Don’t believe the mocking title of the Danish filmmaker Ole Bornedal’s lurid neo-noir fantasy, “Just Another Love Story.” This jumpy, high-adrenaline thriller administers a stinging slap in the face to the popular notion of Denmark as one of the happiest places on earth.
It is a country, the movie suggests, whose inhabitants — at least the men — seethe with boredom under their facade of contentment. The slaps in the face are literal in a movie in which two of the crazier characters compare themselves to Orpheus and Eurydice and exchange kisses that draw blood.
“Just Another Love Story” begins with three seemingly disconnected fragments labeled Love Scenes 1, 2 and 3, and unfolds as a puzzle. The opener observes the film’s protagonist and occasional narrator, Jonas (Anders W. Berthelsen), dying in the street amid a downpour as, like the floating corpse of Joe Gillis in “Sunset Boulevard,” he offers dry commentary. Many narrative twists and jarring flashbacks later, the pieces of the puzzle come together, and the ludicrous but ingeniously constructed story makes a kind of sense.
Mr. Bornedal, like his more highbrow Danish countryman Lars von Trier, has the imagination of a compulsive trickster. But where Mr. von Trier relishes intellectual gamesmanship, Mr. Bornedal revels in the garish and the morbid. His 1997 English-language remake of his earlier horror thriller “Nightwatch,” set in a morgue, toyed with necrophilia. Jonas is a crime scene photographer who is also shown in a morgue casually conversing with his colleagues about sex while surrounded by naked corpses.
Jonas is a 40-ish Danish everyman with an attractive wife, Mette (Charlotte Fich), and two children; he smugly calculates that he and Mette have made love 2,000 times since marrying. And the snippets of the couple going at it indicate that there is heat left in the marriage. But Jonas confesses that he harbors a growing itch for mad passion with a mysterious femme fatale.
Opportunity suddenly presents itself in one of the more grisly car crashes to be seen in a recent film. When Jonas’s battered vehicle stalls on the highway, two cars speeding in opposite directions swerve to avoid him and collide head-on. Jonas, who blames himself for the accident, visits the hospital to inquire about the condition of the only survivor, Julia (Rebecka Hemse), whom he discovers lying in a coma.
Before he can identify himself, the members of her distraught family welcome him, believing that he must be her boyfriend, Sebastian, whom they have never met. The free-spirited Julia hooked up with Sebastian on a trip to Asia. Flashbacks show her frolicking at Angkor Wat with the real Sebastian (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a dashing adventurer with a psychotic gleam in his eye.
Before Jonas can correct them, they press him to try to revive Julia by talking to her, kissing her and getting into her hospital bed. He obliges and before long is besotted. Especially in moments when a sinister figure wrapped in bandages is shown furtively darting through the corridors in a wheelchair, the macabre hospital scenes recall Mr. von Trier’s surreal television series “The Kingdom.”
Julia miraculously revives but has no memory of the real Sebastian or of her time in Asia and has lost 90 percent of her eyesight. When she accepts the impostor’s devotion, her wealthy family is pleased to note that her newest lover is a stunning departure from her customary bad boys. Once Jonas has shed his family, and the lovers have repaired to Julia’s family’s plush seaside home, her memory begins to return, and the nasty games begin.
As “Just Another Love Story” zigzags between austere realism (the scenes of Jonas and his family) and surreal gore, you have the not unpleasant sense of being taken for a ride. It may not go anywhere in particular, but it is as exciting as a trip through a well-equipped, scary fun house.
Written and directed by Ole Bornedal; director of photography, Dan Laustsen; edited by Anders Villadsen; music by Joachim Holbek; produced by Michael Obel; released by Koch Lorber Films. WITH: Anders W. Berthelsen (Jonas), Rebecka Hemse (Julia Castlund), Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Sebastian), Charlotte Fich (Mette), Dejan Cukic (Frank), Karsten Jansfort (Poul), Ewa Froling (Julia’s Mother) and Bent Mejding (Julia’s Father).