The Fool Faces Tomorrow
Onur Tukel is one of the best filmmakers of NYC at the moment, and his latest is a prime example of why.
If there was ever a contender for an east coast set apocalypse of the self ala Southland Tales, it’d be Onur Tukel’s That Cold Dead Look In Your Eyes. Much like Richard Kelly’s prophetic spoof and dramatic comedy of American culture post 9/11 and present-day war, Tukel takes inspiration from new technologies and old ways of self-destruction to weave a comic tragedy of someone who ought to know better. In Kelly’s film, that someone is the whole of humanity. In Tukel’s film, that someone is a Frenchman lost in New York City. And where both feature hallucinations and creepy visions of techno-corporate control, it’s only That Cold Dead Look In Your Eyes that feels bolder - by going smaller.
The film follows Leonard, a wannabe cosmopolitan who is stuck crashing on what used to be his mutually owned couch. However, due to a humiliating and selfish act, he’s on the edge of losing everything, now living at the mercy of his ex-girlfriend, who actively wants him to leave. He works at a neighborhood restaurant, but is a terrible cook. He rides a groovy motorcycle, but can’t make the payments. He complains a lot, while walking with a suspicious wound on his side. Just about everyone hates him, and are bothered by even having to remind him of this fact, multiple times, and often in the same conversation.
He’s the definition of an impotent loser, and it’s glorious to watch the final phase of his downfall.
It should go without typing that director Onur Tukel has more to express than the joy of watching someone face the consequences of their actions and inactions. His film is funny in a sad and awkward way, but also fantastical, lived-in, and downright odd. It’s strange, but only because most everything else is established normal if heightened at first. Why are they speaking French in NYC? Why do some characters look like they belong in a body horror picture? What’s the deal with the wifi routers? When things go bizarre, and they do so very proudly, there’s still some even footing to explore it all on. Familiar if alien, pretty domestic yet universal all the same. Deep down, we’re all a missed check and a bad misstep away from being Leonard. That’s what matters most here.
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Almost everyone In Leonard’s life at this stage is either emotional, sick, horny, or violent. There’s little nuance in his relationships with people, as everything and everyone clearly torments his vulnerable spirit. I’d call this a haunted conscience flick, but it operates as a precursor to a zombie disaster too. That Cold Dead Look In Your Eyes, indeed, is "of the living dead” very much. Where are the spooks? They’re coming, just not in this story.
But they’re coming.
The New York City of the film feels awfully big yet stunningly specific and controlled, as if only a few observances of the massive metro community were expanded upon and pronounced for this story, and might just be best represented by one role in particular. Alan Ceppos plays the father of Leonard’s ex, and is living in her apartment on a visit. He’s a supposedly still famous photographer, who speaks in whistful lyrics but clogs toilets and has loud, gross sex with anyone and everyone. His performance here is lit like never-ending flash paper, just burning all the way through. An art hustler trying to be important once more, he contrasts with Leonard very well, even if he’s on the opposite end of the pathetic spectrum. In his case, he’s proactive, while Leonard is a knockabout red button just a centimeter from being pushed.
Black, white, and French all over, this movie is great. Effing great. Bizarre but not so absurd, it’s a story that folds in on itself before opening back up again with a new perspective and a fresh beginning. It’s fiction that feels real. It’s scary but not really a horror. Its protagonist is unlikable, but schlubby enough to be kind of endearing. That Cold Dead Look In Your Eyes rakes its creativity over hot coals with confidence, and is willing to go again and again. Like Southland Tales, only… more so.
It’s funny to me how the one character in the movie that only speaks English is the restaurant owner played by Max Casella, an actor who I’d say really represents NYC with just his body language. He wears the twentieth-century of the city with every step he takes and every button on his shirt that’s opened.
This is the way a world ends. 5/5