PLOT: An unseen narrator explains that an exhibition of seven related paintings from the fictional artist Fredéric Tonnerre caused a scandal in the 19th century and were removed from public view. We are then introduced to the Collector, who owns six of the seven paintings—one of them has been stolen, he explains, leaving the story told through the artwork incomplete. Using live actors to recreate the canvases, the Collector walks through the paintings and constructs a bizarre interpretation of their esoteric meaning.
Raoul Ruiz is credited with more than 100 films in a career that lasted from 1964 until his death in 2011.
Ruiz was originally hired by a French television channel to produce a documentary on writer/painter Pierre Klossowski. The project morphed into this fictional story that adapts themes and plots from several of Klossowski’s works, especially “La Judith de Frédéric Tonnerre” and “Baphomet.”
Many of the figurants in the tableaux vivants were writers and staff from the influential journal “Cahiers du Cinema.” Future film star Jean Reno, in his first screen appearance, is also among those posing.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Obviously, one of the tableaux vivants—the three dimensional recreations of Tonnerre’s paintings featuring motionless, silent actors. From Diana and the hunt to Knights Templar playing chess, these are (perhaps) inexplicable scenes which, the narrator explains, “play[s] carefully on our curiosity as spectators who arrived too late.” The strangest of all is the tableau of a young man stripped to the waist with a noose around his neck, surrounded by men, one holding a cross, others in turbans and brandishing daggers, and three of whom are conspicuously pointing at objects within the scene. Hanging above them is a suspended mask.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: The hanged youth; whispering narrator; Knights Templar of Baphomet
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Performed with art house restraint in an impishly surreal spirit, this labyrinthine, postmodern meditation on art criticism plays like a Peter Greenaway movie done in the style of Last Year at Marienbad, adapted from a lost Jorge Luis Borges story.
PLOT: During the holiday season on the beaches near Calais, two young people from opposite worlds discover a mutual attraction, but complications arise from the behavior of their quirky families and an ongoing investigation into unexplained disappearances among vacationers.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The film goes all in on the oddness, contrasting over-the-top dramatics with an aggressively blasé attitude toward the more salacious elements of its story. Writer/director Bruno Dumont wants very badly to put you off your guard, mixing in livewire topics like cannibalism, incest, and gender confusion with characters who are carefully calculated to be ridiculous. But the effort is so determined, so blatantly deliberate, that there’s a case to be made that the weird factor is reduced by the strain behind it.
COMMENTS: Not long after the first run of Twin Peaksflamed out in the dual crucibles of American television production and audience fickleness, ABC decided to see what other ideas David Lynch might have up his sleeve. In the wake of perhaps the moodiest show in TV history, Lynch decided to mix things up by proffering, of all things, a situation comedy. Although possessing a quirky and dark sense of humor, Lynch was hardly anybody’s idea of the next Garry Marshall, and the resulting show—a true curio called “On the Air,” about a failing TV network in the 1950s—was so strange and off-putting in its attempts at comedy that the network pulled the plug after three episodes. There’ll be no latter-day revival for that Lynch project.
It would come as no surprise to learn that Bruno Dumont had stumbled upon “On the Air” and been suitably inspired. Known for the intense gravitas of his raw autopsies of life in Cannes Grand Prix-winning films like L’Humanité and Flanders, Dumont surprised everyone by throwing in with the comedians for Li’l Quinquin, a French TV miniseries that answered the burning question, “What if ‘Broadchurch’ were played for laughs?” Slack Bay continues that dalliance with silliness, viewing a number of serious themes through a filter of absurdity.
The most visible example of this is the extremely broad acting of almost everyone in the cast, resembling the broad physicality of the earliest sound films. Nearly every actor seems to have been given the note, “Go over the top and keep going.” The vacationing family, the nitwit Van Peteghems, revels in stretching every character choice to its extreme. Luchini’s hunchbacked, perpetually perplexed father is so flummoxed by basic tasks that it takes him several minutes to try to cut a piece of meat. (He is unsuccessful.) Bruni Tedeschi is eternally frazzled until a surprising burst of flight provides her with much-needed inner calm. And then there’s Binoche, attempting to become the dictionary definition of the word “histrionic.” She reacts in the biggest way possible to everything, so that when situations finally seem to justify an outsize response (such as an anguished revelation of a family secret), she has Chicken Littled herself into unbelievability.
But it’s not just the upper-class twits whom Dumont captures at their looniest. There are the taciturn Bruforts, who mostly grimace and grunt, barely speaking except to lash out at each other. And then there are the two detectives who stumble across the countryside like a Gallic Laurel & Hardy, utterly incapable of putting one clue together with another. Didier Després’ Machin is a particular idiot: corpulent to the point of being unable to move around effectively (his repeated falls are Slack Bay’s nod to slapstick), he confronts everyone he meets with an aggressive tone and is defiantly oblivious to information directly in front of him. When he too unexpectedly takes to the skies, his experience is utterly different: inspired by nothing, angry, and only resolved by shooting him down.
The closest thing to normal is a young romantic couple. Played with a charming lack of guile by novice actors, Billie and Ma Loute are appropriately awkward, coy, and relatable in ways that set them apart from everyone else in the film. Well, as relatable as a couple can be when they consist of a gender-fluid teenager and a tight-lipped young man who whacks people over the head with an oar so they can be served up as food. It’s almost as though Dumont is playing a game in which you have to decide what makes a character more tolerable: acts or behaviors. In Slack Bay, he seems to lean toward behaviors.
The question of whether or not Slack Bay is weird relies heavily on whether you think Dumont is staging an elaborate put-on. Everything is so broadly vaudevillian, it’s easy to suspect that he’s purposely having a go at us. But I choose to believe that he earnestly wants to explore the human condition via these crazed antics. Maybe, like Lynch in sitcom mode, everything will inevitably filter through his old sensibilities, which will certainly carry over to other styles and genres, like his most recent film: a musical about Joan of Arc.
PLOT: A mysterious loner living in isolation in the mountains survives off the food and shelter of unused vacation homes; through flashbacks we see how his life unraveled after meeting a doomsday-prophesying computer engineer.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: With its nonlinear style and a few nearly incomprehensible plot elements, this is definitely weird. But it also throws in a by-now familiar twist that makes it feel less special.
COMMENTS:For years, a man (Rami Malek) known only as “Buster” has been haunting the woods where a number of high-end vacation homes lie empty the majority of the year. He breaks into these homes and stays for a few days at a time, neatly tidying up after himself but often leaving some memento of his visit behind for the owners to find. The only interactions we see him engage in are periodic phone calls to radio DJ’s and phone sex workers, warning them of some impending doom called “the Inversion.” In an alternate vision of his life, he is lost at sea, waiting out his own death on a small rowboat, alternating between English and Spanish as he shouts at the sky. With the third version of Buster, we learn his history. He was once named “Jonah,” a hard-working young family man who had overcome drug addiction and homelessness and found salvation (and a wife) in the church. He works the night shift at a quiet airport hotel, and dreams of whisking his family away from the toil of working-class suburban life to their very own plot of land in the mountains, where they can live on their own terms. Jonah’s chance encounter with an unnamed drifter (DJ Qualls) who foretells the end of the world sets a chain of events in motion that leads to drastic changes in his lifestyle and worldview.
Buster’s Mal Heart is an exercise in nonlinear, enigmatic storytelling. Each scene is a flashback, a flash forward, or a flash-sideways, with seeming revelations about the protagonist often resulting in more questions, wrong turns, or dead ends. But writer/director Sarah Adina Smith (known for her stunning, secretive debut The Midnight Swim) throws viewers some bread crumbs, hinting at overarching themes. It seems that all of Jonah’s life as we know it is a constant push-pull between a “normal,” responsible, social existence and a completely free, independent one. He works in the hospitality industry, but due to his hours he spends most of his shifts alone, cleaning up the barren spaces of the hotel or sitting at the front desk staring blankly at the empty lobby. He loves his wife, Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil), and young daughter, but refuses to imagine a buttoned-up suburban life for them, instead saving all of his money to build them a cabin on a lake. He is an active member of an unspecific Christian church, but not actually invested in religion, likely remaining only because it is so Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: BUSTER’S MAL HEART (2017)→
PLOT: A woman is rushed to the emergency room; flashbacks explain the troubled relationship between a psychology professor and a free-spirited younger woman that brought them to this pass.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Extremely subtle weirdness + adequate Nic Roeg representation on the List already + shrinking available space (only 85 slots left at the time of this writing) make it a bad time for Bad Timing to come along. Had this review been written earlier in this site’s existence, this movie’s layers of mystery might have convinced us to shortlist it, but now we have weirder candidates waiting in the wings.
COMMENTS: Nicolas Roeg shows excellent, if somewhat deceptive, timing with Bad Timing. He feints that he’s about to give us a bittersweet meditation on a failed love affair, but instead probes ever deeper into a psychology of paranoia and obsession, using a subtly dislocating style to keep us off guard. Opposed dualities appear everywhere: male vs. female, rational vs. emotional, East vs. West, law vs. crime. The setup is classic amour fou, pairing successful academic Dr. Alex Linden with the hard-drinking, free-loving Milena. As the relationship is slowly revealed in flashbacks, we see the power balance between the two shift back and forth, as both parties become mired in an increasingly destructive relationship, in different ways. Alex appears coldly rational—Milena bitingly advises him to try to love her instead of trying to understand her—but his advanced training doesn’t inoculate him from human frailty; he’s as subject to jealousy as the next man, and when he falls from his logical perch, he falls hard, into a churning id.
Paranoia and second-guessing are the rule in Alex’s world. The ever-present Cold War background, which is seldom explicitly mentioned, aroused more paranoid associations at the time than it does now. Alex lectures his Intro to Psych students about how everyone is a spy, starting with children peeking on their parent’s lovemaking; later, it appears that the psychiatrist himself is being analyzed by the detective, whose intuition and experience may lead him closer to Alex’s essence than Freudian methodologies would. Alex’s nemesis is a source of mystery and paranoia, too. Harvey Keitel’s obsession with investigating what on the surface seems to be an open-and-shut suicide attempt is itself obsessive, and seems almost unmotivated (until a last minute revelation). Wearing a greasy mullet, Keitel doesn’t make the slightest pretense of being Austrian; I don’t think this is bad casting, but deliberate dissonance, a clue that his character is pure metaphor.
Art Garfunkle, on the other hand, really is bad casting, and his presence damages what could have been an unqualified classic. Roeg’s good taste in casting David Bowie as an alien The Man Who Fell to Earth doesn’t carry forward here. Not only is Garfunkle a stiff in the acting department, but we’re asked to view him as a suave sex symbol, someone whose magnetism would ensnare the heart of a young woman who could have her pick of any stud in Vienna. Fortunately, an excellent, brave performance from the underappreciated Theresa Russell blows through Art’s inadequacies in their scenes together.
The finale is truly shocking, but well-earned. Also of note is the excellent soundtrack, featuring hits from Tom Waits, Billie Holiday, The Who, and Keith Jarrett. The difficulty of re-securing the rights to all of this music for home video release put Bad Timing out of circulation for many years. It was released to mixed reviews and big controversies: it was rated “X” in the U.S. (a commercial death sentence), and the U.K. distributor called it “sick” and had its logo pulled off prints. Although the film is better appreciated today (even receiving a Criterion Collection release), the furor over Bad Timing led to a perception of Roeg as box office poison. After starting his career off with five memorable films, the director’s career fell off precipitously in the 80s, with 1990’s Roald Dahl adaptation The Witches marking a brief comeback to relevance.
PLOT: Young Edgar Allen comes to Hollywood to make it as a screenwriter and settles in at a fleabag motel; he incorporates his revenge fantasies into his murder-mystery screenplay, but finds that the killings he writes about occur in real life.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s an oddball tongue-in-cheek horror melodrama, but there’s nothing tremendously weird about it.
COMMENTS: In his introduction to the DVD edition of Screamplay, Lloyd Kaufman calls Rufus B. Seder the “Luis Buñuel of Tromaville.” While that’s more than a bit of a stretch, it’s true that this classic horror homage, distributed (but not made) by Troma just before they stumbled onto the lucrative Toxic Avenger formula, is extremely highbrow by the company’s gore-comedy standards. Aside from the minuscule budget, it’s unlike anything else in their catalog. It’s far enough outside the mainstream that George “Sins of the Fleshapoids” Kuchar took on a rare acting role outside of his own productions (he’s wonderfully sleazy here as the heavy).
The story is simple: a series of murders among the dregs of Hollywood—would-be writers, actresses, agents, and producers—holed up in a low-rent motel are linked to a script being churned out by an eager but naive young screenwriter. The style, however, is more impressive. Rufus B. Seder’s influences are obvious: from the Expressionistic shadows of Nosferatu to the cheap B-movies of the 30s and 40s that vainly but valiantly tried to exploit that atmosphere (there’s even a sly nod to Plan 9 from Outer Space when a cop absentmindedly scratches his face with his revolver). Most of the time Screamplay looks like a 30s period piece you might catch on the Late Late Show, complete with a scratchy public domain quality transfer, but there are moments that would not be out of place in a Guy Maddin movie—or an early draft of Barton Fink as done by a poverty row studio. Seder’s performance seems to be at least partially modeled on Bill Woods’ wild-eyed mugging in Maniac—his innocent expression darkens and his eyes turn insane at the drop of a plot point. The ganja-inspired hallucination with a pair of murderous hands appearing in a cloud of pot-smoke also recalls Dwain Esper‘s maniacal epic.
The sets are very basic, but with overdramatic lighting, they achieve a melodramatic budget Expressionism. The blocky motel stairs leading to nowhere reach a minimalist sort of Surrealism, as does the police station set—basically just a raised podium reading “Hollywood Police Dept.,” flanked by Greek pillars with light bulbs on top. The story is set in no time in particular; the style recalls the 1930s, naturally, but occasional anachronisms like a roller-skating transvestite mugger add another layer of absurdity. Overall, it’s an impressive triumph of style over budget. Still, unless you’re obsessed with 20s and 30s horror, I wouldn’t recommend rushing out and trying to find Screamplay; but, if you do, I’d be willing to bet you won’t be disappointed.
Rufus B. Seder never made another movie after this one; he went into the production of holographic murals instead (examples of his work are included as a special feature on the DVD). It’s a shame, because Seder has clear talent and may have been able to make a truly great weird movie down the line had he stuck with it. He seems to have gotten movies out of his system with this project, but at least he found a niche for his creative impulses.
PLOT: Col. Kane, a U.S. Marines psychiatrist, is assigned to an experimental program in a castle housing delusional military officers who are suspected malingerers. There, he bonds with Cutshaw, a militantly atheist and misanthropic astronaut, with whom he engages in passionate dialogues about the existence of God. One night, Cutshaw breaks out of the compound and heads for a bar frequented by a rough motorcycle gang; Kane follows.
William Peter Blatty (“The Exorcist”) adapted the screenplay from his own 1978 novel, which was itself a reworking of a 1966 novel (“Twinkle, Twinkle, ‘Killer’ Kane”) with which he had been dissatisfied. This was his directorial debut (in a career that reached three films with 2016’s Legion).
Blatty originally wrote a “Kane” screenplay that he hoped would be filmed by William Friedkin in the early Seventies, but they could not find a studio willing to produce it. Blatty and Friedkin collaborated on The Exorcist (1973) instead.
Although the script made the rounds in Hollywood for years, no studio would back The Ninth Configuration. Blatty eventually funded the film half with his own money and half with a donation from Pepsico, who were willing to provide funds for complicated international tax reasons so long as the film was shot entirely in Hungary.
Blatty has fiddled with the editing through the years, deleting and restoring scenes, so that cuts run anywhere from 99 minutes to 140 minutes.
According to Blatty, The Ninth Configuration‘s Cutshaw is the same character as the astronaut who attended the dinner party in The Exorcist.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: What else could it possibly be besides the crucifixion on the moon?
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Lunar Calvary; lunatic with a jet-pack; dog Hamlet
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Obsession is fertile soil for a weird movie. The Ninth Configuration is a movie in a madhouse that sets out to do nothing less than to prove the existence of God; it doesn’t, naturally, but the ambition involved makes for some strange choices, invoking a passion that carries the story over some rough patches.
Part I of “Boris Karloff’s Thriller” episode guide is here, part II is here, and part III is here.
“God Grante That She Lye Stille” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Robert Hardy Andrews) has series composer Jerry Goldsmith matching a rousing score to a well-worn plot about a wicked witch named Elspeth Clewer (Sarah Marshall) who is burned at the stake and places a curse upon her lineage, vowing to come back in another Clewer. 300 years later Margaret Clewer (Marshall) apparently has just the right curves and… no prizes for guessing this plot, which is reminiscent of Mario Bava‘s Black Sunday (1960). Marshall is physically reminiscent of Barbara Steele, but stamps the role with her own charisma. Henry Daniell gives a typically steely performance as the local vicar and Victor Buono, per the norm, invests his cameo with gusto. It’s well-lit with impressive ghost FX and sets, which makes for quite the grand guignol episode, despite its conventional narrative.
“Masquerade” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Donald S. Sanford) has familiar actors Elizabeth Montgomery and John Carradine in another Old Dark House thriller that begins on a dark and stormy night. Charlie (Tom Poston) and Rosamond (Montgomery) Denham, celebrating their second honeymoon, depart their southern trailer park (!), get lost in the rain, and come upon the old Carta place. Carta patriarch Jed (Carradine) gives them shelter and… well, the old Carta place just happens to have bats flying around, the corpse of a hog hanging upside down (with a bucket collecting its blood), bars on the windows, secret passages, a rather large number of stuffed birds, and the psychotic old woman Ruthie (Dorothy Neumann) chained to a wall. She begs the honeymooning couple to free her, which they of course do. Ruthie’s first victim is Jed’s eccentric grandson Lem (Jack Lambert), which leads to the discovery that the Carta clan are cannibalistic vampires. “Masquerade” recalls elements of Terence Fisher‘s Brides Of Dracula and Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho, and may be something of a precursor to 1967’sSpider Baby. “Masquerade” is not as good as any of those, however. Although the plot is now overly familiar, it revels in black comedy, and is bookended by an over the top intro by Karloff and a daffy “twist” ending. Another plus is the acerbic Montgomery and a scene stealing, creepy Carradine giving charmingly riotous performances.
Part I of “Boris Karloff’s Thriller” episode guide is here. Part II is here.
“A Good Imagination” (directed by John Brahm and written by Robert Bloch) benefits from Bloch’s narrative about fatal bookworm Frank Logan (Edward Andrews) who accesses literary classics for inspiration to dispose of his unfaithful wife’s numerous lovers. With blackened humor and erudite irony, this episode evokes both Hitchcock and Poe. Andrews’s winning portrayal has us rooting for a ruthless antagonist with an alarmingly high body count who practically whistles while he works.
“Mr. George” (directed by Ida Lupino and written by Donald S. Sanford) is an episode that’s greater than the sum of its parts. A superb Jerry Goldsmith score, assured direction by Lupino, and good performances elevate a conventional script about a young child named Priscilla (Gina Gillespie, who would become best known as the young Blanche Hudson in 1962’s Whatever Happened To Baby Jane) whose guardian Mr. George has recently died. Now in the custody of three cousins plotting her death for the inheritance money, Priscilla is guided and protected by Mr. George’s spirit. Contemporary audiences may balk at the idea of finding humor in attempted murder of a child (as they did with Addams Family Values), but Lupino’s direction deftly balances humor with a sense of threat.
Paul Henried redeems his previous effort (season one‘s bland “Mark of the Hand”) with effective direction in “The Terror in Teakwood” (written by Alan Callow). It’s an episode in the tradition of Hands of Orlac (1924) and Mad Love (1935). Vladimir Vicek ( Guy Rolfe) severs the hands of a dead pianist to assist him in tackling an overly complicated piece composed by Alexander Borodin. Hazel Court (a Hammer scream queen who would co-star with Karloff in Roger Corman‘s The Raven two years later), as Vicek’s wife Leonie, leads a strong ensemble. Though subdued, the sexual tones are startling for the period and this bizarre thriller is all the more atmospheric due to Goldsmith’s skilled use of preexisting music combined with his own work, making it a near-classic episode.
“The Prisoner in the Mirror” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Robert Arthur) is another prime thriller. Professor Langham (Lloyd Bochner) literally uncovers the mirror of the evil Count Cagliostro (Henry Daniell). Possessed by the infamous Cagliostro, Langham brings the mirror home and…. needless to say, the body count will pile up. A young Marion Ross (Mrs. Cunningham from “Happy Days”) plays Lagham’s fiancee and even makes a toast to “happy days,” which do not arrive for the poor girl. The fantasy element is in full flower, which could also be said of the performances by both Bochner and Daniell. Interestingly, Karloff himself Continue reading BORIS KARLOFF’S THRILLER (1960-1962): EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS, PART THREE→
Part I of “Boris Karloff’s Thriller” episode guide is here.
“The Poisoner,” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Robert Hardy Andrews) is loosely based on the real-life case of suspected serial poisoner Thomas Griffiths Wainwright. Here he is given the name of Thomas Edward Griffith and played by eternally underrated actor Murray Matheson. As artist, author and dandy, Griffith, used to the fine life, lies his way into marriage with rich socialite Frances Abercrombie (Sarah Marshall), only to discover she has also lied about her wealth. Worse, she moves her family in. Fortunately, Griffith is an expert poisoner. A score from Jerry Goldsmith again accentuates the suspense. It’s fairly well shot for television and includes that favorite noir murder method—pushing a wheelchair-bound victim down a spiraling stairwell. As the Abercrombies are an across the board ingratiating lot, it’s hard not to be manipulated into sympathizing with Griffith, but his mistreatment of a poor innocent kitty reveals him to be the cad he is.
“Man in the Cage” (directed by Gerald Mayer, written by Stuart Jerome and Maxwell Shane) stars Philip Carey as engineer Darrel Hudson, going to Tangier in search for his missing brother Noel (Guy Stockwell). The exotic location and co-star Diana Millay are wasted in a hopelessly dull episode.
“Choose a Victim” (directed by Richard Carlson, better known as the beefcake protagonist of Creature From The Black Lagoon, and written by George Bellak) is another crime noir. This one features prolific television actors Susan Oliver (many will remember her as the heroine in the two-part “Star Trek” episode “The Cage”) and Larry Blyden (from both “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “The Twilight Zone”). Tragically, both actors died young: Oliver from lung cancer, Blyden from a traffic accident. Blyden plays beach bum/golddigger Ralph, who stumbles onto the sad but beautiful Edith when he sneaks into her room to rob her. Rather than turning him in, Edith is sexually attracted to daring larcenist Ralphie and demands his “attention.” The episode takes a Postman Always Rings Twice turn when Edith manipulates Ralphie in a plot to kill her wealthy uncle. Naturally, that’s not only the bit of manipulation going on, and the episode revels in playing its mind games, even if it’s not a standout thriller.
“Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook” (directed by Herschel Daugherty and written by Allan Caillou) is an uneven episode with a plot that might call to mind elements from Anthony Shaffer’s later(and vastly superior)The Wicker Man (1973). Atmosphere and a sense of dread (aided again by Goldsmith, in top form) make up for a degree of awkward writing about a coven of witches in the Druid ruins of the rural Dark Falls, in Wales. The honeymoon of Scotland Yard inspector Continue reading BORIS KARLOFF’S THRILLER (1960-1962): EPISODE GUIDE AND REVIEWS, PART TWO→
FEATURING: Freya Mavor, Benjamin Biolay, Elio Germano, Stacy Martin
PLOT: When he’s away on business, a Parisian secretary who has never seen the ocean takes her boss’s Thunderbird on a road trip, but everywhere she goes people swear they’ve seen her before—is she going crazy?
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: For a while, the Lady seems to be driving her borrowed car into French Lynch territory, but she ultimately crashes it into mere implausibility.
COMMENTS: Forget the car, glasses and gun: the Lady, portrayed by Freya Mavor, is something to see. Freya was the Norse goddess of love and sex, and with her red hair, willowy build and tempting freckles, Mavor could pass for Scandinavian love goddess (she’s actually Scottish). It’s the Lady (not the plot) that is Lady‘s chief asset, and the way he shoots Mavor, I think director Johann Sfar knows it. He begins the film with her dancing madly at the sea shore, flaming hair flying around her head and bare feet pattering on the sea-soaked concrete of the pier, then cuts to an earlier scene where the model/actress is shot in unflattering light to actually make her look kind of ugly (a remarkable feat of cinematography). But as her confidence increases throughout the story, her hemline rises. Mavor’s girlish looks and waifish figure lend her an air of forbidden innocence that makes her future behavior seem all the more shocking.
As the pseudo-doppelanger plot synopsis might suggest, mirrors will provide key imagery here, and an early scene where the Lady’s reflection disobeys her provides one of the first hints of an ever-increasing subjectivity that leads us to suspect that she’s headed for madness. The plot kicks into gear after the Lady has borrowed the car, and keeps running into people who insist they’ve seen her recently; for example, eating breakfast that morning in a country café when she was actually in Paris at the time. On her road trip, she’s also assaulted at random, and starts making poor decisions re: picking up sleazy drifters at roadside motels. Our attention is diverted by Sfar’s style (cool music, cool cars, sexy chicks, impossible occurrences); and the Lady seems to be turning schizophrenic, until fifteen minutes of closing exposition explain what’s really been going on all along. Many people criticized the climax as a clunky dénouement device, but I was more disappointed in the solution to the mystery, which relies too much on crazy coincidence for my satisfaction.
Johann Sfar has been hanging around on the fringes of weird films for a while now, starting with the mildly hallucinatory biopicGainsbourg: A Heroic Life, and continuing with The Rabbi’s Cat, his arcane adaptation of his own graphic novel about a snarky, sacrilegious pet. In Lady‘s second act the thick, nearly surrealistic atmosphere makes this remake of the seldom-seen 1970 shocker of the same title seem like it’s going to be Sfar’s weirdest film; ultimately, however, it ends up as his most conventional. Sfar remains an unpredictable force with the potential to unleash something fantastically weird in the future, although each near-miss diminishes our enthusiasm for his work just a little.