Bokeh is thematically devastating but visually intimate and narratively poetic.

Pronounced as you would with a ‘bouquet’ of flowers, Bokeh is a Japanese word relating to a photographic technique that produces a pleasing but blurry background when there is sufficient distance between the subject and the background. The aesthetic quality of this technique was discovered long before the word was coined, which is why any photographer who is a movie buff will be curious to watch this film, and especially since the film is set in every photographer’s dream location – Iceland!

Reminiscent of the recent sci-fi vehicle starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Prat in Passengers, a film about the hopelessness of an uncertain future, Bokeh follows suit about two people in a nightmarish situation where their relationship is put to the test. This is the story of an American couple on vacation in Iceland but as we soon learn, there is more at stake than their relationship. There’s relatable chemistry between It Follows star Maika Monroe as Jenai and her partner Riley (Matt O’Leary), a photographer who prefers the medium format and vintage Rolleiflex to a modern and high end digital camera.  Shortly after they begin their vacation, they experience a bizarre event that places them as the only people in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavík. In between searching for other people and capturing Iceland’s picturesque landscapes, they encounter Biblical allegories that question the very existence of life itself. This then tears into the fabric of their relationship when one becomes an optimist and the other a hopeless pessimist.

The result is a devastating and at times depressing comparison of two individuals who are looking at the same situation but begin to see it in totally opposing perspectives. It’s an irony in itself given the titular theme and the surreal nature of photography as a medium that can be attractively haunting on one end and astoundingly intimate on the other.  In this regard, the film does sway towards the existential philosophies in a Terence Malick film and in the process reaches a hit-or-miss in the point it tries to make. Is it pretentious? Not really, and given the level of intimacy in the storytelling coupled with the passionately composed cinematography, Bokeh is both visually and narratively poetic. And like Iceland itself, this is a small indie film but packed with just the right amount of mood, tone and curves that you don’t see at first, much like the old school art of developing art.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.