Ignatz and Lotte: Dissatisfied Married Couple

Set against the background of the Gulf War and the economic recession of the early 1990s, Ignatz & Lotte is a “slice of life” film about a dissatisfied married couple, in search of meaning in both their personal and political lives.

Shot in black and white, pic’s scope is rewardingly intimate, but its extremely modest scale, relentlessly drab ambience, and amateurish execution preclude commercial prospects.

Stylistically, Ignatz & Lotte is imitative of the cinema verite and gritty realism of John Cassavetes’ earlier films, though it lacks their emotional intensity and probing nature. Thematically, however, the story offers new dimensions in focusing on unusual screen characters–even for indies.

The intellectually bent Ignatz (Keith McDermott) is a newsman who becomes disenchanted with his network job–as well as with the failed promise of his youthful idealism. Moonlighting at an alternative cable news program, the married man finds solace in the arms of Kenji (Konrad Aderer), a radical punk.

Lotte (Mary Schultz), his wife of ten years, seems to be his opposite: a pragmatic, down to earth woman, who works part-time as a cab driver while completing a Ph.D. in anthropology. Devoting herself to raising their eight-year old son, she struggles to make ends meet. At first, Lotte shows tolerance toward her hubby’s gay affair, but gradually the unfulfilled union pushes her to explore a new kind of friendship with Sipho (Solam Mkhabela), a student from Swaziland, which leads to some unexpected results.

The film represents a different kind of New York narrative, one populated by immigrant cab drivers, working mothers, gay activists, and Hispanic shopkeepers. But for the most part story stays frustratingly on the surface, never really digging into its characters’ complex personalities–specifically their sexual politics. Though both parents love their son, it’s never clear what has kept the matrimony together for so long.

A more important shortcoming is the film’s failure to integrate the broader politics into the story. Borrowing a number of elements from Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool, which chronicles the political awakening of an intially detached TV cameraman, there seems to be a public demonstration whenever the tale gets outdoors. However, in its worst moments, the film is dreary and drab–a sort of a Marty with more educated and politically alert characters.

First-time director King favors medium-range shots and stationary camera, but his pacing is too monotonous and the imagery not rich enough to sustain it. King shows talent at evoking the gloom of ordinary lives, capturing an unadorned side of N.Y. that neither Woody Allen nor Scorsese (or others) have paid attention to. Tech credits of what appears to be a shoe-stringer are below average.