'I Love You I Miss You I Hope I See You Before I Die': Film Review

Troels Rasmus Jensen
An arrestingly jagged dispatch from the frayed margins of American society.

Danish director Eva Marie Rodbro's doc is an intimate look at an economically strapped Colorado woman and her child.

Having established her name with photography and award-winning shorts intimately documenting the lives of young people in the southern U.S., Greenland and her native Denmark, Eva Marie Rodbro now explores similar turf on a larger canvas via her awkwardly titled feature-length debut I Love You I Miss You I Hope I See You Before I Die.

One of the more noteworthy world premieres at this year's IDFA, and sure to be a popular choice at non-fiction festivals in coming months, this is an uncompromising, jaggedly fragmented immersion into the "hectic" world of its protagonist. Betty, a single mom in her early-to-mid-twenties, lives with around a dozen other people (most of whom we seldom see) in a suburban Colorado house. Perpetually cash-strapped if not exactly poverty-stricken, Betty is an occasional drug user who deploys narcotics of various kinds to temporarily escape from the hassles of her pressurized existence. 

Aided in the raising of her pre-schooler child Jade by her flintily no-nonsense mother Wilma, Betty isn't especially articulate, engaging or sympathetic at first glance. But over the course of the picture's brisk 77 minutes — experienced editor Mark Bukdahl maintains a frenzied rhythm throughout — her resilience and determination gradually emerge.

Making the most of access to these marginal lives, Rodbro clearly enjoys the trust and even affection of her subjects, especially her occasional playmate Jade. A real-world cousin of Brooklynn Prince's indelible Moonee from The Florida Project, the moppet seems set for an uncertain future in a United States that is proving increasingly averse to helping out those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. The individuals on view here, however, seem to exist in a bubble upon which wider social and political matters never impinge: The adults are too busy attending to their personal matters to consider wider issues.

President Donald Trump is glimpsed only briefly at the 47-minute mark, railing on TV against his foes in the Democrat party and their fondness for tax increases. But Rodbro's film, an entirely Danish production, feels very much like a sympathetic dispatch that attempts, via a European lens, to show the human, relatable faces of Americans who are all too easily demonized as a welfare-milking underclass. "You die a little each day," wails Betty, who later admits to being "scared that everything is falling apart."

Many practical details remain unspecified, including the sources both of Betty's income and her volatile mood-swings (the men in her life remain peripheral figures in this firmly female-focused enterprise). Instead, Rodbro and her collaborators plunge us into an impressionistic maelstrom of sounds and images, with an arrestingly rough-edged sense of chaotic lives captured on the fly. She shares cinematography duties with Troels Rasmus Jensen, their hand-held images often giving the impression of having been captured through medium-grade cellphone lenses.

Bukhdal's sugar-rush editing is crucial to the cumulative impact, displaying genuine virtuosity in selection and juxtaposition to keep the viewer janglingly on-edge from start to finish. His and Rodbro's preferred mode is blizzard-like sensory assault, which may prove too confrontational and staccato for some. 

Those willing to meet I Love You I Miss You I Hope I See You Before I Die halfway, however, will reap rewards. Unexpected grace-notes and fleeting bursts of beauty abound — the cameras regularly catch incursions of furry fauna into heavily human-dominated environments — counterbalanced by a suffused mood of poignancy and ominousness about what may lie around the corner for the Bettys and Jades of this world. Dark clouds continue inexorably to gather, literally and metaphorically, psychologically and politically. But there is still scope for exhilaration; the film ends with Jade excitedly greeting heavy rumblings overhead: "Thunder! Gonna rain!"

Production companies: Paloma Productions
Director-screenwriter: Eva Marie Rodbro
Producer: Julie Friis Walenciak
Cinematographers: Eva Marie Rodbro, Troels Rasmus Jensen
Editor: Mark Bukdahl
Venue: International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (First Appearance competition)
Sales: Syndicado, Toronto In English

77 minutes