True Love Ways, the fifth feature film from Swiss writer/director Mathieu Seiler, is a gorgeous piece of cinéma du macabre and one that will undeniably cause film fans – in particular fans of French cinema – to fall in love with its past references. The film’s beautiful cinematography, captured in old-fashioned black & white by director of photography Oliver Geissler, pays homage to such old-school filmmakers as Georges Méliès, Jean-Luc Godard, and of course everyone’s favorite master of suspense: Alfred Hitchcock. There are moments throughout that demand the viewer pause the film to really take in the beauty of what Seiler has framed before the camera. Moments such as Anna Hausburg’s character, Séverine’s, hiding under tables and beds from her tormentors will instantly bring to mind the framing techniques from Méliès’s film The Haunted Castle.
Moments featuring characters in various vehicles will instantly bring to mind the camera-work of Godard, in particular, the similar aesthetics in his film Breathless. The same can be said regarding Hitchcock’s Psycho.
But that should not deter viewers into thinking that True Love Ways is a sort of grab bag kind of movie. Nothing could be further from the truth. Seiler utilizes these old technical tropes to his advantage. Knowing that most of the audience members of today are likely unfamiliar with them, he essentially has created something new by placing them within a thrilling storyline that certainly appeals more to today’s filmgoers. In a way, younger or less cinematically familiar viewers can watch True Love Ways seeing something that they might never have the opportunity to see again in their lifetimes: how to craft a suspenseful motion-picture utilizing old-school techniques.
And how refreshing it is to not only see this done, but to see it done in a successful manner. In an era where thrillers and suspense stories spare the audience no time in launching them into things, True Love Ways really takes its time with things. The sequences in the first-half of the film go a long way in allowing suspense to build. Seiler masterfully builds our expectations during moments like Séverine waiting for her ex-boyfriend Tom in the park or her lying in bed at home, only to let us down by not delivering upon that suspense. This, of course, helps tremendously for when the suspense builds and does pay off during the film’s second half after Séverine has found herself in the countryside villa from Hell (another call back to euro-cinema with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film Salò perhaps?). It is this refreshing change of pace, where Seiler takes his time to build a genuine sense of tension and suspense that makes True Love Ways a genuinely refreshing horror/thriller.
Clearly, this is a motion picture that has something that it wants to say to its viewers. Its plot leads us to come to the conclusion that topics like life and love and sex and death are all interests that Mathieu Seiler wishes to handle. Whether the film succeeds or not on making a solid point regarding these topics is ultimately up to the viewer, but given Seiler’s enormous technical talent the groundwork is certainly all there. He will have you shocked and disturbed, surprised and relieved, and amused and disgusted (although not too disgusted – the film doesn’t push the envelope as far as graphic content is concerned) with sequence after sequence within the film’s second-half. As Séverine’s drive for survival increases, we witness her character embrace the more abject qualities of both sex and violence. They begin with her first act of murder and end with her full emersion into a Stockholm syndrome-like conclusion that may raise more eyebrows than draw praise. By the film’s end her journey to arrive somewhere along the lines between sex and death has been completed – again, it is up to individual viewers to determine whether the journey has been successful or not in regards to the time spent watching True Love Ways.
Seiler is not interested in answering questions. He is a filmmaker much more interested in exploring thresholds – guiding us as an audience to those points that exist between joy and horror. It is for that reason some may find True Love Ways complicated, or at the very least frustrating. But to those who can see through these more frustrating aspects, what lies beyond is a rewarding experience that will assuredly keep one contemplating the connections between them all.