Arthur Bjorn Egeli's semi autobiographical Art of Passion (aka Unconditional Love) glows with an aura of emotional and intellectual authenticity that lifts it above conventional coming-of-age stories. It also benefits from its inviting Cape Cod settings, gracefully photographed by Teresa Medina, and from its carefully selected cast. It is a modest, low-budget little movie with an admirable simplicity of style that tackles some of lifes big questions honestly.
Egeli's alter ego is Steve Buchanan (Pablo Bryant) who is the prize pupil of Robert Hoffman (David Ellworth), whom Steve regards reverently as the last great Impressionist painter left. That's what he tells his summer next-door neighbor Mary (Aleksandra Kaniak) as she's about to turn Steve's life upside down. Mary is the classic Older Woman - glamourous, worldly, witty, foreign-accented, and in this instance an abstract painter who prepared to liberate Steve from traditional art via passionate beliefs and equally passionate sex.
Steve is in need of being shaken up. He obeys his doctrinaire teacher without much thought and takes a casual view of his affair with a lush young model, Theresa (Jessica Brityn Flannery), who has fallen in love with him. Similarly, he's fairly oblivious to a lovely fellow student, Melissa (Isabelle Dahlin), who has a crush on him and who considers herself inferior to him in talent.
If Steve is to any degree a self-portrait, Egeli - who comes from a family of distinguished portrait painters - does not flatter himself, which is the very reason why the film works. Egeli doesn't hesitate to depict Steve as egotistical, self-absorbed and humorless, but that's the way lots of young people are who take themselves and their goals seriously. Yet because he is a nice-looking man who also happens to be talented, you can see why Melissa and Theresa are caught up with him; indeed, they may be responding to his surliness as a challenge. If they're vulnerable to him, he in turn is about to learn from Mary what it is like to feel vulnerable.
Art of Passion goes beyond the romantic
as Steve and Hoffman clash over what kind of art an artist should create,
how important training is and at what point it loses its value and threatens
to become crippling. Egeli is then able to make the crucial connection between
self-knowledge and knowing what you want to do with your life. Carefully
crafted, well acted - Bryant never asks for sympathy for Steve - Art of Passion
has a lot of substance beneath a deceptively simple surface.