Writer and director Robert Putka’s sophomore feature film “We Used To Know Each Other,” addresses a familiar topic of relationships, but in a thoughtfully dramatic and sometimes harshly honest way which is as engaging as it is uncomfortable. Putka’s previous film, “Mad,” introduced us to his wit, intellect, and wisdom in storytelling, and now, he hones those skills with razor sharp precision to delve into the concepts of relationships and love in today’s ever-changing world.
Amanda (Essa O’Shea) and Hugo (Hugo de Sousa) are a young couple in a long-distance relationship who decide to move in together. However, they find that perhaps over the years, they have changed more than the relationship can tolerate… or perhaps they didn’t really know each other at all. It’s a gorgeous exploration of society’s norms superimposed upon today’s evolving outlook.
Hugo arrives in the barren desert town outside of Las Vegas, via an Uber driver from Hell which just may be foreshadowing the dissonance to come. As he reunites with Amanda, there’s a sense that Hugo is infringing upon Amanda’s space and you question how well they know one another. Their long-distance courtship for several years wasn’t as open and forthright as it should have been and as they awkwardly prepare for the night’s event with another couple, these truths are uncovered, with incremental consequences over the next three days.
“We Used to Know Each Other” in the short 76 minute running time, succinctly and eloquently creates realistic dynamics as it addresses conventional expectations and the sexual fluidity that is a more accepted aspect of our world. Hugo, who at first seems a bit lost and unmotivated, has a heart of gold, but his insecurities and immaturity weigh heavily into his ability to confront, understand, and communicate with Amanda. Amanda, on the other hand, exhibits an intrinsic conflict, exacerbated by alcohol and guilt. Together, they are at times volcanic and others magnetic polar opposites. Still, each of these characters are personalities we know, perhaps even understand because they are a part of ourselves.
Interestingly, Putka doesn’t create a true protagonist in the film. There’s not a good guy or a bad guy and we are able to see the relationship from each characters’ vantage point. And both Hugo and Amanda stir the pot, sometimes intentionally, and other times it’s just a part of who they are and who they have become. From the viewer’s point of view, we initially see Amanda as cold, unwelcoming, and at times, just mean. However, as we begin to understand her better, we also find compassion. Hugo has his flaws as well, although they aren’t as obvious until later in the story.
This is a complexly layered story weaving into it traditional values and expectations while integrating sexual identity, exploration, and the fluidity within. All of this is created with utmost care, never exploiting the topic and finding beauty, even if clarity and resolution is not the end result. The story feels like a slice of life, a familiar slice, yet one in which we immediately connect with, needing to know how this couple will deal with all their evident differences. “We Used To Know Each Other” accentuates the fact that not only is sexuality a fluid topic, people in general are as well. Only with age, generally, do we understand that people are not stagnant; we change and our past seeps into our future decisions. This film finds a way of using that rear view mirror of life as it contemporaneously watches this love affair unfold.
This is a small ensemble cast whose performances are authentic, giving not only their characters a realistic edge, but a genuine sense to the story itself. Putka’s direction allows Hugo and Amanda to connect and unravel with such a sense of ease that we feel as if we are a fly on the wall watching the relationship evolve and at times devolve. Even when we don’t agree with either Hugo or Amanda’s actions or reactions, we always feel as if we are privy to their innermost thoughts and feelings thanks to their nuanced yet direct performances. It’s also evident that Putka has a bright future ahead of him with his “old soul” wisdom of the world and people around him.
“We Used To Know Each Other” is an evocative film portraying an honest and complicated yet realistic story of a relationship in the midst of change. Beautifully filmed and with sublime performances, it’s a lush oasis of love and reality perfectly balanced with an ending that mirrors your own reaction.
3 1/2 out of 4 stars