Judge William Lee doesn't ask for much. He just wants another Danish with his coffee.
"Beautiful women and a mystery. Isn't that how all film noirs begin?"
Shaking up familiar thriller plot elements, the Danish movie Just Another Love Story proves to be much more than its title suggests. Arresting visuals and tight pacing make this tale of a guy trapped in a web of lies a riveting experience from start to finish.
Facts of the Case
Jonas (Anders W. Berthelsen, Italian for Beginners) is a crime scene photographer. Married, with two kids, his domestic routine is happy but boring. His staid life is jolted after he causes a car accident that puts a woman in the hospital. Guilt-stricken, Jonas looks in on Julia (Rebecka Hemse), posing as her boyfriend in order to get past her family. When Julia wakes up suffering from amnesia, however, Jonas decides to maintain the deception. He's fallen for the mysterious woman and life as Sebastian seems more appealing.
For movie-goers whose Danish film knowledge starts and ends with Lars von Trier, take note that this is no Dogme project. Just Another Love Story is a slick and stylish thriller that will remind viewers of Hollywood film noir crossed with modern visual effects. The broad outline of the story feels familiar but writer-director Ole Bornedal (Nightwatch) injects enough plot developments, creepy atmosphere and dazzling visual tricks to make this mystery his own.
The movie's unique tone is established right away with striking cinematography and labyrinthine editing. Told in flashback, the story jumps to different points in time with the various characters. Mysteries are established: Why did Julia shoot her boyfriend and how did Jonas end up lying on the street bleeding? Visual tricks, like superimposing a character over his or her memories, put us inside their heads. The editing is sometimes a surreal and disorienting shock to the senses but the tight script keeps the story focused and comprehensible.
The first act does a fine job of setting up the situation and sparking our interest in these characters but the second act excels at trapping us in their lives. In a series of masterful scenes, Jonas goes about his normal domestic life at the same time that he's regularly visiting Julia in the hospital. Instead of letting the individual moments play out, scenes are blended into each other. It's an effective way of showing how Jonas is living one life while he's longing for the other. At times, it's even a little vague which space he's really in and which one he's imagining.
The acting from the main performers is strong. Berthelsen inspires sympathy as the once-reliable family man who can't help himself from being drawn into the life of the mysterious woman. Hemse manages to convey vulnerability but she's got a dangerous quality that hints at what is to come should Julia regain her memory. Charlotte Fich, as Mette, helps keep the movie grounded in reality with her believable portrayal of Jonas's supportive but exasperated wife. Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Reconstruction, Angels & Demons) is also effective in his brief scenes as the tall order of no good named Sebastian.
As a DVD label that specializes in foreign films, Koch Lorber has often been criticized for the technical quality of their products. Foreign films are usually made on smaller budgets than Hollywood productions, so they tend to have a lot less visual polish. Their transfer to Region 1 NTSC (sometimes from damaged film prints) is another contributing factor and another point in the process where the quality can dip. Fortunately, Kærlighed på film, as it's known in its home country, has received a top-notch presentation on this Koch Lorber DVD.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic picture is beautiful. The image has some subtle film grain but is otherwise clean with crisp details on display. Colors are strong, leaning toward a cooler palette, and nicely saturated in select flashback scenes. The stereo audio track is fine with a satisfying mix of clear dialogue and music. Better still, the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix is impressively aggressive when it counts. There is good use of the rear channels for an immersive sound environment but often the action requires isolation of a few audio effects. The range of what you hear is just as exciting as what you see on screen.
Unfortunately, the disc comes up short in the extras. An original language trailer, subtitled in English, is the only supplement to the movie. The DVD packaging lists the runtime as 100 minutes (same as on IMDb) but the feature actually runs 104 minutes with closing credits.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Ole Bornedal is having fun twisting the standard film noir thriller to give it a contemporary identity. However, the writing is more clever than it needs to be in two scenes. In the bookends to the story, we hear Jonas refer to his plight, in voice-over narration, using phrases you'd hear when analyzing a movie. Maybe I missed the detail about Jonas being a movie lover but those scenes feel out of place compared to the rest of the story.
An engrossing mystery told in a tight script and dressed up with exciting visuals, Just Another Love Story is an enjoyably thrilling film. I recommend you seek it out before it gets the Hollywood remake treatment. Koch Lorber doesn't give us anything exciting in the extras department, but the excellent technical presentation of the movie raises my expectations for their future products.
Not guilty. Now, everyone back to his or her own life please.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
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