Just Another Love Story
'Love Story' twists and turns into dark places
'Beautiful women and a mystery - isn't that how a film noir starts?" Generally so, and "Just Another Love Story," which includes that self-referential bit of wisdom, is no exception. Barreling toward us with high style from Denmark, the film opens with its hero dead on the sidewalk in the rain, narrating the tale of how he came to be that way. Very "Sunset Blvd.," and it still hooks you good.
The title drips with sarcasm. As written and directed by Ole Bornedal ("Nightwatch"), "Just Another Love Story" is a violent, melodramatic, feverishly overplotted tale of midlife crisis and crazy love. It's good, nasty fun until it gets boxed in by its own contrivances toward the end.
As with all noirs, neo or otherwise, there's a sap at the center of it all. This is Jonas (an appealingly shaggy Anders W. Berthelsen), a Copenhagen crime scene photographer who's married, a dad, and desperate. He entertains dreams of exotic escape which Bornedal CGIs right into the frame, as if they're taking over Jonas's reality. A terrifying car accident results in mystery woman Julia (Rebecka Hemse) landing in the hospital in a coma, and our guilty, lusting hero dropping by for a visit. Her family thinks he's her boyfriend, Sebastien, whom they've never met. When Julia awakes, blind and amnesiac, she thinks so too.
This is "While You Were Sleeping" as a cruelly funny Hitchcock mousetrap. Jonas falls ever deeper into his alternate new life - Julia's parents just love Sebastien - while his wife, Mette (Charlotte Fich), quietly freaks over his disappearances, and his forensic scientist co-worker (Dejan Cukic) offers cynical advice to Jonas and sexual solace to Mette. Although we've seen the real Sebastien (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) meet a bloody demise in Hanoi during the early scenes, there's a possibility he's not dead yet. Or is someone else stalking the film's fringes, head swathed in bandages?
To make a plot this transcendently silly work, you have to have a cast willing to play it deep and straight, as well as stylistic chops to burn. "Just Another Love Story" has both, for most of its running time anyway. Hemse makes an alluringly damaged femme fatale - she's like a meaner Barbara Hershey - while Berthelsen's a patsy the audience can relate to and Kaas invests his scenes with devilish erotic menace.
Still, the director's the star here. Bornedal gooses us through his preposterous story with breathless pacing and camerawork, indulging in such high-wire filmmaking as two sequences, intercut together, in which Jonas travels to the country with Julia and confronts his wife during a family shopping trip. Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" plays under both scenes; in one, it's the music of romantic release. In the other it's just Muzak, bland and mocking.
Maybe it's too much to expect Bornedal to keep the juggling act up until the end. Sooner or later, "Just Another Love Story" has to resolve its story lines, and it does so in a way both overly familiar and hard to buy. There's a villain, an explanation, struggle, blood, all concrete disappointments coming after the movie's witty abstract pleasures. He who plays with cliches eventually has to live by cliches, but Bornedal gets burned by them, too. He's so smart here he outsmarts himself.