DVD Review: ROMAN

ROMAN
ROMAN

WARNING: ROMAN is due for DVD release on March 27, 2007.  The following review contains plot revelations (spoilers) that may detract from your enjoyment of watching this unique film should you read it prior to seeing the movie. 

Roman is a lonely thirty-something who by day is a welder and by night is a voyeur who lusts after a twenty-something blonde cutie who lives in his bland and unfriendly apartment complex.  At 5:32 pm every afternoon after work, Roman sits diligently in front of his apartment window with the curtains completely parted, a cigarette and beer at his side, until that obscure object of his desire passes by to pick up her mail.  Adolescent fantasies run through his head as he dreams of this Girl telling him she loves him and that she wants to be with him, etc.  He has a front seat to this movie he has created in his head � the window looks very much like a movie screen, and closing the blinds gives Roman the opportunity to control his own world.  Most of his evenings he�s occupied with fantasies about a long-haired nude girl who appears to be a dream girl with a flower in her hair.  His lack of a television causes him to draw the image of a TV on the wall and stare at it, fantasizing about the Girl.

His next-door neighbor is the landlord of the complex, a fat, boring pig who watches stacks of low-budget porn all day at a volume that seeps through Roman�s walls.  Roman appears so dead to the world that he never asks him to turn down the sound.  Roman is so passive, in fact, that the few moments when he�s reactive have dire consequences.

One late afternoon Roman sits on the roof of the complex with beers and cigarettes and while attempting to relax is approached by his mystery blonde, who introduces herself.  They engage in some sweet small talk and it becomes obvious that the Girl likes Roman.  This is the first time we see Roman smile.

The next day one of his co-workers gives him an old TV which he later stares at while it�s unplugged.  Later, the Girl goes to his apartment and we learn that she works as a tour guide at Marinaland, which explains why she dons the requisite red shirt and light blue miniskirt uniform everyday.  Roman appears like a foreigner listening intently to her every word until during a break in her spiel he advances towards her and kisses her, much to her delight.  She suggests that they have dinner in a few days, but Roman presses her to have dinner that evening.  When she reaffirms her position, his attitude changes for the worse, and his towering frame literally smothers her as she tries frantically to break away.  They end up writhing on the floor as he tries to keep her from screaming and inadvertently suffocates her.  Roman believes she�s just tired and has fallen asleep, and is terrified to see that he has killed her.  Knowing he cannot move her body out of the apartment without being seen, he places her in the bathroom in a tub of ice.  When a private investigator comes to his door inquiring about the Girl, Roman lies about seeing her.  He closes the blinds, and stays in his darkened apartment, thinking about what he did to her.

The following day a spunky young woman appears at his door (amazingly, the nude woman from his dream).  Apparently, she has locked herself out of her apartment, and wants Roman to ask the landlord for the key to get in, passing the apartment off as his.  Perhaps this is just a ruse to meet Roman.  The woman is a bit eccentric � her hair and arms are decorated with ivy and leaves, as though she were dressing up like a tree and trying to be one with nature.  Later, she asks Roman out to dinner as a thank you but he turns her down.

At work, Roman is grilled and mocked by his co-workers about masturbating, and later he fantasizes about two naked women making love on his bed.  Afterwards, he is ambushed by the young woman from his dream, and she reveals her name to be Eva Paoletti.

He brings more ice into his apartment and thinks about how he killed the Girl whom he now calls Isis.

Roman and Eva go to see a production of Henrik Ibsen�s HEDDA GABLER, and afterwards at dinner Eva tries to charm Roman.  When they arrive at her apartment, she asks him to come in, then reconsiders, saying that she is working on a new piece of artwork and won�t let him see it yet.

Little by little, Roman begins to dismember Isis�s corpse.  He first removes her hand, and takes it to a tree by the lake where he thinks about what he did to her.  Images of Eva populate his mind as he quietly cries.    He throws the hand into the lake.

His next date with Eva is at the same restaurant, and they end up in his Cadillac.  Out of the blue, Eva discloses her love and obsession with death and how it should not be seen as something negative.  This all comes as a shock to Roman because Eva is such a lively woman.  Eva says that the site of Hedda Gabler shooting herself sent a flutter of delight through her.

On Saturday, they go to eat chilidogs at the cemetery, a favorite hangout of Eva�s.  They lie around and talk, and when Eva happily discusses Hedda�s suicide again, Roman tells her to stop, which sends her running off in offense, saying that Roman doesn�t understand her.

Roman apologizes the next day, and Eva isn�t convinced he�s sorry.  At this point, all that is left of Isis�s body is her leg, which Roman stashes as Eva shows up unexpectedly.  She and Roman make love on his bed, with Isis�s remains just inches away.  In an effort to keep Eva from leaving, he tells her that he understands her love of death.  She tells him that he�s going to love her piece when it�s done.

Roman takes Isis�s leg to the lake and dumps it, effectively getting rid of her from his life so he can now pursue a future with Eva.

When he returns to the apartment, there�s a note from Eva, saying that he should come by at 6 pm to see her piece.  When he does, he passes his landlord who frowns at him.  Roman walks through her apartment to see many different colors and the back decorated like a garden.  Eva is on the ground, posed like Ophelia in John Everett Millais� titular painting.   Roman is impressed, and tells her that she �looks dead.�  When he touches her hand however, he recoils in shock to see that she is really dead � a razor blade in her hand and a self-inflicted slash across her throat are the culprits.  She has become death.  Roman grabs the razor and sobs, asking her, �What did you do?� over and over again.  The landlord runs in and sees the razor in Roman�s hand.  �What did you do?� he yells.  Roman, for the first time, takes responsibility for his actions, and blurts out, �I killed her!�  And by agreeing with Eva on her views on death, he has contributed to her death�

I�m the first one to admit that I am not a fan of shot-on-video �movies�.  I feel that movies of this ilk should have that film-like �movie look� rather than a �live� or soap opera sheen.  Fortunately, now with the advent of new digital cameras that are designed to record at 24 frames per second, it is possible to shoot on video and yield a film-like look.  ROMAN was shot on an ultra low-budget, and for the most part it looks that way, but that should not be taken as a criticism because despite the lack of color in the locales chosen for the film (such as the apartment complex and Roman�s room), ROMAN is one of the best independent movies I�ve ever seen.  The technology involved in making this film should be regarded second only to the engrossing story and performances that unfold.

Lucky McKee, the director of 2002�s excellent MAY which starred Angela Bettis as a lonely girl looking for the perfect friend, wrote ROMAN in the mid-1990�s when he was a student at USC film school, the alma mater of John Carpenter, George Lucas, and Francis Ford Coppola.  McKee also stars in the film and gives a terrific performance as Roman, portraying him as a withdrawn and ultimately sympathetic man.  We have no idea what happened to him that he ended up as isolated as he is, making Travis Bickle look like the CEO of a matchmaking company in comparison. With ROMAN, Angela Bettis is now behind the camera, directing her former director in this bookend yarn about a lonely man looking for the perfect woman.  Perhaps their will be a third film to complete the trilogy?

The film also showcases the considerable talents of Kristen Bell of VERONICA MARS fame as Isis, the girl Roman kills.  She has a wonderfully youthful, Natalie Portman look about her that makes you want to pick her up and throw her over your shoulder and be silly with her.  Her bloodless death scene is one of the most upsetting scenes I�ve seen in a movie.  We see this lovely and likeable young woman�s life needlessly extinguished, and the result is terribly tragic.  My only complaint is that she has such little screen time.

Nectar Rose practically steals the movie as Eva, the joyful yet enigmatic woman who loves death and befriends Roman.  Nectar possesses a wonderful Cameron Diaz quality and with her body decorated with foliage and flowers painted on her face you can�t help but fall in love with her.  Since Roman dreamed about her prior to meeting her, there�s a tendency to guess that she�s just in his mind, although this idea is quickly dispelled when she talks to the landlord.  Perhaps she�s the product of his mind.

Rounding out the cast are Jesse Hlubik and Mike McKee (Lucky�s real-life father who reminds me of Udo Kier) as Roman�s co-workers; Ben Boyer as the landlord; and Thomas Beaumont as the waiter.  All the supporting performers are terrific.

The DVD also contains a running commentary with Angela Bettis and two of her crew memebers.  The obvious omission is Lucky McKee, which is unfortunate because he always provides a great commentary.  SICK GIRL, his �Masters of Horror� episode, has a terrific commentary and makes you feel like you�re hanging out with the cast personally.

ROMAN is proof-positive that you don�t need a $70M budget to make a great movie.  It easily lends itself to repeat viewing, and is definately worth owning.

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