The hazy, erotic aura of 1960s Euro-thrillers is lovingly, obsessively recreated in Joann Sfar’s “The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun”. And like many of those films there’s a strikingly beautiful enigma of a woman at the center of it, played by “Skins” actress Freya Mavor exuding a femme fatale’s dangerous allure. With her array of lavish outfits, and Sfar’s leering camera which simply can’t get enough of her, Mavor is impossible to look away from. She’s a welcome distraction from a meandering mystery that never fully takes shape.
A remake of a 1970 film nobody remembers, which was itself based on Sebastien Japrisot’s knotty 1966 novel, the story begins with seemingly-average French secretary Dany Doremus (Mavor), who is called upon by her shady boss (Benjamin Biolay) to transcribe some important documents at his home. There she encounters his wife (“Nymphomaniac”star Stacy Martin) whom she used to be friends with, but now seems oddly distant. Things get weirder when they ask her to accompany them to the airport the next day, and then drive his classic blue Ford Thunderbird back home. It doesn’t make much sense, and doesn’t get any clearer when Dany decides, quite irrationally, to take the car for a little joyride.
Dany, who continually claims to have “never been to the sea”, embarks on a bizarre, surreal journey that is part acid trip, part murder mystery. Neither is especially interesting, mainly because none of the pieces ever add up or seem to have been meant to add up. Everyone she encounters claims to have known her, which is understandably confusing, but Dany is hardly someone we can trust to be reliable. She’s assaulted in a gas station bathroom by an assailant nobody saw, and she frequently speaks to a more violent, charismatic version of herself in the mirror. Is she totally looney tunes or what? At every stop, Dany encounters men who seem to only want one thing from her, but when she finally gives in to an Italian charmer’s advances, he steals the car and leaves a dead body in the trunk. What in the world is going on?
There is an answer that is eventually put forth, but honestly it’s not what anybody is going to remember about this film. That honor goes to the old school vibe constructed by Sfar, spinning a modern take on classic genre that will remind some of “Berberian Sound Studio”. Sfar uses everything at his disposal, in particular a haunting soulful score that uses Wendy Rene’s “After Laughter (Comes Tears)” to incredible effect. But Sfar is especially infatuated with his star, exploring every physical aspect of her body through clever, evocative edits. There may not be much of a plot for either of them to work with, but Sfar and Mavor make for a deadly good combination. His camera can’t get enough of her, and while we ultimately don’t care about the car, the glasses, or the gun, we can’t get enough of the lady, either.