Friday, 2 May 2014

LOVE AND ENGINEERING - Review By Greg Klymkiw - HOT DOCS 2014 - If Science be the food of love, play on.

Love and Engineering (2014) ***1/2
Dir. Tonislav Hristov
Writ.Prod. Kaarle Aho

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Todor, Tuomas, Joost and Andon are four men at the top of their game. They have devoted virtually every waking hour over many years to be the best that they can be. Their hard work, strength and dedication has placed each one of them on the path to success in their field.

They are, what is commonly and often appropriately referred to as, Masters of the Universe. Alas, it's their own universe they're the masters of. Their single, solitary worlds of study and research will pay off for them professionally and in turn, pay off for the wider world in terms of what strengths and innovation they will bring to it.

They lack nothing.

Save for love.

They are all brilliant young engineers, computer geeks of the highest order, but their passions have all been singularly plugged into their natural abilities, talents and gifts to the science of engineering and, by extension, the wider world. On one hand, they've sacrificed their ability to find love and in so doing, have never quite developed the personalities and basic social skills to relate to the world outside the parameters of their deep and true calling.

How are these guys even going to get a date, let alone find love and a partnership of passion for life?

Their mentor is the brilliant Bulgarian 3-D engineer Atanas and he believes he can help. He is a Geek-o Supreme-o or, if you will, Super Geek. If one didn't know better, one might assume him to be a complete and total schlub. Hell, the man even suffers from a speech disorder. But guess what? He's married, with a family and his wife's a babe. He's also someone who spent years of shoving his face into a computer, but in Mark Twain parlance, all that "book larnin'" paid off handsomely because now, Atanas is convinced that love is a matter of science, of simple mathematics and damned if he doesn't have some "notions" on how to get his geek peeps hooked up.

Love and Engineering is a very sweet, strange and lovely movie that weaves its way expertly through the experiment Atanas places his love-starved charges through so that they too will learn the skills necessary to make love in their lives a reality. Director Tonislav Hristov and writer-producer Kaarle Aho have more than a few balls to juggle in this narrative. They present Atanas' theories, explain the science behind said theories, take us through several experiments in the lab with the four young men, then move all four into the "field" (as it were) to apply several basic scientific and mathematical principals in their quest for love. The cherry on the sundae is when we get to follow each of the lads on actual dates. At times these sequences have us squirming with embarrassment while at other points, we experience a buoyancy that borders on the magical.

Atanas himself, proves to be a most formidable mentor to these lads and the manner in which he throws himself into the passionate pursuit of love seems to border on obsessive fervour. In spite of this ardent pursuit, one wonders what might have occurred if Atanas had instead applied the fanciful rather than the practical. After all, let us never forget the famed German scientist who became enamoured with the teachings of Cornelius Agrippa, not realizing that:

". . . the principles of Agrippa had been entirely exploded and that a modern system of science had been introduced which possessed much greater powers than the ancient, because the powers of the latter were chimerical, while those of the former were real and practical."

That the aforementioned words came from a fictional "famed German scientist" by the name of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, one might perhaps think it folly to follow in the particular footsteps which spewed from the imagination of Mary Shelley. However, I couldn't help but think that a bit of the chimerical might have been a worthwhile pursuit, especially since there's already something vaguely Frankenstein-like in the way Atanas pursues his theories. Sometimes, blending the poetic with the scientific can indeed be the very thing that's needed when applying the practical to the emotional.

The tale told in Love and Engineering is replete with varying degrees of failure and success amongst Atanas' guinea pigs, but it's never less than fascinating as we do indeed see science applied to emotion. But science or no science, logic or no logic, sometimes the basic core of human emotion is beyond the reach of science, for as the Bard of Avon proclaimed in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" over 400 years ago:

"The course of true love never did run smooth."

And so shall it be for the protagonists' journey in Love and Engineering. We, the audience, are the biggest winners of all. We can be the flies on the wall and see for ourselves what love is and that science doesn't always have answers to the very basic reality of love, nor can it ever describe definitively what love is. In the words of the Bard:

"What is it? A madness most discreet,
A choking gall and a preserving sweet."

Our scientist might have done well to apply a bit of Shakespeare to his equations, though given that the aforementioned quotation comes from "Romeo and Juliet", maybe it wouldn't have been the best idea after all, since I'm sure we're quite familiar with where love leads the doomed lovers of that immortal tale of mad, passionate and ultimately tragic love.

In theory, the notion of these Romeos of the Engineering world being cut out "in little stars" in order to "make the face of heaven so fine" seems rather quaint, but something tells me, they themselves might mind being sacrificed so that "all the world will be in love with night, And pay no worship to the garish sun."

Love and Engineering is playing at Hot Docs 2014. Visit the festival website for ticket, playmate and venue info HERE.