What would you do if you found out your significant other was cheating? How you think you’d react, and how you’d actually react, may be two different realities. This is the plot of new Australian romantic dramedy Zelos: when Bernard’s (Ben Mortley) girlfriend Sarah (Shannon Ashlyn) comes back from a four month holiday and confesses to an affair, she offers him a simple solution – sleep with another woman and they’re even. But as much as Bernard tries to move on, with or without Sarah, he can’t get over the fact that she cheated in the first place.
Zelos’ interesting ideas about the aftermath of cheating is what creates its unpredictability; Sarah and Bernard are equally selfish and sympathetic, blurring the line between protagonist and antagonist. This keeps their characters compelling and fresh as they work through their dramatic dirty laundry, creating tense, emotional scenes between the two. This is all made more complex by Bernard’s growing feelings for their mutual, married friend Rebecca (Ainslie McGlynn), who is going through her own relationship crisis, causing our main character to question the death of romance in an age where dating is casual, straightforward, and online.
The film balances its lighter moments and more dramatic scenes well, but in a movie that’s very sentimental, the script is clumsily maudlin at times. Despite this, though, you feel for Bernard, and Sarah, as the film’s depiction of a relationship breakdown is raw and unflinching, striking a very real chord.
Despite the gloom, Zelos still manages to be romantic, with a sincere script and a cast of creatively inclined, likeable characters who somehow make game’s nights, “working on their novels” and discussions about classic films not sound overly pretentious. Yet it is in this very comparison to classic cinema that Zelos finds its downfall: whilst bemoaning the end of Casablanca (“she should’ve stayed!”) and questioning When Harry Met Sally’s ending, the film is unable to commit to a romantic conclusion itself. In attempting to have the best of both worlds by having Bernard swing between extremes, with no nuance to explain why he does so, we grow distant from our main character. Bernard hops between passive-aggressive retribution and romantic love for Sarah, yet is still in love with Rebecca, and never comes to any conclusion about anything, turning what is supposedly meant to be a purposefully unresolved ending into dissatisfying indecision.
Ahead of the Queensland premiere of Ellipsis, his feature directing debut, we talk to David Wenham about improvisation, learning from the best and the worst, and trying to bring a little more truth to the big screen.