It's not surprising that longtime indie filmmaker Ryan Balas would create, or in this case co-create alongside Dee Herlihy, such an intimate and vulnerable as is Ex Ex Ex, his latest cinematic effort that explores the beginning of a love affair, the ending of a marriage, and dares to gaze at the ever so slight flickering light in the distance.
Balas, an Indy Film Fest favorite who's found himself in Indy several times with past projects, has never been hesitant to explore the human experience in all its weirdness and intimacy and hurt and joy and everything else.
This is once again the case with Ex Ex Ex, a narrative feature dancing on the lines of documentary centered around two characters - Ben (Balas) and Alice (Herlihy) - living through and reflecting upon the ending of their relationship through a series of vignettes that are surprising only in the sense that they adjoin all the uglies of breaking up with the love and tenderness that once was and still may be even as the relational dynamics change.
I should say up front that I feel just a little guilt, a smidgen maybe, that Ex Ex Ex may very well be my favorite Balas film to date. While Balas has always had a knack for finding the artistic thread of the human experience, Ex Ex Ex feels as if Balas and Herlihy have done so in a way that is almost jarringly intimate and resolute in its determination in the beauty of the brokenness.
Lensing is always a strength in Balas's films and the same is true here. Balas's lens tells as much a story as does the film's dialogue, practically demanding that we watch every minute detail and every inch of every frame. Watch how Balas uses color here in the film's segues and shifts in mood.
Immersive in the truest sense of the word.
The same is true for Balas's music and, yes, you're by now catching on that this is very much a Balas production and a co-creation with frequent collaborator Herlihy.
Ex Ex Ex asks difficult questions yet also seems to recognize that the answers are elusive.
"How do you get the love you need, without losing the love that you have?"
While I've written much about Balas here, the truth is that Dee Herlihy is, as is nearly always true with Herlihy, absolutely engaging and an absolutely remarkable figure of dignity, transparency, and guttural honesty.
Balas and Herlihy have collaborated often over the years including as co-creators of Robel Films. You can feel this natural familiarity throughout Ex Ex Ex even as you can simultaneously feel the growing division that seemingly strikes out of nowhere that, in actuality, strikes out of everywhere.
Indeed, the personal threads of truth present throughout Ex Ex Ex are obvious and they contribute to this film possibly being Balas's most beautiful and heartbreaking film to date. Both Balas and Herlihy are rather extraordinary here to such a degree that we can't help but ache as we're invited into their journey.
Ex Ex Ex feels like it as much equal parts coping skill and artistic expression, a cinematic journey from two people who've spent the last several years sharing their lives with us in ways big and small.
Life is weird. Life is hard. Life is passionate. Life is intimate. Life is funny.
Yeah, life is beautiful.
Sometimes, life is all of these things all rolled up into one and sometimes that's exactly what we call marriage.
And sometimes it shatters.
Ex Ex Ex is yet another exercise in artistic wonder and personal exploration from Ryan Balas and Dee Herlihy yet, at the same time, it's also unlike anything we've ever seen from them before and, most likely, ever will again.
That is both beautiful and sad.
So is Ex Ex Ex.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic