One Cut, One Life Movie Review: A Metaphor Only Goes So Far

A documentary that does not leave a lasting legacy for Ed Pincus.
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From an early age most people are taught not to speak ill of the dead, but is it okay to speak ill of the work of the dead?

One Cut, One Life is the final collaboration between filmmakers Ed Pincus and Lucia Small before Ed’s death in November 2013. Known for his documentary films Diaries, Black¬†Natchez, and Life and Other Anxieties, he was also the co-author of The Filmmaker’s Handbook which almost every film student I know has read and used in both the classroom and the field.

Pincus had left filmmaking behind and taken up wholesale flower farming until he met Small when they were both speaking on a panel about filmmaking. After that meeting, Pincus decided to return to medium and Small not only became his muse but his filmmaking partner as well.

One Cut, One Life covers these subjects as well as the complicated triangle that existed between Ed, Small, and Ed’s wife Jane. Ed’s illness and his journey to leave behind one last work with Small may be the main focus of the film, but Small also uses the film as a way to process the sudden and tragic deaths of two of her closest friends.

When I write it all out like this, One Cut, One Life reads like a beautiful story about a man in the December of his life looking to reconcile the great loves of his life. The film also sounds like a tale of mortality and grief. However, I found the film very messy and unorganized. Now while some critics may use the structure of the film as a metaphor for life being messy and unorganized, a metaphor only goes so far.

I had a really hard time caring for anyone in this film because they all appeared so ugly and selfish. Although at times, I felt sorry for Jane having to share her remaining days with her husband with another woman, it really surprised me that she was so surprised that Ed would want to make one last film.

The film is done in three acts, but the timeline is not linear and certain information that is revealed would have been better served in a linear timeline. And though One Cut, One Life is a collaborative effort, it felt like three different projects crammed together in one film; a film about Small’s loss, a film about Ed’s life, and a film about a man at the end of his life.

Although they were able to finish most of the film before Pincus passed, Small completed it after he died so it is hard to say how he would have felt about the final product. Documentary is still supposed to tell a story and engage the audience, and this film failed to do so. And as I write this I know there will be other reviewers that will turn this film into some great piece of art that it just is not. For the audiences who read those reviews and then go and see the film they will come away disappointed. 

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