Chloe Zak, Mo Shirazi, Colleen Boag, Edgar Muniz, Charles Webb, Becky Zak
Edgar Muniz (Story), Chloe Zak, Mo Shirazi
"That Was Then" Review
Sofia (Chloe Zak) and Sacha (Mo Shirazi) were in love. They are in love. Maybe. Who knows?
All they know for sure is that their relationship has changed, but not for the better. Sacha remembers when Sofia would sit back, listen to his music and simply swoon.
Now? It's as if she's rolling her eyes with every note he plays.
Sofia? She remembers feeling desired, um, sexually. Now, however, it seems like when there are attempts at passion they elicit more giggles than gasps.
Is something wrong? Is it fixable?
Co-writer and director Edgar Muniz has always tended to tackle emotionally hefty subjects in his films, but there's something about That Was Then that felt barebones or, perhaps, even a tad slight in terms of both substance and style.
Then, it hit. Suddenly, out of nowhere, it occurred to me that the story that was unfolding in That Was Then had been stripped bare of its extraneous distractions, unnecessary histrionics and faux dramatics. In its place, perhaps, had been left only words and looks and facial expressions and truths both spoken and unspoken.
Sacha and Sofia are at a crossroads in their relationship. It will either survive or it won't. There is nothing else, a truth to which any of us who've ever been in that awkward "What next?" place in a relationship could testify.
Screaming is pointless. Fighting is pointless. Crying is, for the most part, pointless. For that matter, even logical debate is pointless because love, let's be honest, is completely illogical.
The simple truth is that what makes That Was Then a good film is that Muniz doesn't try to turn it into a great film. The easiest comparison out of Hollywood might be to consider That Was Then a lighter version of Blue Valentine, a film that was far more graphic and raw yet equally dealt with these smaller, more intimate relationship moments that help to determine the journey. Blue Valentine was trying to be a great film but, for the most part, had to settle for a couple of great performances. See, the problem is that this kind of story doesn't command greatness. It commands authenticity.
That's what this is. Authentic.
There is no original score, because it is up to Sofia and Sacha to create their own music. That Was Then is more traditional in its photography, letting go of the hand-held gimmickry that may add points for fluidity and pacing but, in the end, can also feel intrusive, jarring and manipulative.
This is the story of Sofia and Sacha. It doesn't need a soundtrack or gimmicks or distracting special effects. What this story really requires is for two people to be able to stand face-to-face with one another without a word being uttered. This story requires the work of two performers, in this case Mo Shirazi and Chloe Zak, who can trust the silences and the quiet intimacies that exist between actors in front of a camera when absolutely nothing else is going on.
To have turned this into an extraordinarily dramatic production would have been doing it an injustice, because the story that's unfolding is unnervingly simple.
Man loves woman. Woman loves man.
Is that enough?
That Was Then is about listening ... to each other's voices, to each other's bodies, to the unspoken truths and the shouted out declarations. It's about paying attention to the past, but listening in the moment.
Mo Shirazi and Chloe Zak do a fine job here, never crossing the line into histrionics nor caricature but also never losing sight of the gravity of this seemingly simple predicament. What's remarkable about their performances is that they aren't remarkable. Instead, they're honest and authentic and simple and passionately real. The same is true for the rest of the ensemble cast. There is some original music in the film, from Daniel Macchio, and it fits the film perfectly. Likewise, the film is lensed by Muniz and Christian Smith in a way that only enhances the film's natural style.
At 62 minutes, one could easily expect That Was Then to feel incomplete. Yet, it doesn't. The film is paced beautifully and unfolds naturally and in such a way that by the end of the film our time with Sofia and Sacha feels complete.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic