Film festivals often lead you to try films you would otherwise never have given a shot, and I think The Immoral (2013) fits that bill for me. For some reason I thought this was going be a horror film. It’s definitely not that, though it’s a little hard to tell exactly what it is.
One of the hardest tonal choices to pull off in a film is to make light of exceptionally serious or sad events. Actually there is perhaps nothing harder to script than truly bleak comedy that leaves you laughing at something you really shouldn’t be. When The Immoral tries to strike this balance, it is an example of how not to do it. The strange comedic tone jars and the dealings with sexual assault and child neglect don’t have the insight to prevent them from veering into the problematic or even offensive. Part of the issue is one of both narrative flow and character development. After the film has been meandering along for some time, vaguely but not really, introducing the two main characters, there is a quite confronting rape scene. Later the main male character tries to force (and later in the film succeeds) his partner into sex work to make them money. These plot points could work if there was a narrative build or depth to the characters to explain them. But there is neither and as such these instances sort of just sit there awkwardly, maybe slightly shocking, but not at all engaging.
Now of course plenty of films succeed with shallow characters and thin plots. But those films generally have to deliver either sheer fun and enjoyment, or exceptional craft. Neither of those are present to save The Immoral. The film is not fun at all, being actually actively not enjoyable to sit through. There is also very little craft to note, as the film is competently done at times, but often poorly done such as where there are flashbacks it is impossible to differentiate from the actual story. Which is all a bit of a shame, because on paper the film deals with issues (poverty, bad relationships, government intervention in the family) that could be insightfully and starkly examined. But the film just sort of flubs all of that and leaves a strange sort of erotic dramedy which namechecks these issues, but does not engage with them in any meaningful way. Add in a couple of distasteful rape scenes and a willingness to mock sex workers and this is a film I could have definitely done without seeing.
Verdict: At one point, my notes for The Immoral exclaim simply, “what exactly is this film!?!?” And I think that is a pretty accurate summation of my overall thoughts. It is totally unclear to me what the point of the film was. Even taking that into account, I am pretty sure the film failed at whatever it was it was going for. Schooner of Tooheys New