A Mixed BAG

Craving some recent international thrillers for a change of cinema diet, I trolled new releases seeking curious titles. I’d been rewarded in the past with two French films, which I decided to watch strictly because of their titles: Who Killed Bambi? (2003) and The Lady in the Van with Glasses and a Gun (’15).

Not so lucky this time, at least with my first two tries.

Trap for Cinderella is a ’13 English thriller adapted from a novel by French author Sébastien Japrisot, whose other works include the basis for Lady in the Van… as well as A Very Long Engagement (’04), one of my favorite Audrey Tautou films. With eclectic British director Iain Softley (Wings of the Dove, Inkheart, The Skeleton Key) behind the camera, the credentials seemed promising.

Unfortunately, the plot-with-a-twist is completely unbelievable, particularly as the movie grinds to its climax, introducing an important but completely improbable character near the end to wrap things up (or rip them apart, depending on your reaction).

The movie opens with a catastrophe from which Micky (Tuppence Middleton) wakes up after extensive plastic surgery, with no memory of who she is or what happened. Reunited with former best friend Do (Alexandra Roach), Micky starts on an odyssey of self-discovery. There are shades of Single White Female as Do becomes fixated on the more-vibrant young woman, but more than anything Trap for Cinderella is plot-heavy, turning to murder, blackmail and sundry other villainies – none particularly convincing.

The acting is fine, but the script is bland. Director Softley, floundering for coherence, can do little more than rely on frequent shots of Middleton’s breasts in a tacky attempt to keep the viewer’s attention.

My next try for something different and good has an even weirder title: The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (’13). A Belgian-French production, co-written and co-directed by husband and wife Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani, The Strange Color… is the opposite of Trap for Cinderella – oozing style but void of plot.

Obviously influenced by the Italian giallo thrillers of the ’70s and ’80s, The Strange Color…. has lots of images of leather-bound women and stilettos, abundant nudity, a creepy apartment building with hidden rooms galore – the whole enterprise charged with sadomasochistic fervor and a broad assortment of visual and technical tricks (split-screen, black-and-white alternating with color, pulsing techno score). It’s plenty wild and I have no idea what’s going on.

A man returns from a business trip to discover his wife is gone. He calls a cop and starts to investigate the other rooms in his apartment building, finding all sorts of weird folks there doing all sorts of weird things to him and one another and maybe to his wife. Or maybe she’s dead and he’s just plain nuts. Whatever the case, something is terribly out of whack.

Repeated viewings of The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears might yield a rational narrative for a dedicated viewer, but I doubt the returns are worth the effort. In the hands of a Mario Bava or Dario Argento, the giallo was a stylish treat; Cattet-Forzani’s attempted tribute to the genre induces only a headache.

My third try, though, proved to be the charm. Just Another Love Story, a 2007 Danish film, is a conscious riff on classic film noir that gets everything right, with a love story that is anything but just another.

The film opens abruptly with three short, numbered segments, each titled “Love Story.” No. 1 shows the narrator lying on his back in the rain, his blood collecting on the street as he comments how they’ll soon be outlining his body in chalk. “A good shot,” he remarks, “the victim in the rain.” As a sobbing woman kneels beside him, he tells us, “The woman. There always has to be a woman.”

The second vignette reveals the same couple in bed, whispering endearments before they start to have sex, only to be interrupted by one of their children. No. 3 shows a weeping couple saying how much they love each other, while he urges her to shoot him in the chest. The sound of the shot introduces the film’s title: Just Another Love Story.

Written and directed by Ole Bornedal (Night Watch), this thriller has it all – clever plot, stylish direction, good acting, original twists. Bornedal’s nod to Sunset Boulevard and the noir genre in general clicks on every chamber, like the hammer on a loaded revolver. Warning his married friend not to get involved with a mysterious stranger, a cop tells him: “Beautiful women and a mystery. Isn’t that how all film noirs begin?