Contributed by Jonathan Stevenson / Not every filmmaker can emulate Alfred Hitchcock and cue Chet Baker in a feature debut shot on a shoestring budget and avoid appearing shamelessly trite or derivative, but Belgian director and co-writer Dimitri de Clercq pulls it off with his captivatingly twisted, noirish romance You Go To My Head. The set-up is close to Costanzan in the squalid prurience of its instigator: a beautiful woman emerges slightly injured from a car wreck that killed her male companion and starts wandering in the Moroccan desert. Jake, an expatriate European architect of late-middle age, comes upon her and discovers that she has amnesia. He nurses her back to health, tells her he’s her husband, calls her Kitty, and feeds her a purposefully skeletal story about their life together, taking care to isolate her from anyone or anything that might contradict it. Shorn of options and presented with an elegantly minimalist house that Jake designed and built (and Donald Judd could have), she buys the scenario and settles in for some idyllic skinny-dipping and gentle pampering.
Jake – a flawless Svetozar Cvetkovic, appearing by turns evil and feckless – is emotionally clever, consolidating his good will by initially abstaining from sexual advances in deference to Kitty’s delicate mental state. Eventually they do it, and he begins to seem less the predator and more the supplicant. Meanwhile, Kitty – Delfine Bafort, in a nicely pitched regal-punk mode – discovers that she is not helpless, and has capabilities, curiosity, and a sharp mind. She can not only swim but also dance, draw, and deduce. Jake yearns for a normal life – good luck with that – and takes the calculated risk of desert outings. While they are driving, Kitty subconsciously registers some familiar sights and sketches them in a notebook. She finds she speaks Flemish as well as English and French, and learns her real name is Dafne. When at last she figures out that she was essentially a parasitic wild child who had taken up with a married American, she suddenly has the power. The question is how she will use it. She could hold Jake’s predatory gambit over him by seeking moral and legal redress for her effective abduction, or she might afford him highly qualified mercy by accepting his standing offer of a comfortable life, this time fully informed and armed with the tacit threat of blackmail.
It’s easy to make light of You Go To My Head as a dirty old man’s drooling fantasy gone wrong or, to quote the headline of one review, “a feature-length perfume ad.” These criticisms are understandable, but they ignore the movie’s overriding virtues. The music is winningly eclectic, lurching from gothic horror to cool-noir to melodrama to epic, seemingly in line with Kitty’s shifting mindset. And the film is beautifully shot and tightly edited. The quiescent desert tableaux, all in natural light, provide a serene and uncluttered backdrop for examining complicated psychological questions, artfully and intelligibly presented, about the information people withhold and the warped bargains they can implicitly make. Fully appreciated, the film scans as a cogent fable of female agency and the banishment of the predatory male. At the same time, de Clercq openly admits that it is a kind of valentine to Bafort, which shows in the camera’s sometimes borderline-creepy preoccupation with her. That measure of meta-voyeurism may underline how potentially brittle the #MeToo epoch is: men might get more teachable, but they’re always going to covet.
You Go To My Head, directed and co-written by Dimitri de Clercq, distributed by First Run Features.
Two Coats of Paint is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To use content beyond the scope of this license, permission is required.