Belgian writer-director Claude Schmitz’s third feature, The Other Laurens, is a dry-humor thriller with an existential neo-noir façade. Viewers expecting a tense, philosophical slow-burn akin to Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye will be surprised to find what could instead convincingly be described as a Coen brothers take on David Robert Mitchell’s cult A24 film Under the Silver Lake. The Other Laurens finds an archetypally down-and-out, Brussels-based private investigator named Gabriel Laurens (Olivier Rabourdin) living a life of Sisyphean monotony, investigating extramarital affairs. His mother is dying, and to her, he is practically dead; she regularly confuses him for his twin brother, François, an exorbitantly wealthy real-estate developer from whom Gabriel is estranged. There is nobody else in Gabriel’s life — fewer, even, when his mother dies and his niece (Louise Leroy) arrives from Perpignan in the South of France with the news that François has died, too, apparently having driven his car off a cliff. This modest family reunion isn’t occasioned by mourning: Gabriel’s niece seeks assistance from Gabriel to investigate his brother’s death, and despite the air of nihilistic apathy with which Gabriel conducts himself, he’s soon swept away by a mystery seemingly both of no interest to him, and at many moments, of no real interest to the audience, either.
Like many films before it, the identical twins at the center of The Other Laurens fall into the lineage of cinematic doubles, immediately bringing to mind David Cronenberg’s recently remade and series-ified Dead Ringers. Although Schmitz is unable to build on this tradition’s rich history meaningfully, he’s still able to at least brush against it in a way that’s dynamic and fun. As the film progresses, Gabriel increasingly dissolves into the identity of his twin; he wears his clothes, mimics his grooming, and at one juncture, even sleeps with his brother’s mistress. In a charming twist, even the viewer is left uncertain of which brother they’re watching — our confusion musically converging with that of the characters. This playfully leaves The Other Laurens audience with compelling philosophical questions, like whether people assume their identities or their identities assume them — even as the relatively simple nature of Schmitz’s film tends to collapse under the complexity of its own aspired wit.
The Other Laurens is chock-full of compelling characters, ranging from a greedy, American wife to an ex-Marine, to a Spanish drug dealer, and even a geriatric, Harley-riding motorbike gang. These characters joltingly orbit a complex, albeit obscured world, without quite breaching its atmosphere. They are clumsily assembled paradoxes that grate in and out of scenes without friction, masses in constant movement with absolutely no emotional weight. Only some of their deficiencies, however, can be blamed on the awkward script. The quality of acting in The Other Laurens ranges from somewhat inspired — first-time actor Louise Leroy deserves credit for buoying the film’s emotional depth — to downright terrible; during various monologue scenes, it appears as if the speaker is being repelled, if not repulsed, by the camera in front of them. This, alongside hurdling dialogue, nonexistent tension, a hodgepodge plot, and a Dadaist sense of causality — 9/11 is forcefully made a symbol of the dissolution of the brothers’ relationship — leaves The Other Laurens swimming against its own current.
And still, the film manages to find an ambling sort of rhythm despite itself. To say it’s a success would be wrong; it just isn’t quite a failure. The rich visuals are legitimately beautiful, recalling Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas, or fellow Belgian Lukas Dhont’s recent Close, while Thomas Turin’s pulsating electronic score equally enchants, sharing a similar sensibility with that of Dev Hynes’ work on Paul Schrader’s Master Gardener or Daniel Lopatin’s for Uncut Gems. Even the production design is excellent, creating a hyperreal, uncanny effect that simulates an atmosphere of mystery, surveillance, and discomfort. Despite poor writing and worse direction, everything that’s virtually inanimate at the periphery of The Other Laurens lends the film enough of a strong enough pulse to keep viewers watching till the end, whether or not their collective breaths are held by the non-suspense of the film’s flaccid mystery.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 21.5.