Two people. A single room. One enormous cat and mouse conversation.

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Writer/director John Winter’s strange and seductive vaudevillian one setting power play between a sex worker and a male interviewee is black and white only in a literal sense — soaked in a smoky monochrome and lit and edited to charcoal-infused perfection. The grasp and depth of the screenplay is anything but.

In Black & White & Sex, a sex worker named Angie is interviewed by a filmmaker who drills her about life as a prostitute, spanning everything from notions of self-respect to the dirty details. The conversation takes odd twists and turns; the power dynamic shifts; insecurities and motivations are slowly extracted.

In the spirit of offbeat American indies such as Todd Solondz’s Palindromes (2004) and Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There (2007), the protagonist is played by multiple actors (there are eight). Unlike those films, however, the central character in Winter’s fiercely original debut doesn’t suffer from the disconnect. Angie grows ever more fleshed out and complex, fed by a group of outstanding performances that add individual whiskers of flair to the roar of a feisty, strong-willed, world-weary character but show an understanding and continuity so tight it borders on the bizarre.

Black & White & Sex is overtly self-conscious. It’s a film within a film, stars actors who play the same character, has technical flourishes (namely a double split screen) that separate, if for a moment, the audience from its internal reality and contains dialogue with numerous references to the production process: audition, performance, casting, the title, etcetera. The quality of the dialogue is first-rate, with plenty of quality lines for hungry actors to relish (“If you make a cup of tea, that has no moral dimension. If someone puts arsenic in it, then it does,” scoffs a piqued Angie). And crucially, the ebb and flow of the conversation maintains throughout.

The film industry, so the common wisdom goes, is chocked to the gills with carbon copy cinema, stuffed like a poisoned piñata with the bile and fluid of a zillion regurgitated ideas. Here is a bold, audacious and throbbingly original Australian film, particularly palatable for viewers partial to edgy, intimate and explorative interpersonal dramas.

Black & White & Sex’s Australian theatrical release date: March 22, 2012.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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