“You didn’t become obsolete like you promised when I hired you,” a boss tells Ann (Joanna Arnow) as she’s packing her things into a box in “The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed,” trying to make an uncomfortable exit a little easier yet there aren’t any traces of sarcasm in her voice. In fact earlier, Ann could be seen nodding in agreement when told that if she were good at the job, she would be responsible for her own obsolescence at some tech gig where company goals exist only in vagaries. One senses her staying power has had to do with being equally nondescript, remaining silent as empty platitudes are spouted for motivation at meetings and blending in with the spare office, content to follow orders if it means she doesn’t have to think much about where it’s all going as long as she’s staying afloat.
This isn’t the most explicit notion of submission in Arnow’s marvelous feature debut, but it is the larger provocative idea at play in the sly comedy where Ann spends her nights in search of excitement in BDSM relationships where she obliges others as a sub, though she’s left to wonder as she’s entering her thirties whether she’s genuinely aroused by taking direction from others or avoiding the issue of finding some for herself. It may not actually be the best thing that she’s feels no pressure from anyone in her life — as her sister (Alysia Reiner) tells her, it isn’t that their parents (Arnow’s real-life parents Barbara Weiserbs and David Arnow) don’t want grandkids, but they’re long past the point of expecting them and a steady paycheck has made evading any major life decisions pretty easy. Still, in the bedroom, Ann isn’t as fulfilled as she once was, starting to actually speak up to her dom Allen (Scott Cohen) not about the humiliating sexual activities that she finds pleasure in, but the lack of anything beyond that after seven years of late-night rendezvous, though one shouldn’t ask him to remember how long (or what college she went to).
Arnow has long been fearless in making the point that emotional vulnerability can be much more difficult to come by than physical intimacy, once chronicling a tumultuous relationship in her twenties, sex and all, in her hour-long 2013 doc “I hate myself:)” and finding humor in trying to carry on a conversation with her roommates as they make love in her narrative short “Bad at Dancing,” and with the broader canvas of a feature, the actress/writer/director has the room to lay bare Ann’s feelings of stagnation, getting bored of BDSM when having more experience than her doms means she ends up calling the shots anyway and assuming she’s too old to break from any part of her routine when as little stimulus as there is in it, there are less problems as well. While there’s ample tension in the question of whether Ann is settling by should settle for a decent life or risk going for something greater, Arnow keeps things charged by refusing to compromise when it comes to the actual filmmaking, serving the uncomfortable humor well as an editor that takes time with a cut or speeding things up once Ann starts to become overwhelmed and structures the film brilliantly to show the consequences that one aspect of Ann’s life has on another that she wouldn’t necessarily be able to articulate herself.
For as much as Arnow puts herself out there on all fronts, it may be how she’s able to illustrate what’s out there that may be most impressive, outlining the goading effect of a general culture of conformity that Ann feels out of place in, with her yoga mat seemingly mocking her when it shouts in a bold typeface “Go With the Flow” as it’s unfurled for a workout where no one’s energy seems particularly high, or when she feels compelled to enter into a more traditional romantic relationship with Chris (Babak Tafti), a completely chill and unassuming suitor who may not meet all her needs, but more than enough to be a dependable partner. Still, what’s considered normal can’t help but seem underwhelming when “The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed” is so delightful because it’s anything but, leaving one with no other option but to surrender to it.
“The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed” will screen at the Cannes Film Festival as part of Directors Fortnight on May 19th at 7:15 pm at the Theatre Croisette, May 20th at Cinema Alexandre III at 11:30 am and Cinema Le Raimu at 4:30 pm, May 21st at 9 am at the Cinema La Licorne and May 23rd at the Cinema Les Arcades at 10:45 pm.