J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun

Dany Dorémus could be a serious femme fatale, but she lacks the confidence. Perhaps it is because of her glasses. Her parents probably did not help either. Apparently, in French author Sébastien Japrisot’s source novel, they were rather notorious during the German occupation, but that subtext is completely buried in Joann Sfar’s The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (trailer here), which opens this Friday in select theaters.

Dorémus is bizarrely mousy given her movie stars looks, but the audience is immediately given reason to believe she is not quite right in the head. Regardless, she will gamely agree to do a favor for Michel Caravaille, the boss she has long carried a torch for, despite his marriage to her former business school classmate, Anita. While they attend a party, Dorémus types up his urgent report and will then drive them to the airport next morning for their weekend of business and pleasure.

She was supposed to take Caravaille’s Ford Thunderbird straight home, but instead the devil on her should tempts her into taking a joyride down south to see the sea. However, Dorémus is baffled when everyone along her impulsive route insists they saw her drive through that way the day before. A black-clad Giallo man even seems to assault her in a service station restroom in order to give her a wrist injury to match her doppelganger. At least that is how it appears from Dorémus’s POV, but her grasp on reality could be somewhat problematic.

Sfar, the graphic novelist and director of the animated The Rabbi’s Cat embraces the foreboding visual élan of the Giallo genre and the groovy 1970s period trappings. It is always great fun to watch, even when the film appears to be barreling off the rails. At times, it feels like a marginally more grounded Mortem or a dramatically more grounded Lost Highway, but Sfar brings it all together down the stretch. Along the way, he does his best to dazzle with split screens, flashbacks, and noir mood lighting.

The Scottish Freya Mavor is terrific as Dorémus, the sexually charged naïf-waif. Similarly, Benjamin Biolay has the appropriate upper-class swagger for Caravaille. Frankly, Mavor and Biolay could easily pass for the daughter and son of Samantha Eggar and Oliver Reed, who first played the roles in Anatole Litvak’s1970 adaptation of Japrisot’s novel. As Anita the entitled trophy wife, Stacy Martin more or less picks up where she left off in Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. Frankly, Sfar’s cast looks almost as good as the beautifully sinister cinematography of Manuel Dacosse (who also lensed Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani’s neo-retro Giallos, Amer and The Strange Color of Your Bodies Tears). Costume designer Pascaline Chavanne's chic threads also directly contribute to the dangerously seductive vibe.

There are definitely shades of Hitchcock in Car, but it is steamier than anything Hitch could ever get away with, except maybe the first act of Psycho. Clearly, Sfar is definitely riffing on the masters, which makes it quite a lot of fun to watch. Highly recommended for fans of psychological thrillers, The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun opens in a handful of theaters this Friday (12/18), including the Gateway Film Center in Toronto, releasing simultaneously on VOD platforms, like iTunes.

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