Just Another Love Story

Format: Cinema

Date: 24 July 2009

Venues: key cities

Distributor: Revolver Entertainment

Director: Ole Bornedal

Writer: Ole Bornedal

Oreiginal title: Kaerlighed pí¥ film

Cast: Anders W Berthelsen, Rebecka Hemse, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Charlotte Fich

Denmark 2007

100 mins

In a manner reminiscent of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), Ole Bornedal’s riveting thriller Just Another Love Story (2007) opens with the death of its narrator, who detachedly comments on his dramatic demise as it occurs on-screen. Far from being a facile gimmick, this perfectly captures the tone of twisted irony and the central theme of deceit that run through this stylish, knowing take on film noir.

The film’s narrator is Jonas (Anders W Berthelsen), a crime scene photographer who lives in the suburbs of Copenhagen with his attractive wife and two kids. His life takes an unexpected turn when he accidentally crashes into a woman’s car, which causes her to fall into a coma. Overcome by guilt, Jonas visits Julia (Rebecka Hemse) in hospital but is mistaken by her family for her elusive boyfriend Sebastian (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), whom they have never seen as the couple met while travelling in Asia. When Julia awakes unexpectedly, amnesiac and nearly blind, she can only accept Jonas’s version of events, and he still cannot bring himself to reveal his identity and put an end to the deception. Incapable of giving up the excitement of this dangerous relationship with a ‘dark, mysterious woman’ (a film noir cliché he is entirely aware of), which provides an escape from a banal daily life that he finds increasingly narrow and stifling, he continues to lead a double life until the charade goes too far.

Bornedal first garnered acclaim in 1994 with his debut feature Nightwatch (Nattevagten), a stunning low-budget thriller that the Danish director remade himself in an English-language version starring Ewan McGregor and Nick Nolte in 1997. Bornedal followed up this early success with I am Dina (Jeg er Dina, 2002) and The Substitute (Vikaren, 2007). The latter is a sci-fi horror comedy similar to Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty (1998), centring on an alien who takes over the body of a farmer’s wife and impersonates the substitute teacher of a sixth grade class in order to learn about love, an unknown emotion in its extra-terrestrial world. Taking its protagonists and its premise remarkably seriously, Bornedal crafts a tale that is both wryly humorous and emotionally engaging. Preparing the ground for Just Another Love Story‘s neo-noir, The Substitute inventively plays with genre conventions and explores love, trust and relationships through the central conceit of mistaken identity.

With Just Another Love Story, Bornedal pushes his favoured motifs further, probing beneath the surface to illuminate the brutal banality of quotidian life, mixing chilling mystery, social realism and short bursts of almost surreal violence. The film’s emotional power comes from its double investigation of love and identity, falseness and authenticity. Jonas’s impersonation of Julia’s boyfriend leads to a false romance - and yet, as Jonas repeatedly wonders, are the emotions any less real because his name is fake? And what if the nice Jonas and the shadowy Sebastian were the two faces of the same lover, what if this was all about the unacceptable, irreconcilable duality of the loved one? Blurring the line between the real and the fake, the stranger and the lover, Just Another Love Story delivers a stark warning about fantasising one’s way out of boring, suburbanite, middle-class, middle-aged existence: Jonas, initially excited about living out the fantasy of escaping into someone else’s life, soon finds that the dream is in fact a nightmare and is ultimately brutally punished for wanting to be another.

Pamela Jahn

Read our interview with director Ole Bornedal in the summer 09 issue of Electric Sheep. Substitute is the theme of the issue, with articles on the fraught relationship between Takeshi Kitano and ‘Beat’ Takeshi, the various cinematic incarnations of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley, interchanging identities in Joseph Losey’s films, the paradoxes of black and white twins in offbeat lost classic Suture, not to mention cross-dressing criminals, androids and body snatchers. Also in this issue: interview with Marc Caro, profile of whiz-kid animator David OReilly, comic strip review of Hardware and The Phantom Band’s favourite films.



Format: Cinema

Date: 24 July 2009

Venues: Chelsea Cinema, Cineworld Haymarket, Curzon Soho, Renoir (London) + key cities

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Lars von Trier

Writer: Lars von Trier

Cast: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg

Denmark 2009

109 mins


In the brooding forests of the Pacific North West, a middle-class couple, played by Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, struggle to come to terms with the accidental death of their young son. It soon becomes clear, however, that grief is not the only opponent they face: malign, supernatural forces assail both protagonists, first implicitly, then with shockingly violent results, unleashing ancient evil, nature’s chaotic cruelty and primal female fury.

If the above précis sounds more like a by-numbers synopsis of a certain type of American supernatural horror movie than Lars von Trier‘s latest release, it is because Antichrist almost is one of those films, such is its adherence to middlebrow horror convention, and this is one of the most disorienting, frustrating things about the film. As Gainsbourg and Dafoe’s isolated cabin retreat becomes a hexed hell, one can almost tick off distinguishing features: the lost child as catalyst for terror; the family in conflict; the failure of institutions (in this case, cognitive therapy) to deal with evil; the reverberant folk memory of witch-hunting and devil worship; the uneasy truce between humans and nature; the vengeful or possessed woman who deploys torture, violence and voracious sexuality; even the obligatory hide-and-seek sequence of pursuit, capture, conquest and escape that concludes most horror films.

And yet, of course, although von Trier has used the genre to host the themes of suffering, manipulation and control that are echoed throughout the majority of his films, Antichrist is not a genre film. An efficient mainstream horror - and even the extreme body-horror films of Takeshi Miike, whose Audition (1999) springs to mind during Antichrist‘s latter segment - uses a particular pace to take us from unease to terror, from suggestion to gore, and, while not exactly hiding its political, sexual or religious intentions, will veil them enough with plot and action that they simmer more potently beneath the surface. This art-house take on horror does not work in that way, because its slower rhythm and self-aware script promotes an analytical response in the first instance - which is one way of saying that I spent much of Antichrist wondering why exactly von Trier had made the film; trying, in a sense, to justify to myself its disjointed structure, its choice of predictable esoteric material and, inevitably, the director’s seemingly infinite fascination (to the point of fetishism) with female suffering, which is combined here with clichés of female sexual power and its destructive intent. That this last might be a comment upon mainstream horror’s latent misogyny seems reasonable, for there certainly are distinct flashes of irony throughout. It is really only when the environment takes precedence and the setting emerges as a character in its own right that the questions stop, and Antichrist seems more than a sadistic exercise in style.

Von Trier’s citation of August Strindberg’s Inferno as an influence is perhaps not surprising. First published in 1897 and based on his journals, Inferno captures the author at a time of psychological crisis, which prompted a fascination with alchemy, dreams and the occult. It is a paranoid, claustrophobic read, imbued with a strange sexual tension, but it is also strikingly effective at summoning the sinister aspects of a place. A passage where Strindberg experiences a walk through a village as a visit to hell brings to mind von Trier’s impressive visions of the forest as charged with dark symbolism; a place visited in dreams and fantasy. The most effective of these scenes, in which Gainsbourg carries out a therapeutic visualisation exercise, has a kind of psychedelic resonance that is highly convincing, and more disquieting than much of what follows, perhaps because it hints at our fears and desires without seeking to scrawl their names in letters of blood.


Controversial director Lars von Trier returns to the spotlight with Antichrist, a film sure to generate curiosity first, confusion second, and strong opinions third.

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe play the only two characters – a couple mourning the accidental death of their son. Both are grief-stricken, but particularly Gainsbourg, who is quite overwhelmed by the loss. Fortunately (or not), Defoe is a trained therapist and prescribes for Gainsbourg a trip to their holiday cabin, where she is to face her fear of the woods. When they arrive, however, the atmosphere of the cabin is disturbing for both of them, and Gainsbourg’s condition proves more complex than Defoe had anticipated. Their convalescence quickly descends into madness and violence.

It isn’t clear, at first, exactly what Antichrist is. It’s not a horror film (because it’s not scary) and it’s not an art film (because it couldn’t be further from a work of art). It’s tempting to say that it’s just bad, just a hideous mess, and leave it there. But of course that wouldn’t do.

A lot has been made in the press about Antichrist‘s gruesomeness, and certainly, if it is anything, it is gruesome. The film’s unflinching close-ups of human mutilation are not only amongst some of the most extreme and unpleasant in the whole of cinema, but also some of the most pointless and gratuitous. The two naked, blood-splattered actors run around copulating and torturing each other, and it just doesn’t make any sense. It’s not a detached psychological deconstruction of power and sado-masochism, like Pasolini’s masterful Salí³, and it’s not a tense, titillating game of cat and mouse, like the hateful – but at least fathomable – Saw films.

Perhaps the talking fox has the key to Antichrist, when it pops up in the middle of the film and tells the audience that ‘chaos reigns’. Perhaps all the violent nonsense is profound because that is how life is. This would certainly seem to be the idea, especially given the film’s closing dedication to Andrei Tarkovsky (a dedication quite, quite deserving of the boos and belly laughs that it received at Cannes and elsewhere). Von Trier seems to want to follow Tarkovsky in dynamiting truth, and scrutinising the vague, misty appearance of reality, stripped of its bourgeois tint. Such pushing to the limits of consciousness and to the ineffable, however, tends to dramatically shrink the line between masterpiece and nonsensical garbage. Von Trier has walked this line before and, with The Idiots at least, made excellent work. With Antichrist, however, he has fallen into the stink. Beyond the simple fact that it doesn’t make any sense, every aspect of the film is also wildly overdone and off-key, from the leaden dialogue, to the gloopy, gimmick-ridden cinematography.

Watching Antichrist, one gets no sense of the artist grappling with his materials, trying to strike a balance between order and chaos. Instead, von Trier seems a confused and desperate director, whose latest film has completely evaded his control. Having made good work in the past, he may well make good work again in the future, and should he do so, Antichrist may come to be seen as an intriguing low in the director’s oeuvre. Considered on its own however, Antichrist is utter nonsense, an irredeemable mess, and one of the worst films I have ever had the displeasure to see.

Read our interview with Lars von Trier.



Format: Cinema

Date: 15 July 2009

Venues: nationwide

Distributor: Sony Pictures

Director: Duncan Jones

Writer: Nathan Parker

Cast: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey

UK 2009

97 mins

In the not-so-distant future, the Earth has been depleted of clean, natural resources. It is now powered by Helium-3, which Lunar Industries mines on the far side of the moon. Astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the sole employee supervising the industrial mining station. Approaching the end of his three-year contract, he’s desperate to be reunited with his wife and young daughter back on Earth; a failure with one of the satellites means that he’s been unable to communicate directly with them, relying instead on recorded messages from his wife for some kind of human connection. Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), an AI robot tasked with caring for Sam, is the only company he has in space. Sam’s health seems to be failing rapidly, and while out on a routine check in a lunar vehicle, he suffers an accident, only to wake up back in the station, unable to remember how he got there. Only he’s no longer alone - he finds a mirror image of himself ready to take over the running of the station.

The winner of the Michael Powell award for best new British feature film at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, Duncan Jones’s independent debut feature is a fascinating and visually stunning sci-fi film that explores the alienation and bitter loneliness of space, as well as the very essence of the human condition. Moon is Jones’s attempt to reverse the course of science fiction cinema, a genre that’s been altered beyond recognition in recent years. Clearly inspired by an earlier generation of films including Silent Running, Outland, and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jones is vastly more concerned with the genre’s human dimension, eschewing the kind of hyped-up special effects that in recent years have turned sci-fi films into a series of alien-launched missile attacks that inevitably blow up American targets like the White House.

Rockwell’s demanding performance is near perfect; playing two versions of the same character, he imbues both with contrasting traits and emotions. He plays the original Sam Bell as a man who seems to be in terminal decline, physically deteriorating as he gets nearer to his journey home, as if he’s reached his sell-by date, while his doppelgänger is healthy and fit, in the prime of his life. As they struggle to figure out what they’re both doing on the station, their consciousness is awakened; Jones’s characters confront the very nature of their own existence, and the disturbing truth behind the memories of their lives back on Earth.

Shot in high contrast, the gleaming white surfaces of the space station are almost luminescent; the lunar surfaces surrounding the station are cold, dark and chillingly ominous. Filmed in little more than a month, and refreshingly making use of models rather than relying solely on CGI, the picture beautifully captures Jones’s unique vision, both aesthetically and philosophically. Moon is an instant classic of the genre, as well as one of the most impressive and original films to emerge from the UK in years.

Sarah Cronin


Bloody Mama

Format: DVD

Date: 29 June 2009

Distributor: Optimum

Director: Roger Corman

Writers: Don Peters, Robert Thorn

Cast: Shelley Winters, Don Stroud, Robert De Niro, Bruce Dern

USA 1970

86 mins

Roger Corman’s Bloody Mama is loosely based on the true story of Kate ‘Ma’ Barker and her criminal offspring, whose exploits in the American Midwest from the early 1920s to the mid-1930s led to avid media coverage and inspired James Hadley Chase to pen his 1939 novel No Orchids for Miss Blandish, which concerned a mob controlled by their matriarch. Their crime spree lasted 15 years, although the pace of Corman’s account, and the few concessions made to the ageing process, suggest a shorter timescale. His film also embraces the myth of ‘Machine Gun Ma’ as the head of the operation, a legend that was reportedly cultivated by the FBI in order to justify their eventual killing of an elderly woman.

An unsettling opening scene, in which a teenage Ma is raped by a gang led by her father, is one of Corman’s few attempts to speculate on the roots of her attitude towards society, with the director preferring to revel in the amoral activities of her outlaw family, and to evoke period trappings on a typically shoestring budget. Robert Altman’s Thieves like Us (1974) provides a more authentic snapshot of criminal life in Depression-era America, but Corman’s film is of interest to an audience beyond his core following of cultists, despite its inaccuracies. As Ma and her four sons - Herman, Fred, Lloyd and Arthur - travel across the United States, committing crime and occasionally lying low under the alias of ‘The Hunters’, they pick up two associates: Mona, a prostitute who has become Lloyd’s girlfriend, and Kevin (Bruce Dern), a sexually sadistic addition to the gang who ‘befriends’ Fred during a term behind bars. Their freewheeling lifestyle is curtailed by an overly ambitious kidnapping, which leads to a brutal shoot-out with the law.

Shelley Winters takes centre-stage as the domineering Ma, and Don Stroud is genuinely threatening as Herman, who becomes her second-in-command and ultimately overthrows his own mother to take control of the gang. Bloody Mama functions as a satire of the American family unit, with Ma effectively adopting the roles of both father and mother; keeping them afloat economically by masterminding robberies and kidnapping plots, and administering ‘tough love’ by physically scolding her brood whenever they have disappointed her, yet also comforting Herman when he has experienced one of his ‘bad moments’ and insisting that he ‘sleep with Ma’ to avoid having bad dreams. Herman is truly a product of her unconventional upbringing, a violent thug who is even described by his girlfriend as a ‘freak’; yet he is capable of moments of tenderness, allowing his lover to leave for Miami rather than risk her being killed in the inevitable climactic bloodshed.

However, it is a young Robert De Niro as Lloyd who offers the most fully-formed characterisation, one that runs the gamut from amusing to disturbing, to strangely sympathetic as he struggles to fit in with his more criminally proficient siblings. Lloyd becomes chemically dependent at an early age, initially getting high from sniffing glue while putting together plastic models, but is soon injecting dope, and De Niro reportedly shed 30 pounds for the role. His stoned seduction of an attractive female swimmer initially plays as an exercise in deadpan humour, but events take a more sinister turn as he pins the girl down to the deck and then kidnaps her, tying her to one of the beds in the family holiday home. ‘She was so cute I had to take a shot at her’, is his feeble justification for his actions. Lloyd is less volatile than Johnny Boy, the self-destructive character who would provide De Niro with his breakthrough in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973), but he is as equally misguided. Despite being part of a tightly-knit family, Lloyd is arguably one of the many socially alienated loners, prone to moments of intense introspection, that the actor portrayed during his 70s peak.

It is often difficult to evaluate Corman as a director, and to pinpoint his authorial signature, as his cinematic legacy is forever intertwined with the filmmakers who served their professional apprenticeships within his ‘B’-movie factory; directors such as Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich and Jonathan Demme, who would re-invigorate the Hollywood mainstream in the 1970s and the early 1980s. Corman stages his action scenes efficiently, identifying the marketable attributes of the gangster film, yet his subversive spirit does filter through to elevate Bloody Mama above the status of a low-budget programmer to something more memorable, even if the film is, at times, an uncomfortable hybrid. Consequently, Bloody Mama has much in common with Corman’s Death Race 2000 (1975): it is a fast-moving exploitation item, yet one which exhibits some finely observed, almost throwaway, satire at the expense of American society. These elements of Bloody Mama are more interesting today than the still shocking scenes of violence that were the film’s main selling point on its initial release.

John Berra



Format: DVD

Date: 22 June 2009

Distributor: BFI

Director: Jacques Tati

Writer: Jacques Tati

Cast: Jacques Tati, Karl Kossmeyer

France 1974

84 mins

It is an honour for me to write about Jacques Tati, for whom I have felt unconditional admiration and affection since childhood. The only films for which I remember my father showing enthusiasm were Tati’s masterpieces Jour de fíªte (1949), Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953), and Mon Oncle (1958). They enjoyed some mainstream success in British cinemas back in the days before our culture turned curatorial and they became pages in the annals of cinema history. (Amazingly, Jour de fíªte found a distributor here before it did in France.) I believe that these comic visions of rural, seaside, and suburban France respectively were, for my father, a nostalgic link with his francophone youth. Their deployment of speech as sound rather than communication must give them a special resonance for anyone growing up in a foreign-language culture. I came to realise that my father’s fondness for the comedy of gesture with wordless sound, of misunderstanding, and of the absurd banal, were Tati-underpinned. These innocent forms of humour have long tended to seem dated: one would court embarrassment if one tried to enact the first, especially, in sophisticated company today. But the work of the master Tati defies cultural change and can still make cynical 21st-century metropolitans laugh like delighted children.

Parade is very different from Tati’s other films. It is ostensibly a real-time documentary record of a circus performance in a Swedish cinema. The performance that Tati shows us is not only that of the circus artists but also that of the audience, whose lurid hippy clothes are nicely captured on fuzzy colour-saturated film stock (mainly videotape, it appears). As filmmaking, Parade is surprisingly shoddy for a meticulous craftsman like Tati. His preference for dubbing sound afterwards (shared by many great filmmakers) is a key element in the art of his other films, but here is bodged. Eclectic techniques are employed. A camera weaving through backstage comings and goings is reminiscent of Altman or Tati’s friend Fellini. The ‘real’ members of the audience are mingled with planted performers and cardboard cut-outs. A freaky rock group is filmed with wild abandon, which is surprisingly apt, though expressive more of bewilderment than excitement. In general, the blurring of the image, the crude editing, the abrupt switches from one kind of deteriorating film stock to another, from blazing to faded colours, all buy spontaneity at the price of coherence. In its whimsical, chaotic mood, its self-consciously studio-bound character, its visual punning and love of the incongruous, and its variety-bill structure, Parade is more reminiscent of anarchic British TV comedy like Do Not Adjust Your Set than of any cinema film.

Tati is the compí¨re, benign presiding presence and modest star. He offers us five mime routines, dating back to his music-hall act of the 1930s. At the age of 65 he still executes them brilliantly. Although Parade cannot stand comparison with Tati’s best loved works, there are moments of genius in the film that amply justify its existence.

Peter Momtchiloff