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The epistolary novel is a tricky format, with stringent narrative limitations, yet it boasts a healthy literary tradition. Epistolary cinema has grown recently, thanks to the rise of webcam culture and the found-footage horror boom, but James E. Duff’s Hank and Asha may be the first consisting solely of video missives.
The gambit is ambitious but fails to produce much drama, as this two-hander doesn’t feature much more than its leads speechifying to their cameras, a challenging basis for visual storytelling.
Hank (Andrew Pastides) is a New York filmmaker who receives a video from film student Asha (Mahira Kakkar) after she sees a documentary he made in Prague, where she’s studying. A video correspondence commences, as they reveal their favorite haunts and gradually share their worlds.
The film’s success rests upon the interest engendered by these characters, but Hank and Asha fail to meaningfully engage us — both are earnest and comprehensible to the point of tedium, failing to display complexities that might create a sense of nuance or interest in the dynamic of this virtual couple.
Sometimes saccharine in its register (one scene consists of Hank strumming his guitar and singing for Asha) and at others conceptually clunky (another features Hank taking his camera to dinner, speaking to it as if it’s Asha, and — rather profligately — ordering an entire meal for it), Hank and Asha struggles to find a solution for its challenging conceit. In all fairness, it’s no small task.