L’autre Laurens 2023 Movie Review
Gender and genre trouble is on the horizon. We see a desert landscape, in the thick of a blue night; a cactus, an American woman, two henchmen speaking in Spanish, discussing a ghost, the two of them lit up by the neon lights of a nightclub as the sound of motorbikes fades into the distance. We’re no longer sure whether we’re on the Spanish or Mexican border. Maybe a bit of both, in our minds. This confusion-fuelled prologue is followed by a whole other motif: we’re taken back to a certain level of realism with the introduction of Gabriel Laurens (Olivier Rabourdin, simply perfect), a somewhat messy gumshoe whose cushy job involves tailing suspected adulterers. It’s a grey day in Brussels and in his life more generally, when his heavenly niece Jade (a stupefying Louise Leroy) turns up on his doorstep and asks him to help shed light on the mystery of the death of her father, who’s also Gabriel’s twin brother. Thus begins The Other Laurens Belgian director Claude Schmitz’s new movie selected in the Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight.
Despite his displeasure at stepping outside of his comfort zone, Gabriel follows Jade, accompanying her back to the Spanish border where she lives and uncovering the strange world of his brother, where dissonance reigns and déjà-vu abounds. Any resemblance to living characters or real situations is far from coincidental here. Archetypal characters from detective films – B series movies, at that – parade before our eyes: the detective beaten up by life, his evil twin, a Lolita character, a femme fatale, cops, bikers, even a passing US marine. But all of them have a little something extra and substantially different about them: the Lolita character refuses to be a doormat, the bikers have an accent, the cops are paunchy, and the well-oiled, traditional investigation takes an interesting turn amidst blue notes and discordance. Like static on the line or parasites on the screen, these modifications call familiar stories about strong men and the patriarchy into question.
The director tries his hand at this experimental style revolving around the codes of film noir with real jubilation paired with genuine savoir faire, de-territorialising the genre, exposing a maximum of false pretences, and finding meaning in the gaps and yaws which become a fully mapped out path unto themselves. Claude Schmitz fills the story with archetypes and virile attributes – guns, motorbikes, a helicopter even – as if to exhaust them, to wear them out until they’re hanging by a thread, in order to expose their vanity and vacuity, to reveal how these tales, which have fed into masculinities for decades, have reached the end of the road, wrung out and emptied of all meaning. The filmmaker achieves all this with humour and an undeniable love of the game, aided by eye-catching photography and a playful original soundtrack, perfectly buoyed by Rodolphe Burger’s score.
In this sense, The Other Laurens depicts a swansong, of sorts, which is anything but nostalgic; a final adieu to now-deconstructed founding myths. It opens itself up to multiple readings and interpretations, and hijacks the character of the young woman in distress-come-rock-n-roll Baby Doll, ultimately investing her with full powers and conferring her authority over stories yet to come.