aren’t always the most fun to discuss, but isn’t that a great thing about movies? They can do that. We can learn from them and explore parts of this life we struggle to in reality.

It’s a slow burn of a movie, only getting traditionally “exciting” when it gets near its conclusion, but that doesn’t make it uninteresting for the majority of its running time. Vacations go wrong in movies because that’s more fun. We need that conflict. Here, watching the couples interact is the fun. And it is relatively fun, in a (not necessarily sexually) voyeuristic way. Give us interesting people, throw them in a house together, toss in a conflict or two, and let them play out. That’s what Pretenders does. It’s enjoyable.

Conclusion: Pretenders provides audiences with enough suspense and thematic depth to be interesting and engaging.

Recommendation: Pretenders is for people who want to watch a movie explore relationships in a blunter fashion than we’re used to.

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