“Mistaken Identity” is a film suffering from a major-league identity crisis. First-time feature helmer Gilles Noel has crafted a convoluted, angst-ridden tale that starts off as a dark thriller and eventually turns into a twisted, psychological drama, and the uneasy mix is unlikely to go over well with fans of either genre. This is the second Quebec-made policier of the past six months to star Michel Cote, and has little chance of matching the impressive B.O. notched by the hot actor’s last cop thriller, “Black List.” Pic will be a tough sell outside Canada. Film goes out across Quebec Feb. 9.
Yarn kicks off with flashbacks to hard-boiled detective Charles Renard (Cote) on vacation in the Middle East, where his wife is accidentally killed. Thetraumas just keep coming for Renard. Back on the police beat in Montreal, he is shot in the head during a latenight surveillance operation and just narrowly escapes death.
The other troubled lead character is Maria (Macha Grenon), a 25-year-old woman who is obsessed with the Strindberg play “Miss Julie” and has a predilection for stealing credit cards from well-to-do businessmen. More flashbacks reveal that her obsession with “Miss Julie” is the result of a tragic incident in her childhood.
Renard lands the assignment of trying to snare this thief who uses newspaper classified ads to land her victims, and he tries to catch Maria in the act by answering one of her seductive ads. In one of many cases of mistaken identity in the story, they agree to meet at a cafe, but Maria arrives and sits down for a drink with the wrong man. Renard watches as she skillfully snatches the unsuspecting guy’s wallet and, fascinated by the sexy pickpocket, does nothing to stop her. Shadowing Maria, he follows her to a rehearsal for a small production of “Miss Julie.” Eventually, Renard is even helping her escape the authorities.
Noel has clearly intended to create an offbeat love story teaming the tough, wounded cop with a lonely, emotionally damaged fraud artist, but the two characters never engage in any substantial dialogue, let alone make it to second base. The writer-director’s distractingly pretentious style makes it even harder to identify with the characters. For example, the viewer sees only isolated shots of parts of Maria’s body for the first half-hour, and the sound goes up and down throughout as Renard fiddles with the hearing aid he has to wear due to his head injury.
The use of extensive passages from “Miss Julie,” either read by Maria or performed by the troupe, won’t make things any easier for impatient viewers.
Cote succeeds in making Renard’s emotional crisis feel real, but Grenon has a tougher time simply because her role gives her so little opportunity to interact with anyone else onscreen.
Some of the most memorable moments come courtesy of Sylvain Brault’s finessed camerawork and Louise-Marie Beauchamp’s art direction, which gives the pic an eerie, dreamlike feel.