Not Enough Body

By Gary M. Kramer

Monika Treut’s romantic thriller falls short on both counts

Monika Treut’s intriguing film “Ghosted,” about a lesbian video artist coping with the loss of her lover, intertwines issues of sexuality, nationality, and identity with decidedly mixed results. Despite a promising conceit — how love is most deeply felt when it is gone — this multicultural romance shaded by a mystery is surprisingly un-engaging.

Ai-Ling (Han-Ru Ke) leaves Taiwan for Germany to see her businessman uncle, Chen Fu (Jack Kao). She’s searching for information about her late father, and thinks Chen Fu may hold the key to her identity. Attending a movie one night she meets Sophie (Inga Busch), a video artist who becomes her lover. Although Sophie texts Ai-Ling that she has put a spell on her, audiences may not feel the intensity of their too-cool romance. The affair ends suddenly when Ai-Ling is murdered. While Sophie says she doesn’t blame herself for Ai-Ling’s demise, as the film unfolds, there are hints that Ai-Ling’s feelings of jealousy and betrayal prompted her death.

Five months later, Sophie is in Taiwan, unveiling a video exhibit featuring her late lover. Mei Li (Ting Ting Hu) approaches the artist with interest in doing a newspaper interview. Sophie is wary of Mei Li, perhaps because she reminds her of Ai-Ling. Eventually she agrees to talk with the intrepid journalist, and in time they make their way into bed. Will this affair help Sophie drive the “ghost” of Ai-Ling from her past? Or will Sophie be haunted by the tragedy of Ai-Ling’s death; will her dead lover “avenge what has been done to her” from beyond the grave? Viewers may not feel much at stake in the answers.

Part of the problem is that the film’s casual style fails to sufficiently allow for the dramatic tensions to surface or percolate. Sophie’s loss of Ai-Ling is not made palpable, probably because what we see of their relationship lacks emotional pull. Like Sophie, audiences barely get to know Ai-Ling before she is killed; much of her screen time is shown in flashbacks. That problem is compounded by the fact that the circumstances of Ai-Ling’s death are revealed too late in the story. As with Ai-Ling, Sophie’s relationship with Mei Li is short on excitement, the two women never making the connection that would make their relationship believable. Their bonding may parallel Sophie’s romance with Ai-Ling, but it feels more like a contrived plot device.

The film’s thrill episodes also fail to pack a punch. There is little inherent drama about Mei Li becoming unnerved by a pair of strangers, or having a “nightmare.” Perhaps the biggest kick in this aloof film is when Mei Li reveals she has a hidden agenda. But much of “Ghosted” is simply too detached. Ai-Ling’s search for knowledge about her father doesn’t amount to much in terms of us getting to know her, even when his identity — not terribly unexpected — becomes known.

Treut may be focused more on mood than narrative in “Ghosted.” The filmmaker captures her characters’ unease by having these women communicate in broken English because no one can speak the other’s language. Surprisingly, the culture-clash elements in the film are restricted mostly to minor exchanges, such as Sophie expressing surprise that Al-Ling’s mother calls her everyday.

Sophie, Ai-Ling, and Mei Li are not unlikable women; they are just uninteresting and the performances by the trio of actresses are equally soulless. Inga Busch, who looks a bit like Sandra Bernhard, has a formidable screen presence, but she never brings her character to life. It’s hard to appreciate what her lovers see in her. Both Han-Ru Ke and Ting Ting Hu are attractive and engaging, in ways that suggest there is more going on with their characters that perhaps there is. This may be their way of adding depth that doesn’t otherwise exist to their underwritten parts. But their efforts only go so far. “Ghosted” treats its issues superficially, never quite providing viewers with clues to the mysteries being solved.

Treut shot “Ghosted” on digital video, and though the film does have some striking imagery, too much of it lacks a coherent style. The visuals often are no more gripping than the thin plot. “Ghosted,” disappointingly, is a wisp of a film.