Telling Lies - Review

Author: Lorenzo Fantoni
Date: 2020-07-31 00:15:08
If someone could analyze our life only through remnants of conversations, phone calls, videos made by us or by our friends, what image would come out of it? Would we really be the people in those videos or just something lost in a mass of data, fragments of what we were and maybe we are no longer? Is it really possible to rebuild a world by looking at the lives of the people who live there?

Telling Lies represents the return of Sam Barlow to the genre of investigation through films after Her Story, the genre that he practically invented is that I would not even know how to classify (interactive video drama? Indirect investigation? But who cares?). Di Her Story returns the concept of watching videos by looking in a terminal that simulates a computer system, using keywords with which to make all the pieces that correspond to the word we have chosen appear on the screen, the rest is something even more intimate and profound compared to the past.

The initial impact with Telling Lies is (deliberately) unsettling: after a short video we find ourselves in front of this operating system that resembles a Linux distro, the first word entered in the search field is "love" and the first five appear below footage in which it is mentioned. Browsing through the few text files we discover that it is a "safe" PC in which all data will be destroyed upon logout, we also know that it is NSA material, that something bad has probably happened and we know we are a woman, because on the screen our reflection constantly appears, to remind us who we are and what the context is.

That's all.

Being in front of an unknown operating system is a bit like taking a walk in a village you don't know, so you immediately look for a safe place. For me it's a pub in the country, in Telling Lies I start the first video, the first linked to the word "love".

There is a man with a beard, he could be around 35 years old, he looks at the screen while talking to someone in what appears to be a video call, he begins to undress with a wink and then suddenly he gets dressed and I guess he is talking to a child. I guess it because in Telling Lies all the videos show you only one side of the story, that of who is speaking, but you cannot know the answer until you find the corresponding video. It is possible to take notes, bookmark videos and review them as many times as we want and consult the timeline to find a movie already seen a moment ago on the fly.

After the first video I finish seeing those under the same keyword, there is a blonde woman who speaks to someone with whom she seems very intimate, a black girl who sings and flirts in a romantic phone call, then again the man with the beard that talks about Jason Bourne, finally a video in which the blonde woman in turn quotes Jason Bourne and the two conversations seem to fit together.

Okay, the blonde woman and the man with the beard are together and almost certainly have a girl, to separate them is his job that has to do with the FBI.

But what does the singing girl have to do with it?

I begin to blindly feel the world of Telling Lies by writing the first words that come to my mind: murder, sex, work, relationship, home, fear, hatred and slowly a network of relationships unfolds, of past and present, betrayals, confessions, nervous breakdowns, outbursts of anger and conspiracies that slowly fill the pages of a notebook and that obviously I am careful not to tell you.

Every detail, every previous knowledge would be to want to put you on a path that would not be yours, while the beauty of the game is all in being able to get by yourself in this huge amount of data, we are talking about more than 4 hours of total videos, accumulating tiles of a puzzle in which the only way to understand the joints and carefully analyze the words and follow them.

The result is a sort of huge syncopated film in which the editing is decided by the case and our intuitions, in which the timeline travels back and forth in a span of two years and shows us the slow but constant change of a group of people who find and lose themselves, changing each other's destiny.

And despite the fact that the mechanism is slowly revealed, you are still displaced. There isn't a progress bar, a place to report clues and receive momentary gratification, someone who asks you questions to see if you understand or a level to pass. It's all in your head, in your notes, in the decisions you made and that automatically influenced everything else.

The only time to take stock are the interruptions that mark the time and in which we can see our alter ego interacting with someone in the room, taking a break, being distracted by the phone or by sudden noises of the street and the apartments around. Or maybe it's the noises of my apartment building?

Compared to Her Story, Telling Lies is a much more intense, more intimate story, because if in the previous title we had to analyze interrogations in which the person knew he was being shot, here we sneak into the lives of others, we catch them in moments of vulnerability, while they are in bed, tired, happy, angry, exposed, we look at them for endless minutes, straight in the eyes, reading their emotions that would be directed to the interlocutor, but end up going inside us. It is the inevitable consequence to which one is exposed by spying on the lives of others.

Much of the credit for this emotional transport and the success of the project obviously goes to the cast, which manages to convey the rainbow of emotions that arises in Telling Lies with great detail and practically never false, but on the other hand we talk about people with some important productions behind it and perfectly able to support the atmosphere you breathe. Logan Marshall-Green, or Tom Hardy's youngest clone, you have already seen him in Upgrade or The OC, Alexandra Shipp comes from the beautiful Halt and Catch Fire, and Angela Sarafyan will recognize her from Westworld. We are therefore not talking about people taken from the street and placed in front of a camera, behind every scene, every dialogue, but also in the PC interface, the clicks, the background noises, there is a painstaking cure that will not escape the more careful player.

Here, I said "gamer", but are we facing a video game? One of those things that require skill, concentration and with an intent, in the broadest sense of the term, playful? The first answer for "yes" is followed immediately "but who cares", the important thing is that it works, that it entertains you, that makes you think and Telling Lies manages to do all this in an excellent way.

Of course, it's not for everyone, because maybe not everyone is interested in being in front of the screen for hours to see someone talking to people we don't see and it's an absolutely legitimate objection. It takes a certain taste for voyerism, for gossip and for getting the facts of others, without which it is perhaps more difficult to get sucked into it.

Sometimes, however, the taste of discovery is clouded by videos in which nothing interesting happens literally, but which we continue to scroll in the hope of finding the next interesting clue and honestly I would have liked a more complete video interface, in which I could move at will and not only with fast forward and backward.

But when the end credits finally arrived and I saw the end, there was little to do, I immediately threw myself back on the archives to find out what I had left behind, to understand if the truth I had discovered was only one of the possible in a story that started with the word "love" but that does not end with the word "end".

I played Telling Lies with a steam code provided by the developer on a Lenovo Y520 PC completing the game and returning several times to find the other possible endings for a total of about six hours.