In Conversation with Philippe Weibel: The Art of Love (2022) and the Contemporary Disconnect

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Source: The Art of Love Project

“The fiercest competitor of love is fear,” says Philippe Weibel. “I think that nowadays a lot of people are afraid of getting hurt and… many of us have become so focussed on our careers that it’s almost a pain to get to know new people, and so tech is filling the gap that’s left in peoples’ lives.”

Weibel is the writer, producer, and director of The Art of Love (2022). A refreshingly heartfelt comedy-drama, The Art of Love combines the whacky and the provocative with the poignant message at its core: namely, the escalating emotional isolation of people in modern Western civilisation. 

Played by Alexandra Gilbreath and Oliver Walker respectively, The Art of Love follows the stories of two contrasting individuals: 55-year-old London Underground worker Eva and 35-year-old Adam, influencer and face of a booming sex-toy start-up, ‘The Art of Love’. The pair strike up an unlikely friendship after Eva’s success writing reviews for ‘The Art of Love’ pushes them into business together. A generation apart, Eva and Adam represent opposing perspectives of individuals experiencing loneliness within the context of a digitised society: whilst Eva, dissatisfied within a marriage that’s lost all passion, yearns for the lost love and romance that once flourished between her and her husband, Adam moves through life almost wholly cut off from his emotions, his only (and supposed) friend the sleazy and profit-hungry ‘The Art of Love’ owner, Hector.

It is through their heartwarming friendship that the two are able to help each other “meet in the middle”, Adam reconnecting with his emotions whilst Eva reconnects with her body. 

Eva (played by Alexandra Gilbreath) and Adam (played by Oliver Walker) in The Art of Love (2022)

“The key to an interesting story is interesting characters,” says Weibel. “Adam is very physical [and] very disconnected from himself”, whilst Eva, the antithesis of Adam, “represents the opposite side of things. She’s more in her head, in her fantasy, coming always from emotion rather than any physical kind of impulse.”

Revealing the inspiration behind The Art of Love, Weibel explains how the character of Adam came to be. 

[The film] was actually born from a documentary project exploring loneliness among young male influencers,” he says. “I found that [the influencers] were actually just really lonely guys… That’s where the character of Adam came about. The project expanded. It became something much bigger.

Weibel was in London shooting a film for a client when he learned that the UK had created a ministry to fight loneliness, a revelation that inspired him to launch the project that would go on to become The Art of Love. The Minister of Loneliness was appointed after a 2017 report revealed that 9 million Britons, approximately 14 percent of the population, suffer from loneliness ‒ a condition increasingly recognised as an important social determinant of health. 

“Of course, it’s not just cities,” says Weibel, on the rising emotional isolation of people in contemporary society. “But I do think they are the major victims of this whole development.”

The idea of urban alienation, that you can be lonely anywhere, even in a city where you’re surrounded by millions of people, has become a frequent inspiration and creative driver behind the artists of today

“But it’s also very common to be lonely in relationships,” Weibel points out. “And our struggles with interpersonal communication only really make this worse.”

The themes that Weibel explores in The Art of Love through Eva’s character is a very common issue affecting people of all generations in long-term relationships. 

Jeremy Swift as Ben in The Art of Love (2022)

“I think sometimes guys reach their 50s and kind of give up a bit,” Weibel says. 

We’ve all heard of the mid-life crisis – it’s Weibel’s hypothesis that when men can no longer see themselves and their identity in the physical reality of who they’ve become, “they no longer ‘see’ their [partners].”

Eva’s emotionally absent husband, Ben, played by Jeremy Swift, somewhat forebodes the man that co-protagonist, Adam, might become. His biggest challenge in The Art of Love is overcoming the state of emotional repression that he’s fallen into. 

“The Art of Love touches a bit on the idea of toxic masculinity with Adam,” says Weibel. The emotional numbness that Adam experiences, though technically a measure of self-protection, is the reason behind Adam’s loneliness and unhappiness. Weibel explains how the specific brand of loneliness that impinges Adam is perhaps unique to the digital age: he doesn’t quite know how to have a ordinary, face-to-face relationship, the online interactions he receives through his work as an influencer both a source of escapism and a less-than-effective band-aid. 

As influencers, the young men that Weibel worked with for his initial documentary project were constantly under the strain of the perpetual expectation to perform, the face they wore for their work bled into their personal lives. They, like so many others around them, sought refuge in virtual worlds more so than anything ‘real’. 

“Influencers are basically under siege,” says Weibel. “They have to deliver all the time, perform all the time… they constantly have to be on alert for an audience that demands so much of them.”

However, Weibel makes sure to point out that the problem of loneliness cannot necessarily be blamed on the technological revolution. 

“Technology fills the gap of an already existing issue,” he says, “and the issue is a human one, not a digital one.”

Though the characters of Adam and Eva oppose each other in more ways than one, the problem of loneliness is a common one that they both share. But whilst Adam is largely representative of very recent developments concerning how young people navigate the digital spaces now available to us, given that his entire world, and his entire livelihood, are based in his work as an influencer in online spaces, Eva represents loneliness as we’ve always known it to be – the simple lack of meaningful connection.

Oliver Walker as Adam and Alexandra Gilbreath as Eva in The Art of Love (2022)

“I think Eva and Adam are an interesting dynamic because they’re both kind of past their peak,” Weibel explains. “At 35, Adam is kind of reaching his expiry date… His work is so heavily reliant on his physicality that this only intensifies the general pressure he feels to always be at the top of his game. Eva, at the same time, is past her peak in terms of her relationship. The spark between her and her husband has sort of died, and she feels alone in her efforts to revive it.”

And though due to their friendship both characters are able to find resolution at the end of The Art of Love, Weibel reveals that many were confused by the outcome of the film. 

“I had journalists come up to me after screenings asking why they don’t end up together,” he laughs. “But at the end of the day that was never what the film was about. I’ve always been very interested in friendship, my first feature film was about two friends, student guys, and for Eva and Adam it was the same. I think I balanced their age gap quite well, so there was a significant generational disparity, but not enough to make their relationship feel like that of one between mother and son.”

“Originally I wanted the character of Adam to be younger, in his early 20s, but they were all coming into casting and they just looked like boys! In the end we cast [Oliver Walker], and actually that made the film more interesting.”

“It’s all about emotion, really. Both characters are going through a bit of a crisis in terms of who they are, and even though their friendship seems so unlikely, this is how they’re able to help each other. They’re so very different and yet their problems are so similar.”

The Art of Love also reveals itself, in heartfelt moments and carefully scripted dialogue, as a razor-sharp commentary on the contemporary state of Western society. A strong atmosphere of dystopia lingers across each scene depicting ‘The Art of Love’, wherein the sex-toy company touts the replacement of real human connection with products. 

Alexandra Gilbreath as Eva, Kenneth Collard as Hector, and Oliver Walker as Adam in The Art of Love (2022)

When asked if this is a portraiture of a reality that we’re currently headed towards, Weibel insists that “it’s already here”.

Sales in the sex toy industry went through the roof during Covid, and given where we are with AI and chatgpt, I think we’re looking at a world where very soon emotional intimacy is going to be artificially created and sold.”

Weibel’s next project, though, is going to be headed in a different direction to The Art of Love

“I think humour’s a great way to deliver a message, so I’m sticking with that, but after having produced my last two features in the UK, my next project has to be a Swiss production.”

“I don’t want to reveal too much, but I think this next project is going to be a lot of fun. The story’s going to follow three women in their fifties who used to be in a girl band in the 90s, so think comedy, good music, and heartfelt female friendship.”

Regarding his on-set experience filming The Art of Love, Weibel described it as a “collaboration dream”. 

“Both our leads were incredibly talented actors. Eva’s very big on stage, and she arrived on set already with a very deep understanding of her character. Oliver, too, and all of the UK cast, helped me to make the dialogue more authentically ‘British’. So the whole production was always a discussion. The actors really understood the dream.”

“Of course, as always with independent filmmaking, we had our ups and downs. We meant to start in March 2020, so Covid caused huge delays. My whole crew was based in Switzerland and we couldn’t get into the UK, so in the end we actually ended up getting special permission for the actors to be flown into Zurich. All the indoor scenes were filmed there!”

Having been in the business for 23 years, Weibel is no stranger to the tumultuous nature of independent filmmaking. His advice to filmmakers just starting out?

“Well overall it was crazy – film is totally crazy! But you just have to keep improvising, commit to being logistically flexible, and normally you can end up with something quite amazing at the end.” 

By Elodie Davies

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