Contrived excess is rarely as entertaining as it is in the ironically titled “Just Another Love Story,” a furiously overheated romantic thriller from Danish writer-helmer Ole Bornedal. Basically “While You Were Sleeping” remade as a Scandinavian potboiler, this noirish mistaken-identity meller is more impressive for its stamina and frenzied style than for its emotional impact, which is minimal. Still, vibrant visuals and the relentlessness of Bornedal’s narrative machinery should command widespread arthouse attention. Pic opened Aug. 24 in Denmark and went on to become one of the year’s top local grossers.
Pic kicks off with three “love scenes,” played in rapid succession: In the first, a man lies bleeding to death on a rainy street while a woman weeps over him. In the second, a middle-aged husband and wife enjoy some playful pillow talk, and in the third, two young lovers are involved in a tense standoff with a gun. The connection between these three snapshots — as well as the implicit connection between passionate romance and violence — will be made clear by the film’s end.
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Crime-scene photographer Jonas (Anders W. Berthelsen) is happily married — or so he thinks — to wife Mette (Charlotte Fich), with whom he has two young children. But that’s before they get into a shockingly visceral car accident with the emotionally distraught Julia (Rebecka Hemse); Jonas and his family are unharmed, but Julia falls into a coma.
The enigmatic beauty introduces an exciting element of mystery and danger into Jonas’ life, and, through a mixture of guilt, good intentions and cowardly passivity, he soon has Julia’s family convinced he’s Sebastian, the boyfriend she met while living abroad in Vietnam. When an amnesia-ridden, partially blind Julia regains consciousness, Jonas’ tender care hastens her recovery, and they become lovers, to the disapproval of Jonas’ forensics colleague, Frank (Dejan Cukic).
In classic noir fashion, Julia turns out to be an unwitting femme fatale, as her troubled relationship with Sebastian (heartthrob Nikolaj Lie Kaas) comes to the fore in flashbacks to their life in Hanoi. The past begins to seep into the present, and soon the tale is rife with wheelchair-bound stalkers and dead bodies, en route to a climactic standoff at a beachfront house that takes the Jonas-Sebastian deception to freakishly convoluted levels.
Scenes set in Frank’s crime lab occasion the appearance of several nude corpses, whose full-frontal matter-of-factness is of a piece with Bornedal’s lurid aesthetic. Helmer barely keeps the threads from unraveling with a time-skipping structure that frequently superimposes past and present images within the frame.
Berthelsen keeps the film grounded as the sympathetic if seriously misguided Jonas, though the character’s readiness to chuck his family isn’t entirely convincing. Hemse’s tremulous perf makes Julia seem fragile yet dangerous, while Fich is achingly vulnerable as the betrayed Mette.
Pic is ably suited by the voluptuous, color-saturated beauty of Dan Laustsen’s widescreen cinematography. Complicated editing scheme, often crosscutting rapidly between parallel lines of action, is deftly handled by Anders Villadsen.