Sophie Marceau and Monica Bellucci. Two of my favorite actresses in French and Italian cinema. Little did I know that I would see the two in one film together one day and what a treat it was. Director Marina De Van’s “Don’t Look Back” is a French psychological thriller brings elements of paranoia, confusion, fear and discomfort as the story brings the viewer into the psyche of a woman who just one day wakes up to see the world around her slowly change. It is not a comforting thought to one day find that the people, the things that you know may not exactly be the same as you’ve known all your life.
Jeanne (Sophie Marceau) is a journalist by trade and is now writing her own personal project; a semi-autobiographical novel that her editors have somewhat criticized. One day, Jeanne notices certain things that happen around her household as she notices certain unsettling occurrences; furniture has been rearranged, photos appear different, and even her husband and kids seemed to appear quite different, almost unrecognizable. What’s more frightening is the fact that she herself is beginning to undergo certain changes in her features as Jeanne slowly gains the face of another woman (Monica Bellucci) she doesn’t recognize. Desperate and confused, definitely frightened, beyond the aid of doctors and of family and friends; Jeanne would have to journey to Italy in the hopes of uncovering the truth to all her confusion…
What is just amazing in “Don’t Look Back” is the manner how Marina De Van unfolds its main premise. I have seen a lot of mind-benders, and I have to say this film grabbed me, intrigued me, definitely impressed me with the way it generated suspense and sustained it up to its climax. It was a truly creative touch as the viewer is taken to Jeanne’s actual perceptions; we see the changes through her eyes, it wasn’t meant as a shock or as a surprise change, we actually see things change through the camera, photos and even as her family’s faces begin to morph slowly. It is a creepy and unnerving experience for sure, as we see her kids make hand gestures out of character (almost through a looking glass), her face slowly change into someone else (a closer examination would show the husband’s eyes were mismatched) and I commend the direction in making those changes almost imperceptibly.
Just how would you react when you wake up one day and you find that things are starting to change and you don’t know what is causing it? This change not only affects those you see and what you know, but you yourself is morphing. I have to say that the CGI effects that renders Marceau’s transformation into Bellucci is downright creepy; you see the process slowly, I know the two are both lovely actresses, but when they begin to morph into “Mophica Marcelucci”, the results is as scary and unnerving as any creature made up in horror films. I guess I should stop here, since the film’s main aces come from the execution of slow-reveal and the less you know, the better its narrative impact would be.
Much as most of the credit goes to the writers and the direction, as for a film like this to succeed, Marceau and Bellucci will have to pull off the right emotions, have similarities in character acting while pulling off what is needed to express the extremes of each character when they are one. I know it sounds confusing, but my statement will make sense once you see the film. The first half of the film focuses on Marceau as she portrays the slow collapse of her psyche; she comes through with flying colors as I was kept in suspense, intrigued by her plight as she keeps me trying to put together the mystery. Marceau had me invested in her fear, and concerned about what would happen next. Bellucci in the second half, takes a more soulful reflection of the mystery, her journey into Italy is no less intriguing (ok, to be fair, some parts of the Italian trip dragged a little bit), as she slowly goes to unravel the mystery. True, the film did have some rough edges in the Italian scenes, but Bellucci manages to engage the viewer and quite honestly, I forgave some very minor pacing problems due to her delicate performance.
I suppose the film’s first half was so strong that I expected more from the second half up to the climax; don’t get me wrong, the film was very good and I believe that it sustained its momentum quite well, but I guess I was hoping for a more jaw-dropping conclusion. Not to say that the climax was lacking, it was just that the build up was just so powerful that it reached its plateau before it ended. I began to put the things together and I was satisfied with the way it established its groundwork; it is great direction and storytelling when the film answers all its questions.
“Don’t Look Back” is a sustaining piece of psychological drama that is restrained, quiet and methodical. True, it may not be the most original premise I’ve seen but what made it special was the fact that it developed its story very well. The director made Marceau and Bellucci into one compelling character and yet they were extremely different, but they handled the character quite well. It is not perfect, as the powerful first half wasn’t matched by its revelations, but thankfully it didn’t detract too much that it almost ruined the film.
Highly Recommended! [4+ Out of 5 Stars]
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Don't Look Back (French: Ne te retourne pas) is a 2009 French thriller film directed by Marina de Van.
Not to be confused with the legendary D.A. Pennebaker documentary of the same name, this mind-bending psychological drama from France stars Sophie Marceau as Jeanne, a fairly well-adjusted wife, mother of two children, and author whose world gets turned upside down when she becomes aware of a calamitous transformation overtaking her own body. She quickly morphs into an Italian woman, also named Jeanne (Monica Bellucci); the latter's husband (like the first Jeanne's spouse) is named Teo (Thierry Neuvic). Understandably confounded and disoriented, Jeanne 1 sets out to solve the mystery of this metamorphosis by journeying to Jeanne 2's birthplace of Lecce, Italy. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi
Jeanne, a wife and mother of two, realizes that small changes are taking place in the arrangement of her family home, as well as in her physical appearance, although she seems to be the only one to notice. Jeanne is certain that her changes of perception are as a result of something profound, not stress or fatigue as everyone else seems to believe. Upon visiting her mother, she comes upon a photograph that pushes her to travel to Italy in order to track her down. In Italy Jeanne will solve the mystery behind her changes, after having undergone a full transformation.