Credit: Pete Ohs/Slamdance
by Jesse Catherine Webber Featured Film

Love and Work — Pete Ohs [Slamdance ’24 Review]

January 27, 2024

Pete Ohs’ amiably idiosyncratic new feature Love and Work is set in a future where jobs are illegal. It begins with Diane (Stephanie Hunt, also credited as a producer and screenwriter on the film, having filled all three roles on Ohs’ earlier film Youngstown as well) seeking a new job. She enters a large warehouse, in which the framing only further isolates the few people present, and announces herself. Her interview with Hank, the boss, comes across not as a formality, but a ritual. He introduces her to her two co-workers, Fox (co-writer Will Madden, who also previously collaborated with Ohs on Jethica) and Evelyn, and she gets to work. Clearly the outlawing of work has simplified it, as the three stand around a large table of old shoes, combining parts into what look more like art objects than functional products. Only after two safety-vested officers shut the operation down, giving Hank his “third strike” and the rest warnings, does a Sam Elliott-esque narrator begin to explain what’s going on.

The details aren’t especially important: essentially, an overabundance of objects has led to a ban on further production and eventually all work, as the film is less concerned with exploring what work is than in abstracting it for allegorical purposes. Once they’ve both been questioned and released, Fox agrees to help Diane, who has lived an itinerant life in order to avoid accruing more than two strikes, search for another job the next day. The ensuing search, perhaps inevitably leading them into a sting operation, combines hints of various genres — particularly noir and Western — as does the black-and-white cinematography. The set design is impressively cohesive for a film of the budget level that plays Slamdance; clearly the surplus that prompted the banning of production is a thing of the distant past, as locations are barren both of people and things. Diane and Fox’s relationship drives most of the film, as they begin to question if a relationship can be defined purely by work — as its banning has driven them to do with their lives. When they visit JB, the narrator, he relays his grandfather’s memories of a time, presumably ours, when work was all anyone did. A metaphor for drought and flood ties into the amusing code with which they speak of work, and though the eventual middle-ground resolution is a bit pat, the film isn’t and doesn’t need to be a rigorous political treatise.

Where the film excels is more in its details: the Frankenshoe Diane produces on her one day at Hank’s workshop and his genuine appreciation of it; the playfulness with which JB dispatches the obvious contradiction between the banning of work and the labor of the bright-vested enforcers of the ban; the way in which Diane and Fox circle each other, framed wide, as they begin to discover their feelings. The light stiltedness of the dialogue recalls some of the stronger voices of the ‘90s indie boom, and some of the rougher edges are admirable when compared to the gauzy nothings that are assuredly playing down the street (or, if you’re online, at a substantially higher price point) at Sundance. In that light, a high-concept piece of modest ambition with compelling characters and a locked-in aesthetic is quite refreshing.

Published as part of Slamdance Film Festival 2024 — Dispatch 1.