DIRECTED BY: Marina de Van
FEATURING: Sophie Marceau, Monica Bellucci, Andrea Di Stefano
PLOT: As she struggles to write an autobiographical novel, a writer with childhood amnesia
finds that everything she sees—her apartment, her husband’s face, and even her own image in the mirror—is changing into something unfamiliar.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The sophomore effort by rising bizarre star Marina de Van arrives as a slight disappointment. The opening segments are disquieting without being bang-up weird, and by the end the mystery is resolved too completely, leaving nothing to linger in the mind.
COMMENTS: Don’t Look Back mines the psychological terrain of jamais vu: the strange feeling you get when you enter a room you’ve been in hundreds of times and everything suddenly looks different, or when you look at the face of the person you’ve slept next to for a decade and see a stranger. Sophie Marceau begins as Jeanne, the woman who finds that her kitchen furniture has been rearranged, the Paris city streets are no longer familiar, and her husband and children are making strange hand gestures when she’s not looking. Initially she just seems paranoid, but the incidents keep building until finally her entire family has been replaced by different actors whom she doesn’t recognize, and we’re convinced there’s something seriously amiss inside Jeanne’s mind. The breaking point comes when she looks into the mirror and sees an unfamiliar face staring back at her—on her left side, she still looks like Sophie Marceau, but the right side of the image is the face of Monica Bellucci. Based on a clue she finds in a photo, Jeanne (now being played by Bellucci rather than Marceau) travels to an Italian village where she finds herself in a situation that’s almost the reverse of Paris: she recognizes the faces she sees as those of her husband, mother, etc., but no one she encounters seems to have a clue as to who she is. It’s an intriguing premise, and the film is sincere, well-executed, and clever—and it’s also one of those movies where, by the end, you’re puzzled why it’s turned out merely solid rather than exceptional. Part of the problem is the pace. The movie starts slow, and keeps piling up weird incidents long after we’ve gotten the point that something’s cracked inside Jeanne and are anxious to get moving towards some answers. The use of horror movie music cues to inform us that something uncanny is taking place is overdone and gauche, almost to the point of parody. Containing two episodes of traumatically interrupted intercourse and more than a hint of incest, the movie flirts with ideas of sexual repression and perversion that, in the end, turn out to have nothing to do with Jeanne’s psychology. And although the movie gets into a nice weird groove in the run up to the finale, where Jeanne now seems to be turning from Bellucci into a third actress at a wild village party, the script explains itself too completely by the end. Although the solution to the mystery is intellectually satisfying, it doesn’t provide the emotional chills and thrills it should. Looking back on the “clues” scattered through the earlier parts of the film, you realize that many of them didn’t add up; they were just arbitrary strange occurrences that let you know something was off but didn’t assist you to guess what it was, and so you feel cheated. That said, the ending is unexpected and should keep you interested enough to keep watching. The half Marceau/half Bellucci effect is truly novel and uncanny. And the performances by the two French beauties are superlative: Marceau sets up the character, but it’s remarkable how Bellucci picks her up mannerisms so that you never question that this is the same character inhabiting two different bodies (to a lesser extent, the same compliment can be applied to Andrea Di Stefano and Thierry Neuvic, the two men who play Jeanne’s husband). The end result is not a disaster, but given everything the movie apparently has going in its favor, it’s underwhelming.
De Van’s previous film was In My Skin [Dans Ma Peau] (2002), a shocking and mysterious portrait of a woman’s obsessive self-mutilation.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…a traumatic and reductive incident from Marceau/Bellucci’s past is to blame—hence the title—which makes the entire film feel like the laborious setup for a dopey Twilight Zone twist.”–Mike D’Angelo, Onion A.V. Club (Cannes screening)