Sundance 2020: The Killing of Two Lovers
The “Next” section of The Sundance Film Festival is dedicated to finding the new guard. The new voices that will show us something other than all-female remakes and superhero franchises.
It’s in the “Next” section that you’ll meet up-and-coming storytellers who are getting a shot at their dreams. It’s in the “Next” section that true indie films can push past the limitations of their small budgets. It’s in the “Next” section that you’ll find the raw, quiet heartbreak that is writer/director Robert Machoian’s film “The Killing of Two Lovers”.
The film is a quiet, somber homage to anyone who has ever fought to the bitter end to make love work.
The film centers around David (Clane Crawford) and Nikki (Sepideh Moafi), a married couple in a small town on the brink of divorce. While separated from one another, David continues to try and save the marriage while Nikki, more content to finally pursue a life she felt she never got to live, has taken up with a new lover.
Sepideh Moafi, who has starred in HBO’s “The Deuce” and “The L Word”, sat down with me to talk about her role as Nikki in the film. Nikki as a character might get the cold shoulder from the audience as we follow her husband David’s struggle to win her back, but Sepideh remains an advocate for her character and the other side of a somewhat one-sided story.
“I have a lot of compassion for Nikki and what she was going through,” explains Moafi, “I think this is the first time in her life that she is realizing that she wants more. She wants to be able to pursue the things she wants and the life she wants that might have been halted by growing up in a small town and getting married and having kids young. And these changes are incongruous with the marriage that she and David built. That’s the scary thing, you shouldn’t have to stay the same or stay small to be certain about your future with someone. You should have the freedom to grow in the direction that you think is true and feel loved and supported. I don’t think Nikki had felt that for a long time.”
“I think that this is something in Nikki’s character that a lot of women will be able to relate to. This conflict of not wanting to abandon what you believe in or the people that you are loyal to or in a relationship with, but at the same time acknowledging your path and purpose and not denying yourself the ability to go after what you want.”
The film is not littered with unnecessary dialogue, and it does not shy away from long, quiet shots that allow the actors’ emotions and motivations to be interpreted through facial expressions rather than words. In fact, oftentimes the things the characters say to one another are in complete contradiction to what they actually feel and wind up making things worse in the long run.
These pregnant silences that are reminiscent of scenes from a Gus Van Sant film amplify the feeling of the small town the story takes place in. Machoian, a Utah native, chose to shoot the film in a “one-horse-town” in his home state.
“You can see in the film the seclusion of the town and what it might do to a relationship when everyone knows everyone else’s business. Even though there is this grand landscape in the background, there’s always this feeling of being stuck. There’s all this space but they can’t move. I think that anyone who grew up in a small town will know exactly what that feels like and how hard it can be on a relationship.”
As the title suggests the film leads its audience towards a violent and tumultuous end. Even still, “The Killing of Two Lovers” remains a story of redemption and love. Its story and characters are universal, their mistakes and struggles are as well. It’s like a sad song you listen to during a break up to know that you’re not alone in what you are feeling. It’s exactly what indie films are supposed to be.
Images courtesy of Sundance and Kalvin Lazarte.
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