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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Lady in the Car With Glasses and a Gun (Blu-ray)
The Lady in the Car With Glasses and a Gun (Blu-ray)
Magnolia Home Entertainment // Unrated // April 12, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $29.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted May 10, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun. Lifted directly from the novel by Sebastien Japrisot on which the film was based, it's an uncommonly lengthy title, but one that conjures up a very specific and evocative image. Maybe it's fitting that director / writer Joann Sfar seems to have transformed that approach into a filmmaking philosophy and run with it as far as he can go. Sfar's Lady amounts to a 90-minute series of specific, evocative images, many of them bordering on fetishistic, with little to no focus on story or character that can't be conveyed visually. The movie drips with sexual energy and period detail, which some will find luxurious enough to justify hitching a ride, but this isn't just style over substance, it's style as substance, with Sfar intentionally attempting to convey the bare minimum of story and character through imagery that is often so disconnected it borders on abstract.

Freya Mavor plays Dany Doremus, a paralegal or secretary at some sort of business firm (the business is not specified) who is asked by her boss, Michel (Benjamin Biolay) to transcribe an important document for an upcoming meeting. As the assignment will take hours and completing the work will come right down to the wire, Michel invites Dany to do the work in his home, where she can work on it up until the very minute he has to leave, as well as see his wife and former co-worker Anita (Stacy Martin). The work goes smoothly until Michel has Dany accompany him and Anita to the airport, so that she can drive Michel's sky blue Thunderbird back to his house after both of them depart. Dany, who has never seen the sea, decides to take the beautiful Thunderbird on a bit of a joyride before returning it, only to discover that she is mysteriously recognized at every stop on a route that she's never taken before.

The images Sfar lingers on are ripe with sexuality -- not quite salacious, nor sweaty with passion, but completely focused on textural details of Dany's womanhood, in a way that is both effectively evocative and self-indulgently fetishistic. He lingers on certain details, such as her hand slowly pulling on a high-heeled platform shoe, or both straps of a borrowed nightgown dangling off of her shoulders, or the way she walks across a gas station parking lot with all the men in the cars and garage staring at her. Mavor, sporting bright red hair, a startlingly short trenchcoat-style dress, and a pair of cartoonishly round glasses that frame her large doe eyes, punctuates the screen. Too bad none of these visuals are in service of anything deeper. Although Mavor does what she can with what little material the movie offers her, she's there as an object, an ideal, and although the paranoia she feels is conveyed to the viewer, Dany herself never deepens into a character.

Dany's sexuality is so cartoonish she feels like a comic book character, which makes sense when one learns that Sfar threw out a script and storyboarded the movie like a graphic novel. The film even splits into panels from time to time so that Sfar can show us more than one thing at once. To convey Dany's potentially unstable mental state and accentuate her deja vu, he uses hallucinatory fade-outs that cause characters to turn into ghosts, or see things that may or may not have happened. Although the film's reliance on visuals is a crutch, there's no denying that Sfar knows how to deliver on those visuals, not just because he has an eye-catching leading lady and a striking automobile, but also because he has an eye for composition. The film is impeccably designed, rich with gorgeous architecture and costumes.

As the film draws to a close, Sfar makes the inexplicable decision to give a character an exposition dump that would give a Bond villain pause, as if he feels that proving his film did have a story after all will be enough to retroactively satisfy those who felt the rest of the movie was a gorgeous bore. Instead, the result is a "worst of both worlds" compromise: an increasingly repetitive and tedious series of pretty pictures that play coy with the tiny bits of actual development Sfar wants to include, followed by an equally unsatisfying explanation that awkwardly grinds an already slow film to a halt in order to tie up every loose end. Part of the title's appeal is that it presents a series of open-ended questions -- who is this lady, what has she done or what is she planning to do with the gun, and where is she coming from or going to? -- but between delaying and dumping the answer, it's clear Sfar isn't all that interested.

The Blu-ray
The Lady in the Car With Glasses and a Gun pretty much follows the lead of the title and presents all four of these things on the cover. The single-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
magnolia's 2.39:1 1080p AVC video and French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation of Lady are both above-average, if not exemplary. Colors, textures, and fine detail all appear strong throughout, although the picture does occasionally show brief instances of banding, especially when the film fades to black. Dark scenes look a little flat, but I didn't catch any compression artifacts. The film features a vibrant throwback soundtrack, as well as the occasional effect accentuating some of Dany's disturbances. Still, on the whole, this is not a particularly action-packed movie, so real opportunity to use the surrounds are infrequent. An English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and English and Spanish subtitles are also included.

The Extras
"The Man in the Car with a Pen and a Camera" (26:44) is a lengthy interview with director Joann Sfar where he discusses the adaptation process, including throwing out the old script and using the storyboards, as well as the movie's complicated editing process and other challenges in making it. Although I may not have enjoyed the film very much, he is clearly very enthusiastic about what seems to have been a passion project. He also presents some of his paintings from the production in a featurette aptly titled "The Paintings of Director Joann Sfar" (2:45).

Trailers for Synchronicity, The Wave, Headhunters, Kill Me Three Times, and promos for Chideo and axsTV play before the main menu, and are accessible under the special features menu as "More from magnolia." An original theatrical trailer for Lady is also included.

I cannot say I found Lady particularly enjoyable, especially after about 20 minutes, but the film is unquestionably the result of the director's vision. It is visually stunning throughout, and often very sexy (to a fault). For these reasons, it earns a rental rating over a pass.

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