Like A Dirty French Novel intertwines the stories of two estranged brothers, a sex-phone operator and a cosplayer, set to the backdrop of the current Covid pandemic.
In its opening credits, the film promises to illustrate the effects of social distancing on account of the pandemic. Through a non-linear narrative, vignettes tie eccentric characters together as each individual develops idiosyncratic coping mechanisms to deal with the strain of isolation.
Ostensibly, the film emulates the styles of Tarantino and David Lynch through a film noir premise, non-linear narrative, mixed with an other-worldly sensibility. However, copying the style of top-notch filmmakers does not translate to the film being top-notch itself.
The pandemic is entirely irrelevant to the plot, as what transpires is a garbled mish-mash of genres and disjointed scenes that may have amused those making it but calcifies its viewers with boredom. From the outset, the film proudly advertises its appallingly unconvincing acting. Three men are led across a desolate landscape by strangers in cheap Halloween masks standing on solid ground squealing, “It’s quicksand!” without being sucked in at all. The actors scream out hysterically as they wriggle for safety, looking deeply confused about what they are supposed to be doing.
The film abruptly cuts to Hue (Robby Valls) in his apartment with his girlfriend Crystal (Jennifer Daley), whose relationship grows stale. Hue receives phone calls from a mysterious woman, framed wearing deep red lipstick and holding a cigarette. Meanwhile, stories that drag on too long with absurd dialogue occupies the time. A twin brother is victim to mistaken identity by fumbling hitmen. Lane (Amanda Viola) meets Jake (Aaron Bustos) in the park only to discover he was recently pronounced dead, and a woman dramatically panics about procuring a new comic book.
Overall, there is an ambitious attempt to intertwine disparate stories, however, the film’s incongruent visuals and drab characters make for a wholly unsatisfying watch. Perhaps in an effort to enliven the story, the film deploys a grainy filter as a homage to film noir predecessors but is distracting for the most part. Not only this, in climactic fight scenes, title cards reminiscent of the 1960s Batman television show smash across the screen. There is no real purpose behind these influences, and it reeks of desperation to make the film more interesting than it is.
Although a low-budget and a pandemic account for certain constraints, jamming in mismatched effects with an unedifying shot selection that blurs and blocks characters talking does not conceal an inept film.
Like a Dirty French Novel was filmed in six days.