Boaz Yakin begins “Death in Love” by showing graphic erotic images interspersed with shots of a Nazi concentration camp doctor performing bloody surgical procedures. Later, the writer-director intercuts images of an aging Holocaust survivor attending a funeral with shots of that same woman lying on her back having sex.
Because we never would have known what “Death in Love” was about from the title alone.
Yakin hammers us over the head early and often with what he hopes will be a shocking juxtaposition of sex and violence. He has said he wanted to tell us up front about the direction the movie was headed — you know, so we wouldn’t feel misled. Well, he does stay the course, that’s for sure. “Death in Love” is nonstop emotional torture with no payoff.
It’s not as if we learn anything or feel any insight or catharsis from watching his characters destroy themselves and others. Boredom is the primary effect of this pretentious endeavor, one Yakin has said was extremely personal — his way of working through his own painful past. (His previous movies include the Denzel Washington football hit “Remember the Titans” and “Uptown Girls,” a comedy starring Brittany Murphy and Dakota Fanning.) Clearly, his latest film functions as therapy.
“Death in Love” follows the generational cycles of misery within a New York family in the 1990s, the matriarch of which (Jacqueline Bisset) was the lover of a Nazi doctor while she was being held in a concentration camp as a young Jewish girl. Now in her 60s and conflicted within, she can still throw a room-trashing tantrum.
Her older son (Josh Lucas) is single at 40 and working at an agency where he dupes hopeful young women into shelling out money for modeling and acting classes, then never sends any of them out on possible jobs. He’s also having an intense relationship with his boss (Vanessa Kai), who likes to be smacked around during foreplay but won’t go all the way with him.
“I want to make love to you,” he whines when she rebuffs his more intimate advances.
“Why?” she asks, befuddled. “This is so much better.”
Who are these people?
Anyway, the younger brother (Lukas Haas) is introverted, obsessive-compulsive and still living at home with mom and dad. We know he’s crazy because everyone else keeps saying he’s crazy. Emaciated, pasty and hollow-eyed, he looks like a concentration camp prisoner himself, which is probably supposed to be symbolic somehow.
In case you hadn’t noticed, none of these characters has a name. They are all intentionally anonymous, as if to convey the universality of the depths of their depression.
Despite the suffocating material, Lucas still manages to convey some glimmers of charisma. Adam Brody provides some much-needed life to his few scenes as Lucas’ co-worker and rival. And Bisset is, of course, beautiful and formidable as ever, which makes you wonder why she bothered with such self-important dreck.