Whereas 50 First Dates could be accused of being an over-simplified piece of fluff, Novo, another amnesiac love story, is guilty of going too far in the opposite direction. It sets itself up as a conundrum, a puzzle for the audience to solve, yet only provides the rules as it goes along. At first we take the film at face value: Graham (Eduardo Noriega) is insular and perhaps unstable; we see his boss taking advantage of him; and we witness things from his perspective in a discordant, almost aggressive fashion, with passages of film speeded up and subject to sonic manipulations. It’s an approach which creates a certain form of narrative detachment – scenes are occasionally rendered as impressions rather than anything concrete. As such we have to get by through director Jean P. Limosin’s various nods and winks; a telling line of dialogue here, a look to the camera there.
All of which is great fun and highly engaging to begin with. We are constantly being asked to pay full attention, and rewarded by a number of intriguing plot turns. We learn of Graham’s condition whereby his memory goes every 10 minutes (shades of Guy Pearce in Memento), that his real name may in fact be Pablo, that he has a wife and son (the former played by Spanglish’s Paz Vega), and that his developing relationship with Irène perhaps isn’t quite what it seems. Much like the scene in Memento where Carrie-Anne Moss earns herself a slap from Pearce, there’s a sense of manipulation to their relationship, further alluded to courtesy of their S&M-tinged sex games.
Yet whilst Limosin never struggles in terms of creating the intrigue, he does lose out when it comes to satisfying them. Having set up a series of questions, he not only fails to provide any of them with satisfactory answers, but also (perhaps to cover up this fact?) heads off into a more and more oblique territory. Thus Novo flirts with the surreal (some business to do with a tooth), the overly symbolic (rebirth and the like), and hints at – though doesn’t explicitly confirm – a non-linear approach. Once again, this does prove initially interesting – after all Limosin has enticed so far, so there’s little reason to give up – but the film soon gets to the point where it no longer proves worthwhile to play along. Indeed, Novo could be accused of abandoning the rules at some point along the way and as such it can never be expected to move towards a worthwhile pay-off.
Part of Tartan’s “Ciné Lumière” collection, Novo comes to the UK DVD market as a Region 0 disc. On the whole, they’ve done a decent job, with the film presented anamorphically (in its original aspect ratio) and taken from a clean print. Indeed, there is little damage to notice and, on the technical side, a similar situation. All in all, the kind of presentation we’d expect for the release of a new film (Novo having been made in 2002).
As for the soundtrack, Tartan are Novo in their usual manner. We get the original French DD5.1 mix (with optional subtitles), plus the additional choices of DD2.0 and DTS. As should be expecting, the stereo downgrade is rendered largely pointless especially as Limosin has constructed a film which makes particular use of its soundtrack. That said, the DTS also adds little to the 5.1 option in this respect and as such those without the capabilities to view the film in such a fashion aren’t particularly losing out. In all three cases, the soundtrack comes across as technically fine and demonstrates no discernible problems.
The special features prove as allusive as the film itself. As well as the expected theatrical trailer and promos for other Tartan releases (Arakimentari as well as others in the “Ciné Lumière” range), we find four featurettes which touch on Novo’s themes and influences. Without making to many connections to finished piece, we get insights into Araki, the Japanese photographer who is paid homage to in one particular scene; the most wide-ranging influence of Japanese culture on the film, most notably its sex scenes; the use of bondage; and finally, Limosin’s thoughts on the ending. This latter piece is understandably the most interesting given the oblique manner in which Novo concludes, though we still fail to get any satisfactory answers. That said, we do get the opportunity to view some excised footage which is certainly more concrete than that found in the final cut.
All special features are in either French or Japanese and come with optional English subtitling.