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You Go to My Head

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Feb 14, 2020
'You Go to My Head'
'You Go to My Head'  

Dimitri de Clercq's first feature as a solo director - and his first feature since 1995 - drops us into the middle of the vast Sahara desert, and the middle of a young woman's life.

The twist: The young woman in question has no idea who she is. But if nature abhors a vacuum, a man might be all too willing to fill in the blanks, especially if there's something in it for him.

In "You Go to My Head," it seems sure to spark the same sort of controversy as the 2016 sci-fi drama "Passengers," in which a male passenger aboard a colony ship wakes up nearly a century too soon and, unable to bear the loneliness, contrives to bring a beautiful blonde woman out of her own suspended animation in order to spend the rest of her life with him in a gilded cage of high-tech luxury.

Architect Jake (Svetozar Cvetkovic) - no last name is given for the character - happens to find the woman (Delfine Bafort) after she has woken up in an overturned vehicle, climbed out, and spend a day and a night and most of another day trudging through the wasteland. Jake summons a doctor and tucks the women into a minimal accommodation; the doctor, mistaking her for Jake's wife, explains that she has suffered a concussion and is now amnesiac. It's a condition that could last for a few days or many years. Jake - a solitary man in his mid-50s who lives alone in a gorgeously rendered concept house located miles from the nearest village - seemingly can't help himself: He plays along with the doctor's mistake, pretending to be the woman's husband. Lying next to her - though keeping a respectful and chaste distance - Jake whispers to the sleeping woman that he thinks he'll call her Kitty.

A name is a good start, but once "Kitty" wakes up she's got a lot of questions. Taking her to his house - where he's spending a day during her convalescence getting in a few items, including a wardrobe for her - Jake spins fictions about her past (no family, parents long dead) and their six-years marriage. It's the sort of story that shouldn't stand up to scrutiny; no photos from the wedding? Ah, well, you see, we just happened to put everything into storage, and there just happened to be a fire at the storage facility, so...

And yet, Jake isn't really creepy (unlike the film's score, by Hacene Larbi, which will raise your hackles). If anything, he plays the part of the concerned, devoted husband to a T.

And he does become devoted; when Kitty's memory shows signs of coming back, Jake retreats to sob his plea where she cannot hear him: "Don't leave me, Kitty!"

Building anything in the real world on a foundation of fantasies is - as we're liable to find out in the Trump era - a slippery proposition; sooner or later, despite Jake's extraordinary dance to keep the truth and his skein of fictions separate and intact, the whole edifice of lies is bound to come crashing down. But when it does, will that matter? As time passes, Kitty settles into a cozy life with Jake; she gets bored, and wonders why she doesn't seem to have a job, and Jake explains that they are planning on having children soon.

Plausible as it sounds, that pat little fabrication is like nails on a chalkboard to the viewer, who knows how fundamentally exploitative it is. But what if Kitty - if she ever works out what's really going on - actually chooses to stay with Jake? What he's doing is hideously creepy; it's also, in some ways, understandable. That doesn't make it right... but it also doesn't take Kitty's own agency away. However she got where she's at, and whatever one makes of Jake's exploitation of the situation, any choice that might come up will be Kitty's to make.

de Clerq doesn't shy away from the story's disquieting passages, but he also doesn't feel it necessary to make Jake into more of a villain than he is. So is this film advocating the viewpoint that women are the property of men? Is it saying men are the natural caretakers of women? Is it proposing that Kitty, if she takes revenge, will be perfectly justified? Is this really nothing more than a story of two lost souls finding each other in the void and grasping for a second chance? (After all, who knows what the now-forgotten life Kitty once lived actually consisted of?) Or are all such considerations apt, in the glare of the sun and the stretch of the desert's emptiness, to fade away?

de Clerq summons constant tension and occasional terror from these questions. Are there easy answers? I won't pretend to know. There are, however, more questions in this French/German/Belgian film than you'd find in most American productions.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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