Written in part as its author’s oblique response to the premature end of Louise Brooks’ acting career in the 1930s, and reflecting upon cinema’s special power to preserve – and of course idealise – what has already been lost to the past, Adolfo Bioy Casares’ 1940 SF novel ‘The Invention of Morel’ has proven irresistible to filmmakers concerned with examining the impact and artifice of their own craft. This modernist masterpiece has been translated several times into film, whether in Claude-Jean Bonnardot’s 1967 telemovie or Emidio Greco’s 1974 feature, but the most striking and memorable adaptations have also tended to be the loosest – like Alain Resnais’ Last Year In Marienbad (1961), the Quay brothers’ The PianoTuner of EarthQuakes (2005), and now Christian Carroll’s mannered feature debut Suicide or Lulu and Me in a World Made for Two.
In his childhood home in Oklahoma, mad scientist-cum-artist Jorge (played by Carroll himself, channelling Crispin Glover at his jitteriest) places a goggle-like device on mute, amnesiac, confused Louise McPhee (Adeline Thery) – a guest from France with a distinctive Louise Brooks bob – to help her remember how she and Jorge came to be living there as lovers. Thanks to this device, Louise – and we too – get to see a movie-like projection of her forgotten past in Paris where the melancholic kept woman and occasional street performer (specialising in impersonations of Louise Brooks’ most iconic moments) had a breezy meet-cute with experimental photographer Jorge. Eyes met, sparks flew, and the young couple decided to commemorate their happiness together in front of Jorge’s prototype reality-duplicating camera as the sun went down. But memories, like movies, are seldom entirely accurate or reliable, and Louise begins to wonder if Jorge’s device is showing her who she really is, or merely who he wants her to be.
The images have been shot in black and white. The dialogue and sound is all post-synchronised. The visual tropes oscillate between German expressionism (complete with Teutonic intertitles) and French New Wave (in romantic Paris). The heroine repeats the attitudes and postures of a silent movie star in her best known appearances – and eventually herself becomes as mute as the on-screen Brooks. Which is to say that Suicide or Lulu and Me in a World Made for Two is an overtly mannered confection, wearing its stylisations proudly on its sleeve like badges of its own postmodernism. All these affected audiovisual tics are a pleasure unto themselves – but they are also signifiers of a constructed world of illusions (and allusions). The result is sophisticated retro chic with a twist, transforming the obsessiveness of cinephiles into something all at once smart and silly, cool and crazy.