Sunday, March 1, 2020

THE SCHOOL OF PERSONA: DON'T LOOK BACK

Persona / Don't Look Back


Vertigo. Images. Mulholland Drive. Always Shine. There’s countless psychological thrillers that deal with the duality, multiple personalities & parallel worlds surrounding women. With the exception of Vertigo (1958), I feel like the aforementioned films can be traced back to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (obviously with the residue of Hitchcock’s Vertigo and perhaps a pinch of Maya Deren’s Meshes Of The Afternoon, but Persona remains the #1 film with the most influence when it comes to movies in that lane).
I say all this to say that Marina De Van’s sophomore film Don’t Look Back is often left off the list of Persona-influenced films when, in my personal opinion, it fits right in with the Mulholland Drives & Always Shines. Part of that has to do with the fact that Don’t Look Back is a little underseen (in the United States it was distributed by IFC films which means its theatrical release was limited in comparison to other movies). Another reason this film is often forgotten about is because it struggled to match up to De Van’s excellent debut In My Skin. Not only did In My Skin leave some large shoes for Don’t Look Back to fill, but De Van was heavily associated with the New French Extremity film movement and her follow-up feature was a more conventional thriller and less “extreme” or “transgressive” as a lot of the other New French Extremity films.

Even I felt Don’t Look Back was a little “Meh” at first but after a recent re-watch (after over a decade) I’ve come to realize that not only is it a solid film, but - as I mentioned at the start of this piece - De Van’s sophomore feature has some strong visual & thematic connections to Persona and other movies in that lane

Like any film dealing with duality & questionable identity (like Persona), Don’t Look Back has tons of imagery that focuses on mirrors & reflections (that kind of goes without saying when it comes to movies like this)

Persona / Don't Look Back

Persona / Don't Look Back

Persona / Don't Look Back

Persona / Don't Look Back


I’m fully aware that there are countless movie scenes with mirrors & reflections. Even scenes where people change & morph in to another person...

Persona / Don't Look Back

Persona / Don't Look Back


But obvious mirror scenes aside, there are minor visual similarities between Don’t Look Back & Persona that speak volumes and make the connection stronger...
Persona / Don't Look Back

Persona / Don't Look Back

Persona / Don't Look Back


Imagery aside, both Persona & Don't Look Back are partially about mental breakdowns centered around female-specific traumas (similar to Mulholland Drive, Images, Always Shine and so many others). In Don't Look Back we follow a woman (Sophie Marceau) who slowly starts to lose a grip on reality and morph in to another woman (Monica Belucci) due to a mental break brought on by fatigue (as the movie unfolds we come to discover there’s a lot more to everything than just fatigue).

So while Don’t Look Back is somewhat underrated and a little underseen for understandable reasons (and it’s not on the level of a Persona, but still...), perhaps it deserves to be given a second (or first) chance with all the aforementioned cinematic influences & connections in mind.