Berlinale review: Golden Exits (Alex Ross Perry)

Two years ago, Alex Ross Perry presented in Berlin the daunting and powerful Queen of Earth, his best effort to date as well as one of the best films seen at the festival that year. He came back this year in the same section of the Berlinale, the Forum, with a film perpetuating the practice established in Queen of Earth: to use his science of sharp and astute dialogue as a tool for an examination of human neuroses and feelings, the same way a scalpel is used to conduct an autopsy.

While its predecessor confined us with two women in an isolated country house, Golden Exits comes “back in the New York groove” as Naomi, one of its protagonists, hums it in the opening sequence. This return to Perry’s Brooklyn neighborhood comes with another great difference, regarding the size of the group of characters which is now comprised of five women, plus two men. Naomi (Emily Browning) has arrived from Australia in order to assist Nick (Adam Horovitz) in his work as an archivist, which he does for the time being for his sister-in-law Gwen (Mary-Louise Parker). Her personal assistant is the best friend of the wife and business associate of the only person Naomi knows in New York, Buddy (Jason Schwartzman). As the links between these people pretty much cover every major sort of human bond (friendship, love, family ties, work relationships), this ingeniously crafted bundle of connections becomes the perfect setting for the kind of social and psychological study Perry has in mind.

Golden Exits is made of a succession of intimate conversations, taking place for the most part face-to-face and indoors. The full understanding of the human knowledge uncovered in these discussions (as well as the overall view of the group of protagonists) is only accessible to an exterior party – the camera, and through this device to us, the audience. By living and talking, the characters only grasp bits of information regarding the way they lead their lives and react to other people’s actions. But cinema allows us to see much more, by assembling numerous existences, numerous conversations, and getting them to echo with one another through the editing and development of the story.

This is the way Perry gets so much eloquent substance on the screen, about the social behaviors and intimate anxieties that all of us share. How to accept the fact that it is impossible to sever the ties with our family, like we can do in work or in love? Speaking of love, how can one find the right answer for him or herself, between staying alone and being in a couple – knowing that no inspiration can come from the people around us, as each individual is different in this matter? And in addition to love comes the question of physical attraction and sexual desire. Due to the age difference between Naomi (who is 25) and Nick or Buddy (in their early forties), the topic obviously comes to the fore. Yet the answer given by Golden Exits takes us by surprise with its serenity and insight. Perry depicts people capable of making the right decision, and of being neither harmful nor sarcastic or condescending. This grants us not only the best sequences of the movie (like when Buddy says no to Naomi), but also some clear evidence that Perry has reached a new level of maturity – which is promising for what is to come next.