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‘Two Faces’ stylish period thriller Mortensen, Dunst a glamour couple in Hitchcock vein

BERLIN, Feb 12, (AFP): Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and the breakout star of the last Coen brothers movie, Oscar Isaac, team up in the stylish Hitchcock-inspired thriller “The Two Faces of January” which premiered Tuesday at the Berlin film festival. The movie marked the highly anticipated directorial debut of Iranian-British screenwriter Hossein Amini, who penned blockbusters such as 2011’s “Drive”. It is based on a novel by the late US crime writer Patricia Highsmith (“The Talented Mr Ripley”), who delighted in ripping away the veil of middle-class propriety to find what lurks beneath. The film opens in a sun-kissed Athens of the 1960s, with besotted American couple Chester and Colette (Mortensen and Dunst) impeccably dressed and touring the Acropolis. They catch the eye of Rydal, a Greek-speaking American tour guide who seems dazzled in particular by Colette, a classic Hitchcock blonde with a secret.

Rydal is played by Oscar Isaac, who won rave reviews last year for his turn as the brooding singer-songwriter of “Inside Llewyn Davis”. They fall into conversation and Rydal shows them around town while good-naturedly conning them out of petty cash along the way. The couple joins Rydal and his date, a beautiful American heiress, for dinner that night. But after Chester and Colette retire to their five-star hotel, tipsy on ouzo, there is a knock on the door from a private detective. The man accuses Chester of swindling his clients back in New York out of a fortune with a shady oilfield investment scheme and, in the course of a scuffle, the detective is killed.

Rydal at the same moment realises he has found Colette’s new Greek bracelet and, while trying to return it, happens upon Chester trying to hide the body. The three go on the run from the Greek police together, laying the foundation for a fateful love triangle and leading to a finale that borrows heavily from Greek mythology. Mortensen, who described himself as a fan of Highsmith’s, said he loved the film noir aspects of the story. “It’s a term that’s thrown around a lot — it needs to have shadows, it needs to be black and white,” he told reporters. “The only thing I would say is that the characters need to lie and lose, and it needs to end badly for everyone.” Mortensen said characters should always have a secret. “That’s what the story’s generally about: the masks, and the masks fall away, and what you end up seeing about these people is often ugly and embarrassing,” he said.

“But when it’s well done, when the thriller aspect works in terms of storytelling, no matter how badly they behave you’re on their side somehow. You don’t want the cops to catch them.” Hossein, who was born in Iran, said he long faced a kind of typecasting as a screenwriter, with projects offered to him that dealt only with his native region. “When I went to the BBC or something it was always ‘well, why don’t you write about your country?’ and I don’t have a country. I left my country,” he said.

“The world becomes your country and you can tell stories from different places.” “The Two Faces of January” is screening out of competition at the Berlin film festival where it generated mixed reviews. London’s Daily Telegraph called it an “elegantly pleasurable period thriller, a film of tidy precision and class”. But movie website Indiewire dismissed it as a “competent disappointment”.

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