Like, Modern, Like, Love

By Modern MeasureMatthew Lessner takes a cue from Jean-Luc Godard—specifically Masculin-Feminin—in order to craft this ridiculously sharp satire of teenage love in the 21st Century. By injecting his modern American affair with a French New Wave aesthetic, Lessner is able to make broader and more specific points in tandem. In a broader sense, the superficial connections to Godard’s earlier work (French narrator, black-and-white celluloid) help viewers to see the more universal similarities between these mid-1960s and early 21st Century teens (fascination with pop culture, short attention spans, general aimlessness). In a specific sense, Lessner nails the particularly convoluted times in which his young lovers live, a world where it’s hard to care about what’s happening in other countries, not just because of general teenage self-absorption, but because the media doesn’t want to talk about it either. In six minutes, By Modern Measure is a more astute, funny, and entertaining commentary on life in turn-of-the-century Southern California than all 145 minutes of Southland Tales combined.

It’s ironic that the teenagers in By Modern Measure are living in as tumultuous a wartime (perhaps more so), yet they are even less engaged politically than the teenagers in Masculin-Feminin. And while Godard’s characters were clearly still figuring out where they stood with regards to politics, most of them were engaged in some capacity (or at least the males, that is). In the case of Lessner’s sole male figure, his complete lack of a political passion speaks volumes. But the fact remains that it’s difficult to care about the genocide in Rwanda when all you’re being fed in the media is pop culture, pop culture, and more pop culture. It’s easy to criticize this kid for not seeing the world outside his country, but Lessner’s presentation of the news as it’s reported to him—a massive helping of celebrity infatuation mixed with a fleeting splash of current events—makes him seem less culpable.

In theory, this concept has the potential to be overly pretentious, but Lessner maintains an air of levity that keeps his film feeling more like Breathless than Numero Deux. While By Modern Measure makes some very serious points about our misguided modern world, it never loses its sense of humor, which makes it an even more invigorating work. The kids might not be alright, the world might not be either, but at least there are ambitious young filmmakers like Matthew Lessner who are still engaged and inspired.

— Michael Tully


(Note: Speaking of Masculin-Feminin, if you live in New York City, it’s screening today and tomorrow—May 26th and May 27th—at the Film Forum, as part of their “Godard’s 60s” program. Go here for details. You can purchase By Modern Measure at iTunes or visit the film’s official website for more information.)

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