Movie Review: 'The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun' (2015)

David Lynch meets the French New Wave in this French-Belgian 2015 remake of the 1970 movie of the same name. Set in 1960’s France, director Joann Sfar unravels the tale of Dany Dormeus (Freya Movar), an eager secretary, who is whisked away by her boss (Benjamin Biolay) to type up important work papers at his home. Having arrived at his palatial estate, she is reintroduced to his wife and her onetime friend/enemy (Stacy Martin).

It is a meeting with ominous undertones that invariably leads nowhere. Invited to stay overnight so she can complete the task at hand, she settles into the swanky manor, blissfully unaware that a string of puzzling events and accusations will soon come to plague her.

Distracting from the straight forwardness of the story is what we learn early on. We are dealing with an unreliable narrator. Dany’s mind is occupied by two sharply opposing voices that are constantly at odds with each other and share a starkly different take on reality. She also possesses an unrequited crush on her married boss; her clandestine infatuation giving way to a few steamy fantasies early on.

With this, Sfar makes it clear that the veil between fact and fantasy is a thin one. After completing her work goal, Dany is then saddled with driving her boss and his family to the airport. A little run down and looking for a jolt of excitement, she decides to reward herself with a joyride in his luxurious Thunderbird and this is when things take a turn for the existentially bizarre.

She sets her sights on traveling to see the ocean for the first time in her life and along the way does a bit of shopping, eventually stopping traffic at the gas station she stops by to fill up, with her come hither makeover. This is not the strange part. It is what follows.

Everyone she bumps into claims to have already met her and when she argues they are confusing her with someone else, they claim she is crazy. So what exactly is going on and will we ever find out?

The road to getting answers is long…very long and twisty. As with a lot of French films, the focus is on the journey, not the destination. The issue “Lady” faces is that in this case; the journey is convoluted, tedious and boring. And the final twist, an ending which usually more than compensates for any malaise experienced throughout a ride on French cinematic pavement, is missing.

Without glancing at the movie’s synopsis you would never guess it is headed towards any thrilling plot turn and that feeling is justified. There is not one. There is nothing suspenseful, no chills, no thrills and certainly, no frills. What we have instead is a road movie, similar in feel to David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” without the concrete mystery.

“Lady” is a dreamy, vague and fantastical coming of age story with a late stage who-dun-it curveball thrown in for good measure. Were it not for the incredibly watchable performance and unfettered charisma of its star, Freya Movar, the resulting film would be downright unwatchable.

As Lynch had the talents of Naomi Watts and Laura Harring to rely on; “Lady” has Movar, who captures the audience’s attention even when the script does not earn her character any. Screen presence is something that cannot be taught and Movar shows a raw allure in front of the camera that, if there is any justice, should launch her into international awareness.

You cannot help feeling a star is born here, in the humblest of circumstances. As magnetic as the camera finds her, she gives it a performance worthy of its attentiveness. She is equally adept at playing Dany as a conservative, blushing secretary and then a sultry seductress, sometimes within the same scene. It is an impressive discovery amidst a rough stage.

To his credit, Sfar like Lynch makes the most of his leading lady, artistically capturing Dany’s intoxicating reaction to the powerful impact of the male gaze upon its rarely shined upon recipient, in a scene highly charged in sincerity. If you thought this was a movie about a young woman coming into her own, you would be mistaken.

It could have parked there but it veers off the main highway one too many times, to be gratifying in that regard. “Lady” is aesthetically delectable, artistically woven together in a manner of intrinsic beauty. The problem is the story that surrounds it easily corrupts its vivid visage.

Painfully slow and downright mind numbing; “Lady” is saved from absolute waste by the breakout turn of its lead. Even in its dizzying plotting and frustrating conclusion, it is constantly resuscitated by Movar. Be warned, contrary to its advertising “Lady” is not a thriller, nor is it suspenseful in the least. It is not really a drama either or a road trip movie.

It is one of those movies that exist between the conscious bounds of dreamscape and nightmare. As a result, this car runs out of fuel quickly, with a loss of initial vision that blurs the center lines of slow burn and full blown monotony. As a whole, “Lady” is not filled with enough gunpowder to set off a single blast of cinematic notability. Rating: 5/10