One of the many metrics my web server provides at the end of every day’s readership is a list of the most common search phrases that bring first-timers to this site. One that stands out is the phrase X, Y or Z movie-title “explained.”
I get a lot of that SEO traffic because I tend to go into more detail than most anybody else reviewing movies these days. Not “spoilers” so much as details — dialogue quoted, interpretations, plot points.
And if you’re coming here to have Onur Tukel’s bizarre mental meltdown tale, “That Cold Dead Look in Your Eyes,” “explained,” I’m not sure I’m going to have an answer.
But let’s start typing and see if the details bring the intent of the quirky filmmaker who gave us “The Misogynists” and “Richard’s Wedding” into focus.
“Cold Dead Look” is a sometimes hallucinatory sci-fi/zombie picture plunge into guilt and remorse. We watch a fellow who’s girlfriend has kicked him out on a Life in New York death spiral. His love life, his living situation, his job, his motorcycle and his psyche are pounded by all comers in a paranoid, stricken black and white nightmare.
Tukel creates a Francophone bubble for this story, a film set largely among French speaking expats in New York city.
Lovers Marie (Nora Arnezeder) and Leonard (Franck Raharinosy) cuddle and chat and love-language each other over a couple of scenes, shot in color. The apartment is Marie’s, and as we meet them, she is decorating it with the photos of her father, a once-famous photographer.
We come back to this color “flashback” timeline many times in the film. But for the story of Leonard’s breakdown, the film becomes, like the still photos — black and white.
We see Leonard at work, in a dying French restaurant where his cooking is insulted, sauces compared to “puss oozing from sores” or “tastes like prostate cancer.” Leonard is driving every customer the place once had away, and the furious waitress (Barbara Beddouk) is sure the owner (Max Casella) is going to figure that out any minute now.
Marie is similarly “over” Leonard, giving him the “I want you gone when I get back” (in French, with English subtitles) as she leaves.
Panhandlers and tough looking characters get in his face about money or his motorcycle.
And then the once-famous photographer (Alan Ceppos) shows up, firmly puts Leonard in his place and proceeds to crash at Marie’s apartment, fill it with gay men he photographs in the nude and clog the toilet, which he refuses to unclog himself.
“These hands…are for making ART!”
Periodically, we see this electronic gadget with a flashing “I” light — on walls, power poles, in Andy the restaurateur’s office. “Super high speed Internet” is all anyone’s being told about it. “Theta waves” that aren’t good for you is the whispered word among the public.
As Leonard flashes back to moments of truth with Marie and senses this world closing in around him, as he hallucinates an ability to lay his hands on people, rolling their eyes into the white-showing backs of their heads in zombie-like convulsions, we figure he’s buying into the conspiracy theory as well.
Whatever else he’s going for, Tukel manages to thoroughly disorient the viewer. An obscenely sarcastic street mime, all these New Yorkers speaking French, this French-speaking panhandler needing money to get back to Brooklyn, shots of Leonard on The Battery on the greyest, loneliest New York day imaginable.
Leonard’s despair crosses into desperation as he wrestles with the reason he and Marie broke up and pauses, mid-plunge, to see what rock bottom looks like down below.
He can fantasize an alternate reality where his transgression never happened and love is his, but the most “real” reality might be the world where his touch is literally toxic — with food, with other people.
All that said, I can’t say I liked “That Cold Dead Look in Your Eyes.” Appreciated the attempt, sure. It’s a disintegration that isn’t viewed and considered at arm’s length. We’re IN it with Leonard. We just can’t decide if we want to be, or if we like him any more than the people abusing him at every turn.
And being that close, we can tell what’s happened, but not what’s happening now or what will happen in the future.
Maybe the “Theta waves” get in the way.
Rating: unrated, nudity, horror violence, profanity
Cast: Franck Raharinosy, Nora Arnezeder, Alan Ceppos, Candice Jean-Jacques, Barbara Beddouk and Max Casella.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Onur Tukel. A Darkstar release.
Running time: 1:31