From Hitchcock to Haneke, directors have long been drawn to and explored the thin divide separating bourgeois malaise and much darker stuff. The sense that bubbling just under the surface of everyday life is a far more sinister alternate reality — one that could suck an ordinary guy like Cary Grant into a vortex of international intrigue in North by Northwest, or the teenagers in Blue Velvet into a violent, demented suburban soap opera — has proven endlessly fruitful. And for good reason: there is a certain perverse delight to be had in baring the suppressed desires and painful secrets that invariably lurk behind the genteel myth of middle class respectability.
Jonas (Anders W. Berthelsen), the protagonist of Nightwatch director Ole Bornedal’s Danish thriller Just Another Love Story, is trapped in an unsatisfying marriage and a depressingly dull existence until a sexier, more exciting life falls into his lap when the beautiful and suicidal Julia (Rebecka Hemse) crashes into his car. As Jonas puts it: “Beautiful women and a mystery. Isn’t that how every film noir starts?” Badly injured, Julia falls into a coma, only to wake from it blind and with almost no recollection of her past life. Drawn to the mysterious woman, Jonas convinces her and her family that he is Julia’s boyfriend, Sebastian, concocting an elaborate past for the two of them. Indeed, as Jonas distances himself from his own wife and children, his relationship with Julia unwittingly draws him into a dangerous web of violence.
Just Another Love Story’s best moments are those that showcase Bornedal’s flair for creating gory, painfully vivid images of violence. Unfortunately, these striking and disturbing images — bits of broken windshield drifting about a bloodied Julia like gently falling snow; two lovers on a beach kissing so violently it draws streams of blood — are not enough to sustain the film, which, in between these shocking explosions of savagery, sags mightily.
The biggest problem with the film is that it treats Jonas’ suburban malaise — the catalyst that prompts him to abandon his family and comfortable life — like little more than a convenient plot device. Because Bornedal expects that we’ve all seen American Beauty, it's assumed that we should consider “middle-aged,” “suburban,” and “married” as shorthand for “disaffected,” “apathetic,” and “restless,” and that he shouldn’t have to offer us any meaningful insight into Jonas’ psyche beyond that. The entirety of Michael Haneke’s oeuvre (films like The Seventh Continent, Benny’s Video and Funny Games), similarly explores the relationship between modern alienation and violence, but more provocatively and with far more intelligence.
With Just Another Love Story Bornedal shows that he can craft a handsome, reasonably entertaining suspense film. But without the convincing psychological heft its subject matter demands, it’s just another thriller, one that's ultimately forgettable.