Pulp satisfaction: "Just Another Love Story," opening Fri/20 on the SFFS Screen, is a genuinely complicated thriller, writes Dennis Harvey. (Photo courtesy SFFS)

'Just Another Love Story' Offers Shock Treatment

Dennis Harvey February 17, 2009

A title like Just Another Love Story is its own disclaimer, hinting there will be nothing "normal," or very loving, about this story.

[SF360.org editor’s note: Some plot points are revealed in this preview.]

Indeed, within the first five minutes we’ve witnessed two deaths, coitus interrupted by curious tot, and a gruesome domestic crime scene’s aftermath. An opening this flashy, this determined to provoke, raises both expectations and apprehensions: Will the movie end up justifying its extremes, or turn out to be an exercise in trying too hard?

For a while one isn’t quite sure—but this twisty latterday noir by writer-director Ole Bornedal (of the period epic I Am Dina and ghoulish Nightwatch’s dual Danish/U.S. versions) on SFFS Screen at the Sundance Kabuki this Friday turns out to be headed somewhere other than the gratuitously pyrotechnic. Indeed, for many it might be the 2009 equivalent of last year’s French import Tell No One as a genuinely complicated thriller that offers pulp satisfaction without ever collapsing into the preposterousness or testosterone excess of a typical Hollywood suspense gizmo.

Not-so-great Dane Jonas (Anders W. Berthelsen) is experiencing your classic midlife crisis. He loves wife Mette (Charlotte Fich) and their two young children, but this settled life feels stale; ditto the pressures of mortgage, replacing their crap car, etc. Nor is there exactly much joy to be had at work: Jonas wanted to be a photographer, yes, but not necessarily one who shoots gruesome scenes of mayhem for police evidence.

With the entire family on board, that exasperating car stalls yet again on a main road, causing a major accident when the distraught and distracted Julia (Rebecka Hemse) veers to miss them. She survives. Guilt-stricken, Jonas goes to the hospital, where he lets himself be mistaken as her boyfriend to pay his respects. But that ruse is immediately seized upon by every member of Julia’s wealthy clan, who’ve never met her erstwhile Southeast Asia traveling companion "Sebastian" before but are thrilled he’s come to show support.

They’d be less thrilled if they knew the real Sebastian was a volatile criminal type who’d tried forcing her into a suicide pact. Fortunately—or not—for Jonas, once Julia wakes from a coma she is almost completely blind, and has partial amnesia resulting from head trauma. She doesn’t even remember knowing a Sebastian. But Jonas, encouraged by her family, warms to playing the role. Why? "Because my life was too real, and Julia’s was mysterious," he tells us. Thus he gets sucked into the classic noir trap of an unhappy protagonist who seizes a freak chance to claim another person’s identity. Movie history has shown us that this is always a very bad idea.

After the generous amounts of shock and stylistic extravagance early on, the midsection of Love Story changes tone, intercutting between "Sebastian’s" exciting fantasy role-play at the hospital and Jonas’ increasing disconnection from his real life—which latter Mette does not fail to notice. But Bornedal’s film really comes into its own in an ingenious third act that’s set in an idyllic seaside retreat—a pretty backdrop for ugly events that encompass one most unwanted visitor, notably perverse mind games over dinner and an excellent argument for the notion that sometimes an amnesiac’s memories are best not recovered.

As in many a noir, one is best off just hurtling along with the plot’s perils. What lifts this above melodrama is the interest paid to Mette’s wife, who stays solidly rooted in real life as Jonas turns into a kite—floating aimlessly above it, trying to break tether. When he finally summons courage (or delusion) enough to do so, it’s in that most banally domesticated location, a supermarket. And her response is classic Earth-calling-Mars, a curt "Pull yourself together" How much kinder fate would have treated many an obsessed, doomed noir hero had they heeded that advice.