There are no two marriages alike. That fact may prove to be the biggest reason why, throughout film, marriages have been as fertile a dramatic ground as any topic one could imagine, especially when it come to non-fiction filmmaking. Films like A Married Couple have become some of the greatest documentaries ever made (I’d argue that, that film in particular, is a “greatest film ever made” contender). And 2013 has likely seen one of its most beautiful looks at love and marriage to date in the form of one of the more exciting documentaries of the year.
Entitled Cutie And The Boxer, the film follows the story of married artist couple Ushio and Noriko Shinohara. The former is an 80-year old “action” a.k.a. “boxing” painter who is in the midst of working on his newest show. His art? He starts with a blank canvas, takes two paint-covered boxing gloves, and proceeds to punch away going right-to-left, ultimately culminating in a shockingly beautiful piece of art. His wife is also an artist, Noriko, who herself is trying to become known for her “Cutie” illustrations.
Through these illustrations we become privy to the film’s real core, the couple’s marriage. A marriage going on 40 years in length, their time together has been rather chaotic, and these illustrations try their hardest to portray that with the proper kinetic sense of energy. Beautiful and yet starkly melancholic, these drawings (animated during a few interludes for this film) perfectly duplicate the emotion felt throughout the film, which itself is a truly entrancing meditation on love and art.
From director Zachary Heinzerling, the film itself is absolutely stunning. Crisply shot and featuring some really great photography, the film perfectly blends in the animated interludes, source footage and interactions with the actual couple. Heinzerling’s greatest act here is his uncanny ability to not only use his couple’s inherent energy, but bleed their vitality into the film itself, making this as entertaining and engaging a watch as one could imagine. It clocks in at just over 80 minutes, and the pacing here is absolutely superb, never allowing for a dull moment, instead perfectly mixing moments of heartbreaking introspection and thrilling creativity.
Lacking anything remotely resembling the sentimentality one would find in any lesser look at a marriage like this, Cutie And The Boxer instead feels startlingly intimate. We are introduced to the history of their marriage, from Noriko coming to New York to them having a child to everything in between and up to today, while never feeling like anyone has become truly sentimental about it. There is raw anger found here, but just as much if not more raw and pure love, painting a properly emotional portrait of a marriage not quite like any around. Their love and art come hand in hand, fueling each other and that becomes absolutely palpable come the film’s final few segments, particularly when the title of their joint show is revealed (no spoilers here).
The film does offer up quite a bit of drama here. Noriko feels some doubts about how her husband sees her, primarily fueled by his history as an alcoholic, and Ushio himself has dealt not only with that, but also with a career stateside that has not been as fruitful as one would have imagined given the buzz surrounding him early on in his career. However, while the world has seemingly passed them by (they are barely making enough to get by, in one case arguing over the price of a piece Ushio is about to sell), and they carry with them some rather intense baggage, they never lose that palpable sense of love and appreciation that is so felt throughout the film.
Overall, while Cutie And The Boxer may be a tough film to find (it opens this weekend in limited release), it is one that needs to be hunted down, seen and truly appreciated. Heinzerling’s film is a breathtakingly touching meditation on love and creativity, where both come hand in hand. As complex and fertile a look at a marriage as you’ll find, the film’s greatest attribute comes in how unsentimental the film truly is. These two love each other intensely, and while they have their own inherent drama and they themselves have a rather intense rivalry, they both feel as though they wouldn’t be able to spend a day away from each other. It may be a glossy looking film, but underneath the digital sheen the film truly proves that, yes, love is a roar, and these two aren’t afraid to stare down each other’s growls, and never look back.