REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


THE LADY IN THE CAR WITH GLASSES AND A GUN. France, 2015. French title: La Dame Dans L’Auto avec des Lunettes et un Fusil. Freya Mayor, Benjamin Biolay, Elio Germano, Stacy Martin. Screenplay by Gilles Marchand and Patrick Godeau, based on the novel by Sèbastian Japrisot. Directed by Joann Sfar.

         “I’ve never seen the sea.”

   In any good suspense story, one key element is how fate intervenes. A small misdeed can be blown out of all proportion, a moments misstep can derail a life, adventure is a single step away, but so is danger. For Dany Doremous (Freya Mayor), in Sebastian Japrisot’s novel, and this 2015 French production adapting it, the only crime she ever commits in her life both saves it, and plunges her into jeopardy and doubt of her own sanity.

   Neurotic nearsighted Dany Doremous is a secretary in Paris circa the late sixties or early seventies for Michel Caravelle (Benjamin Biolay) whom she has a crush on. When he asks her to come to his home, just before a bank holiday begins, to finish some paperwork for the ad agency she works at, she wants to say no, but can’t. There she is reunited with Anita (Stacy Martin), Michel’s wife, a rather bitchy girlfriend she started in the secretarial pool with eight years before.

   Staying overnight to finish the papers, she is asked by Michel to drop his family off at the airport for a flight out and drive their Thunderbird back to their house, but on the way back from the airport Dany doesn’t take the turn toward Paris, she takes the turn South, toward Cannes and the South of France. She has never seen the sea.

   Almost immediately things spiral out of control. People keep mistaking her for someone else, a woman who passed the night before and earlier that morning in the same car. At a gas station she is attacked in the ladies room and her hand is viciously injured, so she has to have it bandaged, but no one believes her and all believe she was there the night before when she was sleeping at her employers.

   That night she picks up a man, Georges (Elio Germano), they make love, and the next day she drives him south, but as soon as he can he steals her car. With the help of a friendly truck driver she finds the car — and in it the dead body of a man, and when Georges shows up he swears she killed the man. They try to dispose of the body, argue, and he knocks Dany out, but when she comes to, Georges is dead too, murdered.

   Desperate, Dany calls her boss for help, only to find she is in even more danger.

   The film has a noirish dream-like quality, handsomely shot on location and very much a star turner for Mayor, whose long legs, large eyes, and flame red hair and freckles behind large glasses give Dany a vulnerable almost otherworldly quality. Stylish and beautiful to look at, the film is not hard-hitting suspense as much as a modern noir fable about a young woman coming into her own, a kind of Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty awakened from the dull dream her existence has been up to now, through terror, madness, and in blood.

   That fairy tale reference is no accident. One of Japrisot’s early novels was A Trap for Cinderella.

   The book this film is based on was a bestseller, and came to the screen before in 1970, the last work of director Anatole Litvak, with a screenplay by Japrisot himself, and starring Samantha Eggar and Oliver Reed. That version was a gorgeous eye-popping tour of gorgeous locations, Christian Dior fashions, pop art colors, and twisty plot. I’ve always found it a much better film than critics of the day did, though the Hitchcockian elements of the plot are perhaps lost in the eye-popping look of the film. I’m not sure it has ever been on DVD, though a rather mediocre print was available on YouTube. The French version is available both on DVD and currently on Netflix.

   Don’t mistake this later version for nerve-jangling suspense in the American style. Nothing leaps off the screen at you or says boo. It is very much a dreamy mood piece, but a truly attractive adaptation of a bestseller of the past by a French master of the suspense novel, with a truly puzzling plot that is actually neatly and logically resolved.