out of Five
Running time: 111
A challenging and tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of film noir which works best when concentrating on the more conventional dramatic thread, but in its attempt to educate and involve the audience it unfortunately ends up excluding them.
What’s it all about?
British director Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas, Timecode) plays with fact and fiction in this experimental erotic thriller and murder mystery. Suspension of Disbelief stars Sebastian Koch as an acclaimed screenwriter, Martin, who becomes entangled in a police investigation when his daughter’s friend, the enigmatic Angelique (Lotte Verbeek), disappears after a party at his home in Hampstead.
When Angelique turns up dead suspicions fall on Martin, whose wife vanished under similar circumstances ten years previously. Angelique’s twin sister, Therese, makes an appearance to identify the body revealing clues and slowly seducing those around her. Three different strands unfold, a conventional dramatic story, a film noir within the film, and a classroom discussion dissecting the screenwriting process all woven together by unreliable narrator Martin.
There is excellent chemistry between Lotte Verbeek and Sebastian Koch as they unravel the mystery behind Angelique’s death, which piques interest and intrigue. Thanks to their strong performances and the use of noir clichés to good effect the conventional narrative arc remains tense. Humour is well placed in this strand too, with the detective investigating Angelique’s disappearance plodding around to slapstick music and hounding Martin with his own screenplay for a psychological thriller set in Hertfordshire.
The accomplished camera work and composition, shifting between intimate and distant, delivers a disorientating experience that works well alongside the experimental nature of the piece. Lotte Verbeek gives a playful turn in her transformation into a woman of questionable virtue and the wonderful Frances de la Tour appears briefly to smoke furiously and speak some words of wisdom. The added ingredient of satire on the current state of the film industry, with accusations of nepotism flying around, gives food for thought.
Figgis references the masters, including Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder, but amateurishly apes the neo-noir with some David Lynch-inspired dream sequences, and often the attempts at humour are overshadowed by self-awareness and an overflow of ideas. The film within in a film, harking back to early noir, is perhaps the weakest aspect as the supporting cast struggle with on-the-nose dialogue and intrusive music. Figgis also employs an ugly typeface to introduce chapters and characters which only adds to the clunky and self-satisfied tone that leans towards the irritating.
Suspension of Disbelief is amusing at times but there’s too much going on, robbing it of any real depth and any appeal to a mainstream audience. However, film students and fans of film noir may enjoy the many nods to the genre, and its history and technique.