To quote Fine Young Cannibals’ grammatically incorrect but nonetheless awesome song, “Baby, baby, don’t look back / It won’t do no good.”
True dat, learns nonfiction writer Jeanne (Sophie Marceau) in “Don’t Look Back,” a French/Italian thriller that’s more mind-bending than anything else you’re likely to see all year. Married and a mother of two, Jeanne would love to be a novelist, but her editor thinks she’s not cut out for it.
She takes the news like a knife to the heart, and the ensuing stress, we assume, has to be to blame when abnormal things start happening at home, like catching her family members making strange hand signals behind her back. This spirals into their eyes changing colors, and eventually, into having different faces entirely.
Same goes for Jeanne, as her beautiful mug morphs “ at first, just by half “ into another woman’s (the stunning Monica Bellucci). Of course, this is apparent to no one but Jeanne “ and the viewer, natch, for whom this effect is startling and unsettling.
The answers as to why don’t come easy for Jeanne, nor will those of you watching from home figure it out without some difficulty. Director Marina de Van (“In My Skin“) employs techniques of the surreal and sexual while putting our protagonist through the ringer, in scenes that seemingly pay homage to everyone from David Lynch to Alfred Hitchcock, for whom the theme of identity was a personal fave. (And to make a direct correlation, this is the kind of material over which Brian De Palma salivates. He’d knock this out of the park, but de Van has no trouble doing so herself.)
Both lead actresses do very well sharing the same role “ sometimes simultaneously, thanks to some astoundingly seamless effects work “ and the story is so gripping that you’ll quickly forget you’re having to read its subtitles to follow along. “Rod Lott