“A love story with a twist, and a twisted story with love!” goes the tagline of You Go To My Head, the latest film from Dimitri de Clercq (The Blue Villa 1995, Earth and Ashes 2004) – and it is not far off. Written by de Clercq, Pierre Boudy (Chinese Puzzle 2013) and Rosemary Riccio (Great Performances series, 2 Days in New York 2012), based on an idea by de Clercq and Matt Steigbigel (Walking and Talking 1996, A Fish in the Bathtub 1998), there is quite a bit to unpack here.
After a car accident in the Sahara Desert, a young woman (Delfine Bafort: Steve + Sky 2004, Eventide 2015) is left lost and injured. She is found and taken to the nearest doctor by a secluded architect named Jake (Svetozar Cvetkovic: Happy New Year 1986, Turneja 2008). Here she is diagnosed with post-traumatic amnesia, having forgotten who she is and how she ended up in the desert. Drawn to her looks, Jake claims she is his wife, names her Kitty, and takes her to his place to recuperate. He tries to tie each returning memory to their ‘relationship’ as she gradually falls in love with him, yet Kitty’s past has other ways of coming back to the surface.
Sounds like the perfect film to watch on Valentines Day! Which is convenient, as the film makes its US debut on February 14, 2020 at the Quad Cinema in New York via First Run Features. West Coast residents will have to wait until February 21st to catch it at the Laemmle Glendale in L.A. But is it worth the trip?
The film is a French, Belgian and German co-production shot in Morocco, and has dialogue in French, Flemish, and the Berber languages. Luckily it has subtitles, and most of the film is in English anyway. It has been a fixture on the film festival circuit since 2017. In fact, festivals in America (Hoboken International Film Festival), the UK (Southampton International Film Festival), Spain (FICARQ) and Colombia (Bogota Film Festival) gave it at least one or two of its 36 award wins and 116 nominations.
The visuals are certainly top-notch, as they manage to drive the plot forward through the right angles, cuts and shots as adeptly than the dialogue alone. The close-ups in a minor scene of Jake examining Kitty’s watch seem so straightforward yet reveal intriguing snippets of her past, Jake’s thought process, and why he calls her ‘Kitty’ in the first place. The location shoots are striking too, whether emphasizing how open and remote the desert is, or how dark and cramped Jake’s place can be. Then there is the sparse, eerie soundtrack that drives the scene home, where even its warmer tracks sound ‘off’.
How about that acting? The cast’s handling of dialogue is solid, particularly Cvetkovic as his character tries to spin as many yarns as possible to keep Kitty by his side. However, his physical acting in the early going is a more striking example of a man split by decency and his desires. He is torn between kissing a sleeping Kitty and leaving her alone, caressing her or keeping to himself. There are some lines he will not cross, though the ones he does make him enough of a creep.
Likewise, Bafort’s physical performance expresses more of Kitty’s character than her dialogue- trying to find herself through looking at her reflection, crying from the stress of being unable to remember, even the joy of love as she warms to Jake’s story. She certainly garners the audience’s sympathy, as Jake’s fantasy world does offer security but at the cost of her well-being and identity.
It almost sounds perfect, but ‘almost’ is not the same as ‘is.’ It is a slow-paced film, and it can feel slower when the visual storytelling gets obtuse. Although most of the time it is clear enough for anyone and everyone to get. Other times, it feels like watching the intentionally slow and weird ‘French Subtitled Film’ sketch from the now-50-year-old Monty Python TV series. Some things never change.
Some visual imagery is more common than others too. Bafort gets nude so often it leaves one wondering if it is serving the narrative or the filmmakers’ own desires. And the ending is kind of mixed, as well. It suggests a choice between soft fantasy and harsh reality, and what the better option is when the truth is revealed- both from Kitty’s past and Jake’s lies. To the film’s credit, it does get one thinking, but it is not exactly satisfactory either.
All in all, You Go To My Head is fantastic technically as it gets the most out of its camerawork, sound design, editing and acting to put together a gorgeous film. Narratively, its drama is effectively touching and emotional. Still, its pacing and tropes mean it is not one for those who prefer more pep in their step, while its more problematic parts mean it is not for the survivors of ‘nice guys’. Old school European cinema enthusiasts might be into it for its Fellini-esque elements. However, due to the highs and lows, Cryptic Rock gives You Go To My Head 3.5 out of 5 stars.