Alejandra Gollas and Stephen Keep Mills in Love Is Not Love (Photo: Triskelion Entertainment)

★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Stephen Keep Mills
STARS Stephen Keep Mills, Alejandra Gollas

Love Is Not Love opens with a scene in which various New Yorkers are overheard discussing matters related to sex and love. Some of the dialogue brings to mind those sequences in HBO’s Real Sex in which ordinary folks gave refreshingly honest answers to the interviewer’s questions. Other snatches of conversation are more likely to recall the overreaching artificiality of a lesser TV sitcom. And so it goes throughout this picture, with honesty all too often giving way to obtuseness.

Stephen Keep Mills, an actor who appeared on various TV shows from the mid-70s through the mid-90s — he guest-starred on such hits as Dallas, The Incredible Hulk and L.A. Law and co-starred as pianist Les Kincaid in the short-lived Alice spin-off Flo — has spent the 21st century adding other jobs to his resume. At 72 years old, he makes his feature directorial debut with Love Is Not Love, also serving as writer, producer, and leading man.

Mills plays Frank, an erudite gentleman who shares a tumultuous marriage with the bitter Paula (Louise Martin) but briefly finds comfort in the arms of a younger woman (Alejandra Gollas). If this sounds like a standard romantic flick, that would be selling its intentions short. Shot in crisp black-and-white by cinematographer Steven Michael Fadellin, it’s also an experimental film, a mood piece, and something of an inner monologue for its auteur. Its strongest asset is its visual look, but I would hesitate to call this merely an exercise in style over substance. It clearly has special significance to its maker and those who will admire his studied approach. To others, though, it will register as an insulated work that makes little effort to connect on an emotional — or even narrative — level.

Louise Martin and Stephen Keep Mills in Love Is Not Love (Photo: Triskelion Entertainment)

At its worst, the film unspools like the type of sour and self-absorbed movie Woody Allen was apt to make in the second half of his lengthy career (Deconstructing Harry comes to mind). At its best, it serves as a showcase for Gollas, who delivers a rich performance as a woman who calls herself Reyna before admitting her name is really Emilia. Yet even with her character, the movie’s lack of clarity only serves to infuriate rather than illuminate. There are suggestions that Emilia might be a prostitute (the fake name, for one), which would change the thrust significantly. If she’s not a prostitute, then there’s no reason to doubt that her feelings for Frank are real. If she is a prostitute, there’s the possibility that she still falls for Frank but also the strong chance that it’s all an act, in which case Frank ends up looking more pathetic than doubtless intended.

Meanwhile, Frank’s relationship with his wife is basically presented through a string of scenes in which she berates him, with not enough history to allow for audience understanding. (Intentional or not, the overarching shrewishness of the wife and the affair-damaging ranting of the girlfriend over the lack of a social media review suggest that Frank is blameless in both breakups.)

Mills’ performance doesn’t offer many clues. Although he has a strong physical presence, there is little variation in his emoting, making it difficult for Frank to ever take hold as a character worthy of respect or sympathy. His actions are often discussed by a one-woman Greek chorus (played by Tonya Comelisse), who spouts nonsensical dialogue while appearing in various outfits and engaging in such activities as playing pool and exercising.

In the end, it’s all rather affected but not especially effective.

(Love Is Not Love had its world premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival this past February. Producers either will show it at more festivals later this year or, if festivals do not go on as planned, could decide on a worldwide VOD premiere in the fall.)

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