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The title of the new film noir by Belgian screenwriter and director Claude Schmitz, The other Laurens (The other Laurens), seems like an obvious homage to The two JakesJack Nicholson’s somewhat forgotten sequel to Roman Polanski’s genre classic, Chinatown.
Both the latter film and 1970s existential neo-noirs like Robert Altman’s The long goodbye and by Arthur Penn Night moves looms over Schmitz’s third feature film, which follows a penniless private investigator investigating the death of his twin brother. Played by the engaging Olivier Rabourdin (also in Catherine Breillat’s film in competition at Cannes, Last summer), The other Laurens weaves together an intriguing little family mystery filled with bits of dark comedy and weirdness – this is a Belgian film, after all – and just enough plot to sustain the viewer for a rather tense two hours.
The other Laurens
Forget Laurens, it’s Perpignan.
Place: Cannes Film Festival (Realisateurs Fortnight)
Launch: Olivier Rabourdin, Louise Leroy, Tibo Vandenborre, Marc Babré, Kate Moran
Director: Claudius Schmitz
Screenwriters: Claude Schmitz, Kostia Textut
1 hour and 57 minutes
Schmitz’s first feature film, the small heist film from 2018 Car wash, applied a similar mix of crime and comedy, which the director (working with co-writer Kostia Testut) here expands to a more ambitious crime novel model. At the beginning of the film, Gabriel Laurens (Rabourdin) is a private detective from Brussels who, like Jake Gittes in Chinatownspecializing in adultery cases. He lives alone and seems to have always done so, visiting his dying mother, who mistakes him for his identical twin, François (Rabourdin again).
When François’ daughter Jade (Louise Leroy) shows up at Gabriel’s door to say that her father was killed in a car accident, the detective is inevitably drawn into an affair he wants nothing to do with. . Long estranged from his twin, a wealthy real estate mogul who lived in a gigantic chateau outside the French city of Perpignan near the Spanish border, the detective arrives to give his niece a quick helping hand before skipping town.
Of course things don’t go as planned, as Gabriel gradually gets sucked into his dead brother’s bling-bling and extremely shady lifestyle, crossing paths with a greedy American wife (Kate Moran) who wants to take the money and run away, a Una Harley Davidson gang led by the unstable Valéry (Marc Babré) and a drug deal gone wrong in Spain.
The story perhaps takes too long to unravel, but it’s full of hilarious comedy, much of which comes from a pair of bumbling police detectives (Rodolphe Burger, Francis Soetens) who are also supposed to be on the case. Gabriel tries to avoid them while at the same time protecting Jade, even though more often than not it seems like she is protecting him. They form an unlikely duo that brings the detective closer to a brother who abruptly cut him out of his life, with a belated explanation adding more weight to both characters and their longstanding feud.
By far the best parts of The other Laurens deal with the mirroring between the two, with Gabriel slowly transforming over the course of the film into the twin he loved to hate, wearing dead man’s clothes, driving his first sports car and, at one point, fully assuming his identity. It’s the perfect concept for a film noir, a genre that has always favored double-crossings or double allowances, and Schmitz keeps repeating the doubling motif until we no longer know which brother is which.
The film’s deadpan Belgian buffoonery is an acquired taste, and again, probably could have been a little shorter. But in the end we grow fond of Gabriel’s zigzagging search for the truth, even if it is no longer clear whether that truth refers to his brother or to himself. At various times in The other Laurenspeople mistake him for François or think they’ve seen a ghost, and we wonder if we’re watching a film about the walking dead or a walking dead, and if it’s ultimately the same thing.