Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Just Another Love Story from Denmark

In film noir, love is usually a bad business, capricious and unfair to those who fall under its unhealthy spell. For instance, Dana Andrews falls in love with the portrait of a presumed murder victim in Otto Preminger’s Laura. At least in Ole Bornedal’s Just Another Love Story (Danish trailer here) the object of the protagonist’s affections is a living, flesh-and-blood woman. She just happens to be in a coma. Of course, Jonas, our anti-hero is not perfect either, having a wife and kids at home. Following in the noir tradition, human relations indeed get a bit messy in Bornedal’s darkly stylish thriller, opening this Friday in New York.

Jonas wants to travel the world, but his family obligations leave him trapped in a depressing job: crime scene photographer. One day his hum-drum life gets a jolt of unwelcomed excitement when he is involved in a traffic accident. He walks away unscathed, but Julia Castlund is not so fortunate. When Jonas visits Julia in the hospital, he finds himself mistaken for her lover Sebastian by her large, well-heeled family. Falling in love with the comatose patient (perhaps obsession would be a better word), Jonas plays along, adopting the role of loyal boyfriend, despite his better judgment. The masquerade continues even when Julia regains consciousness due to her lingering amnesia.

So, does Jonas get the girl of his dreams and a lifestyle upgrade? Considering Love Story uses the film noir convention of the dying man’s lament as its framing device, it seems unlikely from the beginning that things will ultimately work out in the end. However, the route Bornedal takes to that point is quite clever. As a screenwriter, Bornedal’s affection for the genre is apparent, dropping one dramatic plot twist after another. (Unfortunately, Jonas’s Revolutionary Road-style angst from being “trapped” in a loving family and steady job gets a tad tiresome though.)

Distinctively filmed, cinematographer Dan Laustsen gives Love Story a crisp, glossy look, while maintaining the appropriate level of shadow and darkness. Despite the flashback structure, Bornedal keeps the film’s intensity level ratcheted up, creating some genuine suspense. It is clear throughout Love Story why Hollywood is aggressively courting the Danish director.

The film is also well served by its credible cast, including a very believable, average-looking Anders W. Bertelsen as Jonas, the ethically-challenged everyman, and Dejan Cukic as his best friend, the strictly business copper, Frank. More than counterbalancing them is the chilling mystery villain, played by the creepily effective Nikolaj Lie Kaas.

Bornedal ties all the elements together in a nasty, surprisingly entertaining thriller. Love Story is definitely for those who take their cinema straight, no chaser. It opens Friday in New York at the Cinema Village.